PREVIEW: 50TH CIS MEN'S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
OTTAWA (CIS) – As the CIS men’s basketball championship celebrates its 50th anniversary this week in Halifax, the Carleton University Ravens hope to write some history of their own on Sunday by winning their eighth W.P. McGee Trophy, which would tie the all-time record held by the Victoria Vikes. The question is: Can anybody stop what might be the best Ravens team yet?
The CIS Final 8, presented by Subway and hosted by Atlantic University Sport, gets under way Friday at the Metro Centre and culminates Sunday at 4:30 p.m. Atlantic with the gold medal final.
All games will be webcast by SSN Canada (ssncanada.ca), while EastLink TV will have live broadcasts of the semifinals and final.
Following another exceptional OUA season, the Ravens have earned the top seed for the 50th anniversary tournament. The Ontario champions will be joined in Nova Scotia’s capital by the No. 2 Alberta Golden Bears (Canada West champs), No. 3 Concordia Stingers (RSEQ champs), No. 4 Lakehead Thunderwolves (at-large berth), No. 5 Fraser Valley Cascades (Canada West finalists), No. 6 St. Francis Xavier X-Men (AUS finalists), No. 7 Ryerson Rams (OUA finalists) and No. 8 Acadia Axemen (AUS champs).
Carleton opens its title defence against Acadia Friday at 2:15 p.m. AST in the second quarter-final. The other first-round match-ups include Lakehead vs. Fraser Valley in the opener at noon, Alberta vs. Ryerson at 6 p.m., and Concordia vs. StFX at 8:15 p.m.
To say the Ravens have dominated CIS men’s basketball over the last decade would be an understatement. They captured their seventh McGee Trophy in nine seasons a year ago, when the tournament returned Halifax, thanks to an 82-59 gold medal victory against Trinity Western. Carleton has owned the Metro Centre in recent years, winning the last six banners contested in the building.
The scary part for this week’s other contenders? This might be the best edition of the Ravens yet.
The defending champs head to the Nationals sporting an unblemished 31-0 overall record versus CIS opponents in 2011-12, including a 22-0 mark in conference action and a 3-0 playoff run, capped off with an 82-39 rout of Ryerson in the OUA Wilson Cup final.
In those 31 confrontations, Carleton prevailed by an average of 37.6 points. In five duels against opponents from other conferences, the average margin went up to 38.6. Only four teams managed to stay within 20 points of the champs, including Victoria (15) in the pre-season and McMaster (16), Lakekead (3) and Laurier (16) in league play.
Lakehead gave Carleton its only scare of the campaign, an 88-85 thriller in Thunder Bay back on Nov. 26 in which the Ravens only took the lead for good with six minutes remaining. The Thunderwolves had a chance to tie it at the buzzer but a three-point attempt refused to go in.
As has been the case since the dynasty started in 2003, Carleton has dominated by committee this season. Sophomore guard Phil Scrubb, last year’s CIS rookie of the year, was the Ravens’ top scorer with 16.2 points per contest, which only ranked 10th in Ontario and 32nd in the country. Last year’s CIS MVP, forward Tyson Hinz, was second on the team with 13.4 points per outing as no Raven averaged more than 24 minutes of court time per game.
While Carleton is once again the topic of most of the pre-tournament talk, their rivals also bring interesting storylines to Halifax.
The No. 2 Golden Bears went into the Canada West Final Four as the fourth seed following a 14-6 campaign, but they upset first-place Saskatchewan in the semis and then edged Fraser Valley 72-71 in the title match to claim their first conference banner since 2005.
Alberta, which has hoisted the W.P. McGee Trophy three times over the years, is led by the dynamic duo of Daniel Ferguson (19.6 ppg) and Jordan Baker (19.1), who finished eighth and 10th in the nation in scoring, respectively. They are the top two scorers among players who will compete at the Metro Centre this week.
Third-year head coach Greg Francis played for Canada at the 2002 Summer Olympics alongside Steve Nash.
The No. 3 Stingers, in their 23rd campaign under head coach John Dore, repeated as RSEQ champions thanks to a 77-47 domination of UQAM in the Quebec final. Concordia received a major scare from Laval in the conference semis and had to overcome a four-point deficit with 40 seconds to play to prevail 66-65.
The Stingers, who captured their lone McGee Trophy in 1990, return 10 players, including all five starters, from last year’s squad that went 0-2 at the CIS tourney but gave Carleton a run for its money in the opening round before losing 73-66.
Concordia is familiar with its first-round opponent, StFX. The two teams met on New Year’s Eve in the final of the Rod Shoveller Memorial Tournament, with the X-Men coming out on top by a 94-78 score.
“We’re a year older and wiser,” says third-year all-star guard Kyle Desmarais, who scored the Stingers’ last five points in the playoff victory over Laval, including the winning free throw with no time left on the clock. “Last year we were a little in awe when we got to Halifax. This year we know what to expect and we will be ready for it.”
The No. 4 Thunderwolves, who saw their season extended when they received the coveted at-large berth, hope to finally make it to the national semifinals in their third straight trip to the Final 8. Wins by Lakehead and Carleton on Friday would set up an intriguing rematch between the OUA rivals on Saturday night.
The T-Wolves were one of the hottest teams in the country before an unexpected 86-70 OUA semifinal loss to Ryerson, an opponent they had crushed 95-54 in the regular season. Prior to that setback, Lakehead was riding an 11-game winning streak and had been ranked second in the nation behind Carleton for seven straight weeks.
Fifth-seeded Fraser Valley, which joined CIS in 2006-07, has done some celebrating of its own over the past two weeks, and it had nothing to do with the CIS tournament turning 50.
First, the Cascades won their first-ever Canada West playoff series, against Lethbridge, thanks to a last-second 69-68 victory in the third and deciding game. Then, at the conference Final Four, they were involved in two more one-point decisions, a 63-62 upset win over Victoria that qualified them for their first national championship, and then the 72-71 loss to Alberta in the final.
Barnaby Craddock became one of the few head coaches in history to guide two different schools to the CIS tourney. He led Brandon to the national final against Carleton in 2007, only to fall by three points, 52-49.
The No. 6 St. Francis Xavier X-Men are coached by a man who has a little more Final 8 experience than his UFV counterpart. In his 37th campaign on the StFX sidelines, Steve Konchalski is the winningest coach in CIS men’s basketball history and earned his 800th overall victory on January 7with an 87-68 decision over UNB.
His troops finished first in the AUS standings this season with a 16-4 mark but were upset 82-71 last weekend in the conference final.
“We have had a great year although it was disappointing not to be able to bring the AUS banner home,” said Konchalski, who led StFX to CIS titles in 1993, 2000 and 2001. “We are very excited about the opportunity to compete with the best teams in the country. Although Carleton has earned the distinction of being the team everyone is chasing, it should be a wide open field and anything can happen in one game.”
Ryerson, the No. 7 seed, is the other new kid on the block along with Fraser Valley. The Rams will compete for the McGee Trophy for only the second time in program history. They went 0-2 in their only previous visit to the Metro Centre in 1999.
The Rams, whose 13-9 record in conference play was good enough for second place in the OUA East behind Carleton, are coached for the third season by Roy Rana, a long-time member of the national team program. Rana’s impressive resume includes an assistant coach position with the 2009 Canadian senior squad which qualified for the world championship.
Finally, AUS champion Acadia is seeded eighth for the second straight year at the CIS championship. The Axemen, who won their third and last national title back in 1977, lost their 2011 opener 96-77 to UBC.
Six-foot-10 forward Owen Klassen is the only player in the tournament to average double digits in rebounds this season. He led the Atlantic conference and finished fifth in the country with 10.1 boards per game.
NOTE: Victoria won a record seven straight CIS titles from 1980 to 1986 and claimed its eighth W.P. McGee Trophy in 1997... Carleton captured five consecutive titles from 2003 to 2007, and triumphed again in 2009 and 2011.
Overall record vs. Final 8 teams: 1-2 (0-1 vs. Carleton, 1-1 vs. Ryerson)
CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (all times ATLANTIC TIME)
NOTE 1: Live webcast of all games on SSN Canada (ssncanada.ca)
NOTE 2: Live broadcast of semifinals and final on EastLink TV
NOTE 3: Semifinals and final on tape delay on NBA TV Canada
12:00 Quarter-final #1: No. 5 Fraser Valley vs. No. 4 Lakehead
14:15 Quarter-final #2: No. 8 Acadia vs. No. 1 Carleton
18:00 Quarter-final #3: No. 7 Ryerson vs. No. 2 Alberta
20:15 Quarter-final #4: No. 6 StFX vs. No. 3 Concordia
12:00 Consolation #1: Loser QF #1 vs. Loser QF #2
14:15 Consolation #2: Loser QF #3 vs. Loser QF #4
18:00 Semifinal #1: Winner QF #1 vs. Winner QF #2
20:15 Semifinal #2: Winner QF #3 vs. Winner QF #4