Weekend Preview: Who is hitting the hardwood this weekend?

Photo by Queen's Gaels
Photo by Queen's Gaels

Contributed by: Tyler Bennett / College Court Report Canada (@CCR_Canada)

The playoffs are just around the corner and the race for the Wilson Cup is starting to heat up.

Two games are already in the books this week from Wednesday night. The Brock Badgers picked up a slim 101-100 win over the Guelph Gryphons on the road to keep pace atop the OUA West Division, while the Windsor Lancers cruised to the 100-85 win over the Waterloo Warriors to move out of the tie for last-place in the division.

Now the attention shifts to the weekend ahead and what a slate it is. Marquee matchups highlight both Friday and Saturday, giving fans plenty of options to watch online throughout the weekend. Some of the league’s top players go head-to-head across the province, while several games have playoff implications ahead of the OUA Championships in February.

Here are three can’t-miss games this weekend that won’t disappoint.

Laurentian Voyageurs at Ryerson Rams – Friday, January 18th

Fresh off a weekend split with teams from the nation’s capitol, the Laurentian Voyageurs will look to pick up another big win when they head to Toronto to take on the Ryerson Rams on Friday night in a game that will feature some of the top guards in the entire country.

After a strong start to the season, one that saw them win four of their first five contests, the Voyageurs have struggled to gain any sort of positive momentum since. Laurentian enters Friday night having won just three of their last nine games overall. On a positive note, two of those wins have come in their last three outings, giving them something to build on as they take on the Rams in front of what should be a full house in Toronto.

For the Voyageurs, guard Kadre Gray (Toronto, Ont.) will look to put his talents on display for his hometown crowd. The reigning OUA Men’s Basketball Player of the Year and U SPORTS Male Student-Athlete of the Year has his sights set on another hardware-filled finish to his third season. Gray is the OUA’s leading scorer with an average of 30.7 points per game while also averaging 6.7 rebounds and a league-best 7.5 assists per game.

If Laurentian wants to turn their season around and find their groove ahead of the postseason, they will need the likes of Anthony Iacoe (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.), Josis Mikia-Thomas (Toronto, Ont.) and the rest of the roster to step up and provide some secondary scoring to relieve some pressure from Gray. The Rams will be a tough test on Friday night, but there’s no time like the present to kick things into another gear with the playoff race heating up.

As for the Rams, they seem to have found their stride again after suffering their first loss of the season against the Carleton Ravens in their first game back from the holiday break. Since the loss, the Rams have rattled off three straight wins and are still in second place in the OUA East Division. Ryerson remains among the top teams in Canada, and they will be looking to push their win streak to four with another confident performance against the Voyageurs.

In the back court, the Rams boast two veterans who give them arguably the top back court tandem in the OUA. Fifth-year guards Myles Charvis (Mississauga, Ont.) and Jean-Victor Mukama (Hamilton, Ont.) are the engines that drive Ryerson in the back court, and they both possess strong two-way games that make the Rams a tough team on both ends of the floor.

Mukama leads the team with 19.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 52.1% from the floor for the year. Charvis leads the Rams with 4.6 assists per game while also averaging 15.5 points per game on 51.9% shooting. The pair will have their hands full on defence containing Gray, but if they are able to limit his individual production, the Rams will be in a good spot throughout the night.

Waterloo Warriors at Western Mustangs – Friday, January 18th

Friday night could provide fans with a sneaky good game in London, Ont. when the No. 10 Western Mustangs play host to the Waterloo Warriors in a West Division showdown. Western and Waterloo find themselves in opposing positions in the standings, but anything can happen on the hardwood. The Mustangs will be looking to maintain their top spot in the division while the Warriors have their sights set on ending their losing streak with a big road win.

It's been an up-and-down year for the Warriors. Their 2018-19 season started with six straight losses, and they didn’t pick up their first win of the year until November 16 against the York Lions. That win started a stretch of three victories in four days, and it looked as though Waterloo would rebound from their slow start. Instead, they enter Friday night having lost five straight games, including a 100-85 defeat at the hands of the Windsor Lancers on Wednesday.

Despite their losing streak, the Warriors have scored more points as a team this season (1,106) than the Mustangs have as a group (1,028). Waterloo is led by one of the top front court tandems in the league with local products Nedim Hodzic (Waterloo, Ont.) and Simon Petrov (Waterloo, Ont.) patrolling the paint on both ends of the court.

Hodzic is the team’s top scorer, averaging 19.8 points to go along with a league-best 10.7 rebounds per contest. Hodzic is the only player in the OUA to average a double-double this season. Not to be outdone, Petrov is averaging 17.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. From there, the production drops off for the Warriors as their next highest scorers are Colin Connors (St. John’s, Nfld.) and Jeff Baradziej (Grimsby, Ont.) with 8.5 points apiece. Waterloo will need to see some additional contributions from their role players on Friday if they want to have a shot at knocking off the Mustangs.

The second half has started well for the Mustangs and they’re riding a wave of momentum into Friday’s tilt with the Warriors inside Alumni Hall. Winners of five straight and seven of their last 10 games overall, the Mustangs have ascended to the top spot in the West Division alongside the Brock Badgers with 20 points. At 10-4, Western also cracked the U SPORTS Top 10 rankings, but they have their sights set on climbing even higher with a strong weekend.

Leading the way for the Mustangs is third-year guard Omar Shiddo (Toronto, Ont.). Shiddo has developed into one of the OUA’s premier scoring guards over his career at Western, and he ranks among the league leaders this season with an average of 20.3 points per game on 35.7% shooting from the floor. In the second half, the Mustangs have also welcomed back veteran forward Marko Kovac (Windsor, Ont.; 12.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG) who played just three games before the holiday break. His veteran presence and talent both add another element to the attack for Western on both ends of the court.

With five straight wins under their belts, the Mustangs are one of the hottest teams in the OUA and they’ve seemingly found their stride at the right time with the postseason just around the corner. Another perfect weekend would keep the purple ponies in the driver’s seat when it comes to their playoff seeding in February.

Queen’s Gaels at Ottawa Gee-Gees – Saturday, January 19th

Montpetit Hall will play host to an intriguing East Division matchup between a pair of top teams in the conference when the Queen’s Gaels take on the Ottawa Gee-Gees on Saturday night to wrap up another week of regular season basketball in the OUA. Both teams possess their share of talent and they both have their sights set on making a postseason run, adding even more intrigue to the showdown in the nation’s capital.

Queen’s opens the weekend with a contest against the Carleton Ravens before facing the Gee-Gees on Saturday night. The Gaels have lost back-to-back games after picking up four wins over their previous five attempts. At 8-6 overall this season, the Tricolour will be looking to get back on the right track and pick up some crucial points with the playoff picture heating up.

The Gaels have two of the league’s more underrated talents in guard Jaz Bains (Brampton, Ont.) and forward Tanner Graham (Kingston, Ont.) leading the way, and they will lean heavily on their veterans over the weekend in Ottawa. Bains leads the team with an average of 17.6 points per game on 42.1% shooting from the floor, while Graham averages 15.2 points despite seeing just 24.2 minutes per outing. Add in third-year guard Quinton Gray (Richmond Hill, Ont.; 15.1 PPG) and the Gaels have a top three that ranks among the best in the conference.

Playing back-to-back games against Carleton and Ottawa is never an easy task, especially on the road, but the Gaels have the experience and talent on their roster to pick up four points if all goes according to plan. A split in the weekend series would push the Gaels to 9-7 on the year and keep them in fourth-place in the league standings.

While the Gaels have a talented roster, the Gee-Gees boast an immensely capable roster of their own. Ottawa comes into the weekend on the heels of a loss against the Laurentian Voyageurs, but they begin a four-game home stand with a contest against York on Friday before the Gaels come into town. The Gee-Gees will be looking for a strong weekend to get back into the win column and to climb in the division standings.

Four Ottawa players are averaging double-digit points per game this season, giving the team several different weapons on the offensive end of the floor. Forward Guillaume Pepin (Montreal, Que.) leads the team in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 16.3 points and 7.7 rebounds to go along with 2.4 assists per game this season. The trio of Gage Sabean (Port Williams, NS), Calvin Epistola (Toronto, Ont.), and Brandon Robinson (Montreal, Que.) also give the Gee-Gees a loaded back court rotation that complement each other nicely.

With their next four games at home starting Friday, the Gee-Gees have a great opportunity to pick up some points to try and make up some ground on the Ravens and the Ryerson Rams, both of whom are ahead of them in the standings. It all starts with good showings on Friday and Saturday against York and Queen’s, but both opponents won’t roll over and concede their games. Ottawa will be in for a fight both times out this weekend, making both contests a must-watch.