Paris Carter and the Capers are looking like favourites to win their second straight AUS Championship
by Bill McLean
1. Cape Breton Capers
Oh we forgot…the champs are pretty good. The Capers bizarre absence from the national rankings momentarily put fans outside of Sydney at ease, but Jim Charter’s dynamic group of athletes quickly squashed any thoughts that CBU would not be a powerhouse again this season.
Led by the best starting lineup in the conference, the Capers have rolled to a 7-0 record which includes home wins over the X-Men and Saint Mary’s. The ever intimidating Phillip Nkrumah is averaging 15 points and 9 rebounds a game, and as a team the Capers have outscored opponents by an average of 13 points per contest.
The Capers are once again doing it with full court defense, leading the conference in steals (tied with X) and turnover margin. CBU is also leading the AUS in three-point shooting with 10 field goals from beyond the arc per game.
Cape Breton will face a huge challenge when the second half of the season begins with a weekend trip to Dalhousie.
2. Dalhousie Tigers
John Campbell’s upgraded Tigers already have a significant win under their belts after beating X 59-52 in Antigonish. They’ve comfortably taken care of business at home over Acadia and UPEI and got a double digit road win over an improved UNB. The only negative was a 92-86 loss at the Tower vs. a Saint Mary’s team desperate for their first win of the season.
The Tigers are much more athletic this year with the additions of Juleous Grant and Alex Arthur, and the return of combo guard Stephen Lopez from injury. Post player Joe Schow has been playing with ferocious abandon while former Acadia Axemen, Peter Leighton, is shooting over fifty percent from the three point line.
The Tigers are playing the best half court defense in the conference and have finally added a transition attack. Throw in the addition of former UNB Head Coach Tom Gillespie to the coaching staff and the Tigers are looking very much like legitimate contenders for their second AUS championship in three years.
3. Saint Francis Xavier X-Men
The coaches across the country seem to have a lot of respect for this X-Men team despite losses to Cape Breton and Dalhousie; X is the conferences highest ranked team sitting at number five.
The first term has been a battle for Coach K as his team has yet to find their distinctive swagger. Christian Upshaw has averaged nearly 20 points a game and the rest of the starters are on pace to put up their usual numbers, but the losses of Jordan Hope, Terrence Taylor, and Will Donkoh has taken away from the traditional depth of the team.
Expect the X-Men to get healthy over the holidays and come back in January focused and ready for another championship run.
4. Acadia Axemen
The Axemen are probably the easiest team in the conference to get a handle on, and there may not be much of a ceiling for improvement, but with the talented trio of Anthony Sears, Owen Classen, and Justin Boutlier, Acadia should have a relatively easy time making AUS playoffs again.
Sears is a high scoring athletic guard averaging 19 points per game, and Klassen is one of the best inside/outside players in the conference. Newcomer Sinclair Brown has added some toughness down low and Thomas Filgiano has been a steady force from outside coming off the bench.
Acadia doesn’t have the horses to win a championship but could provide a quarter finals upset at the playoffs. The last two years they’ve lost opening round heartbreakers to Dalhousie.
5. Saint Mary’s Huskies
The Huskies have relied heavily on the outstanding play of Joey Haywood while they wait for the newcomers to get settled in and establish some cohesiveness with the returnees.
Haywood is the nation’s leading scorer averaging 27 points a game while shooting an astonishing 58 percent from the field. Tony Fassett is developing into a nice sidekick for Haywood averaging 16 points and 7 rebounds a game and Demittri Harris has been a streaky offensive force from outside.
The Huskies have never been known as a great defensive team but are especially woeful this year, surrendering an abysmal 95 points a game.
Ross Quackenbush’s teams are infamous for playing their best basketball in late February and March so expect this team to continue to gel and be in the mix for an AUS championship.
6. UNB Varsity Reds
Brent Baker is in his third year of trying to turn around the Varsity Reds and appears to be making strides. They matched their victory total from last season with a three game winning streak in early November, only to suffer three double digit losses to finish the term.
Gone is the outstanding guard Mike Anderson (the pride of Grand Bay, New Brunswick is now playing for the Saint John Millrats), but the Reds have been getting balanced scoring from William Mcfee (14.5ppg), Daniel Quirion (12ppg), Andrew Wright (11.5ppg), and Alex DesRoches (11ppg).
The Reds are shooting just under 40 percent from the floor and have struggled with rebounding and foul shooting. However they are the second best defensive team in the conference surrendering only 76 points per game, and they do not commit many turnovers.
Expect the Reds to be in the hunt for the sixth playoff spot, which would be a huge step in Baker’s rebuilding process.
7. UPEI Panthers
Looks like another year of mediocrity for Mathew Davies and the Panthers. UPEI has been a fixture in the quarter finals at AUS championships under Davies, but may be on the outside looking in this season.
If they are to make it to Halifax it will be on the shoulders of Manock Lual. The explosive post player is averaging 21 points and 8 rebounds a game. Lual is shooting over 60 percent from the field and is a fierce competitor, but there’s just not a lot of support. Jonathon Cooper is averaging 15 points per game but shooting a paltry 33 percent, and the team is last in three point shooting.
The athletic Panthers can create havoc in the full court and they lead the conference in blocked shots (24), but they also turn the ball over too much and suffer from a lack of depth.
There is considerable room for improvement however and the Panthers should be in the running for the last playoff spot well into late February.
8. Memorial Seahawks
By virtue of a win over Saint Mary’s in Newfoundland the Seahawks are actually in seventh place in the conference. However I’m ranking PEI ahead of Memorial based on greater potential to improve second term.
The Seahawks have an outstanding trio of scorers in Mark Woodland, Jason Shepherd and Robbie Habib, and some decent secondary scoring from Will Bradbury, Mike Helsby, and Justin Alliman.
But the AUS is a physical conference and when you’re leading rebounder (Alliman) is averaging just over five boards a game, chances are good you won’t be booking a flight to Halifax in March.
The Seahawks struggle to defend giving up nearly 95 points per game. However , they are leading the conference in free throw shooting percentage (77%), and they always play tough in St.John’s.
Expect them to grind out a few more wins at home and be in playoff contention with a slight possibility of getting the sixth spot.
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