Contributed by: Tyler Bennett / College Court Report Canada (@CCR_Canada)
Christmas has come and gone, as has the 2018 calendar year. With that, 2019 is now in full swing, and it’s time to turn our attention back to the hardwood.
While some teams took to the court for exhibition tournaments over the holiday break, most enjoyed time away with friends and family. The first weekend of the second semester could go a long way in helping to determine the playoff picture come the end of February.
From top 10 match-ups to four teams battling for first place in the West Division, the standings are jam-packed at the head of the pack. With that said, there are a handful of teams lurking in the shadows that have the talent to make a move of their own. The push for the playoffs kicks back into gear this weekend, and what a weekend it will be.
Here are the four weekend match-ups that I will be keeping an extra eye on as the second semester gets under way across the province.
McMaster Marauders @ Laurier Golden Hawks (1/4/19 @ 8:00pm EST)
Two teams with title aspirations take to the court on Friday night to kick off the weekend’s action as the visiting McMaster Marauders take on the host Laurier Golden Hawks in one of two contests between the West Division’s top four teams.
Laurier is one of three teams atop the division with a 7-4 record, sitting alongside the Brock Badgers and Western Mustangs (see below). Laurier grabbed headlines after a strong trip to Ottawa where they earned a split over the weekend and climbed into the U SPORTS Top 10 rankings. The Marauders currently occupy the fourth spot in the standings with a 4-7 record. McMaster started off the 2018-19 season by playing some strong basketball, likely energized by the return of Connor Gilmore. Since their 3-0 start, the Marauders have dropped seven of their last eight and will be looking for any sort of positive momentum to kick off the second half of the season.
Leading the way for the Golden Hawks is second-year guard Ali Sow, the reigning OUA Rookie of the Year. Sow is considered one of the front-runners for the OUA Player of the Year award after a strong first semester, one that saw him average 25.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game on 41.7% shooting from the floor. Add in guards Matt Minutillo (10.2 PPG) and Ntore Habimana (11.8 PPG) and the Golden Hawks have one of the better backcourt rotations in the OUA. Up front, Kemel Archer (11.9 PPG, 9.8 RPG) has given the team a spark off the bench in eight appearances. Laurier has its share of talent on both ends of the floor, putting opposing defences in a pick your poison type scenario.
While Laurier may possess one of the league’s top backcourt rotations, McMaster is home to one of the league’s top tandems: Gilmore and David McCulloch. After missing all last season, many would have expected Gilmore to return with some rust on his game. Instead, he leads the Marauders with 16.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Not far behind, McCulloch is averaging 16.0 points and a team-best 4.0 assists per game. From there, McMaster’s next three top scorers are all first-year student-athletes, which bodes well for the future of the program. They may be young, but the Marauders have the talent in place to make a run in the second half of the season.
Waterloo Warriors @ Algoma Thunderbirds (1/4/19 @ 8:00pm EST; 1/5/19 @ 8:00pm EST)
You may be wondering why two teams with sub-.500 records going head-to-head in a pair of games over the weekend is something to keep an eye on. Both the Waterloo Warriors and Algoma Thunderbirds could very well play the role of spoiler for a team or two in the race for the OUA playoffs if they find themselves on the outside looking in. On the flip side, both teams have enough talent that a string of upsets during the second semester could very well lead to them stealing a spot in the playoffs for themselves.
Starting off the second half of the year with wins is critical for both Algoma and Waterloo, and you can bet that both teams will leave it all on the court this weekend. In addition to some potential intrigue down the stretch given the standings, the pair of games between the Warriors and Thunderbirds will feature some of the league’s most underrated talents.
For Algoma, forward Nathan Riley is a name that fans were told to get familiar with in the first month of the season. He is second on the team in scoring (13.1 PPG) and he leads the team in rebounding (9.3 RPG). Apart from an off-game here and there, Riley is one of the league’s more consistent performers on both sides of the ball. He doesn’t grab the headlines as much as he probably should, but he grabs his share of rebounds on the court and that’s all you can ask.
On the Waterloo side, the pair of Simon Petrov and Nedim Hodzic have been putting up some strong numbers this season without their share of national media attention. The pair rank one-two on the Warriors in scoring and assists per game this season, while Hodzic leads the team in rebounding. Through 10 games, Hodzic is averaging 17.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game, all of which are team-highs. Also, in the front court, Petrov is averaging 16.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per contest. The tandem gives Waterloo one of the better front court rotations in the conference.
Brock Badgers @ Western Mustangs (1/5/19 @ 3:00pm EST)
As stated earlier, the top four teams in the West Division are all in action against one another this weekend at one point or another, with Saturday afternoon bringing together the Brock Badgers and Western Mustangs.
With the top of the West Division standings packed with talented teams all jockeying for position, a win over another top contender would go a long way for a team’s confidence as the second half of the year gets rolling. For the Badgers, they know what it takes to get the job done, having punched their ticket to the national championship last season. They have that experience to fall back on when their backs seem to be against the wall; however, the Mustangs are no slouch either, boasting one of the league’s top up-and-coming scorers that will look to give Western an advantage in 2019.
Experience wins in university basketball, and when it comes down the postseason, that could give the Badgers a leg up on their competition. Their top three scorers are all in their third or fourth year of eligibility. Johneil Simpson is among the league-leaders in scoring with an average of 20.9 points per game. Cassidy Ryan (15.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG) and Tyler Brown (10.8 PPG, 5.5 APG) round out the top three for the Badgers. From there, a trio of second-year players find themselves in significant roles for the program, putting Brock in a similar position to that of McMaster in terms of the team’s bright future. Brock picked up a pair of wins to close out the fall semester to keep pace atop the West Division, and they will look to continue their climb with a win over Western.
Given the fact that they have been without veteran Marko Kovac for most of the season, the 7-4 start to the year could come as a surprise to some across the league. However, the Mustangs have talent across their roster who have flown under the radar. Second year guard Omar Shiddo has continued his development in 2018-19 and has emerged as one of the OUA’s brightest young stars. He leads the team with 19.5 points per game on 32.2% shooting from the floor. In total, the Mustangs have seven players who are averaging at least 4.1 points per game and have made at least nine appearances this season. Their depth will be crucial down the stretch as the postseason creeps closer.
Carleton Ravens @ Ryerson Rams (1/5/19 @ 4:00pm EST)
When two of the top teams in the country take to the court against one another, it’s a game that you won’t want to miss. On Friday afternoon, the undefeated Carleton Ravens and Ryerson Rams will do battle in Toronto for (temporary) supremacy in the OUA, as part of this week’s Marquee Matchup, powered by Planters Canada. Both teams have matching 10-0 records after the fall semester, and their Friday contest kicks off a big weekend of stiff competition for both teams as they look to get a leg up on the other in the standings
Both powerhouse squads have excelled on both ends of the floor through their first 10 games. The Ravens are averaging 91.6 points per game on offence, while holding their opponents to an average of 54.6 points on the defensive end. Not to be outdone, the Rams are scoring 90.6 points on average and limit their opponents to an average of 55.8 points per contest.
Carleton is led by a quartet of players averaging at least 12.0 points per game. Former Xavier-commit Eddie Ekiyor leads the team with 5.9 rebounds per contest to go along with his 13.4 points. Guard TJ Lall leads the Ravens in scoring, averaging 14.9 points per contest through 10 appearances, nine of which have been starts. The Ravens are one of the more experienced teams in the country and they boast one of the deepest rosters in the land. The Rams, however, can say much of the same.
Like the Ravens, Ryerson is deep on both sides of the ball. They have five players averaging double-digit points per game this season; all of whom have played significant roles while helping the Rams remain undefeated. The veteran guard duo of JV Mukama and Myles Charvis have the Rams playing at a high clip and they will give the back court of Carleton a stiff test on Friday afternoon. Mukama has emerged as one of the country’s top two-way players this season, averaging 19.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 3.8 assists on 53.6% shooting from the floor. Charvis, meanwhile, leads the team with 5.2 assists to go along with 14.3 points per game.
The first weekend of 2019 will provide fans with a high level of excitement across the OUA. Each game will have its own level of excitement, and it’s recommended that you keep an eye on each game as they will all factor into the playoff picture in some way.