AUS Season Opens Friday

AUS Season Opens Friday

By Wayne Kondro - Special to CIS

Perhaps they’ll all finish 10-10 and draw numbers from a hat to determine postseason playoff seeds.
No wait, that would be the Canada West convenor’s solution to a conundrum.

In Atlantic University Sport, they probably have some form of regression analysis that factors in two-point and four-point games, complete with location parameters and bonus points for such independent variables as years of coaching experience.

They may need it.

As Acadia coach Kevin Duffie notes: “There isn’t a clear-cut non-playoff team, or a clear-cut number one either.”

What is clear, though, is that it’s a year in which every team has a game-changer, a gunner who can all but single-handedly win a game on any given night. It’s also a year in which everyone has a solid post player and there’s been relatively low turnover amongst rosters. All of which should make for more than a few wild AUS hardcourt nights.

If... and it’s a big if... there is anything like a consensus among the coaches as to who might be the favorite, it would probably centre around the Saint Mary’s Huskies.

Second-team all-star point guard Marquis Clayton is a definite go-to-guy at Saint Mary’s, where coach Jonah Taussig also expects to start a mix of Brian Rouse, Kemar Alleyne, Theon Reefer, Achuil Lual and Osman Barrie, depending on whether the Huskies are going big. Off the bench come Carleton transfer Ryan Augustine and fellow guard Kadeem Thompson.

“We play at a very quick pace, so I’m not thinking we’re going to hold teams in the 60s just because the number of possessions are going to be so high. But at the same time, we need to do a better job defensively. We’ve had moments when we looked good defensively and we’ve had moments where we’ve been lacking. As much as anything, I think it’s an effort and concentration thing for the full 40 minutes,” says Taussig.

Ah, those coaches, ever in search of fragmentary moments of discipline.

Dalhousie has a trio of big guns in point guard Ritchie Kanza Mata, Kashrell Lawrence and former all-star William Yengue (who’s returning to the team after a two-year absence). Each is capable of catching fire, which will make the Tigers that much more problematic to defend.

The defending AUS champs appear to have picked up where they left off last season (sizzling hot), while also starting Sven Stammberger and Cedric Sanogo. Depth comes in the form of guard Jarred Reid and newcomers like Dawson College point guard Jordan Aquino-Serjue, last season’s player of the year in the Quebec college ranks, and Sascha Kappos, son of former national team player Tom Kappos.

“It’s going to take some time to blend in the new guys with the veterans,” says Tigers coach Rick Plato. “We still have some work to do to become a cohesive unit. But there’s tremendous chemistry. … We just have to be more consistent with our rebounding and improve our foul shooting.”

Rivals say Memorial may have the most dynamic one-two forward punch in the country in Serbian-born Vasilije Curcic and Ontario product Caleb Gould. On the perimeter, the Sea-Hawks also expect to start some combination of Tanzanian guard Alphaeus Kisusi, Serbian guard Jovan Babovic, wing Davion Parnsalu and local fifth-year product Noel Moffatt. Among the recruits is Daniel Gordon, last season’s leading scorer (29.7 ppg) in the Ontario college ranks while toiling for Fleming College.

“No doubt our post play will be one of our main strengths and it’s no secret we will try to play through our bigs a lot,” says Sea-Hawks coach Peter Benoite. But there’s room for defensive improvement and “we will have to score from outside, as we need to keep teams honest and make it tough for them to double in the post. If we can play D and knock down enough outside shots, I like our chances game in and game out.”

Acadia suffered a major blow in preseason when 6-9 veteran forward Rhys Larry blew out an ACL. But the Axemen added a definite contender for all-star consideration in 6-10 Maine transfer Erik Nissen, who, as Duffie says, “plays with a bit of an edge.”

The Axemen will also start Ben Miller, Kyle Arsenault, Nick de Palma and Shaquille Smith and in preseason, received solid minutes off the bench from the like of Thomas Johnston, Nick Ernest and A.J. Simmonds. “It’s going to be important for us to play a good team brand of basketball, and get solid in our systems both offensively and defensively,” says Duffie.
Nissen will have to make a real splash in his initial season in the league, what with the loss of Larry, Duffie adds. “But I think he’s got the shoulders to carry it.”

First-team all-star guard Tyler Scott can again be expected to light it up at run-and-gun UPEI, after averaging 23.9 points per game last season. “He has a bit of a green light,” quips Panthers coach Tim Kendrick. “I’d rather have him playing for me than against me, let’s say that.”

Joining Scott in the starting rotation are Zachary Usherwood, Dut Dut, Brad States and Slovenian post Milorad Sedlarevic, while Lorenzo Parker provides the primary punch off the bench. “We’re going to be solid but we have some things we gotta work on. We’re constantly trying be better defensively and fit our style in with how we want to defend.”

Which begs a question. Has anyone ever met a coach who doesn’t think that his team’s defence is more porous than a sponge?

Cape Breton returns first-team all-star Meshack Lufile, who’ll be joined in the starting line-up by guard Kayon Mayers, forward Kyle Hankins, and wings Kenny Jean-Louis and Joey Liam.

“We think that Meshack’s one of the best at his position in the country. He’s just continuing to get his feel with the guys around him. He has to get used to seeing a double- and triple-team at every possession and once he gets the hang of that, he’s going to have a good year,” says Capers coach Matt Skinn. Success will be conditional upon “getting our offensive rhythm down and hitting some outside shots.”

UNB point guard Javon Masters may be the purest and most creative scorer in the country. The league’s reigning player of the year and leading scorer (25.1 ppg) can light it up with perimeter bombs, step-through floaters, acrobatic layoffs off the dribble; you name it, he hits it. Expected to join Masters in the backcourt is off-guard Matt Daley. With 6-7 Serbian forward Nikola Mandic having blown out an ACL in preseason, the Varsity Reds will be left starting such undersized forwards as Dylan Baker, an Australian import, Kaleefah Henry, a first-team Atlantic colleges all-star last year at Mount Allison, and Mark Matheson, who sat out last season with a broken foot.

That leaves coach Brent Baker playing some manner of five-out ball and relying heavily on Masters to score 20, 30 or 40 or 50. “He puts a lot of pressure on people, no doubt about that,” Baker says. “The big thing is just getting him loose.”

St. Francis Xavier coach Steve Konchalski welcomes back forward Kevin Bercy after nearly a year on the sidelines with a back injury and re-tools with six newcomers, including swingman Tyrel Edwards, a Hamilton native returning to Canada from Dalton State in Georgia. Last year’s leading scorer Julius Antoine (17 ppg) will start at off-guard, while the point will be shared by Davonte Provo and Maryland-product Akil Charles. Cameron Walker, schooled in the Dallas, Texas high school ranks, will man the post. Depth will come in the form of Tristen Ross after a year in prep school in Vermont and Carleton transfer/football player Josh Millar, once he hangs up his cleats.

“Last year, we couldn’t get any points. This year, we got lots of offence,” Konchalski says. “But our defensive system is not really in place yet, in the sense of, we’re giving up too many points. If we can commit to the defensive end, I think we’ll be competitive for the AUS championship.”

Will they all finish 10-10?

“Personally, parity to me doesn’t always mean quality,” says Konchalski. “But I do think the league is up a bit. This is the best it’s been in a couple of years.”