It seems every year that Atlantic University Sport (AUS) basketball quickly turns into a runaway for a couple of teams and by January, most people can predict who will be in the championships at the Metro Centre. This year may very well be different.
Acadia is the class of the AUS, but there are three teams that could easily beat them on any given night. If everything goes well for the league, there will be six extremely competitive teams vying for top spot every weekend, culminating in a tense playoff fight.
So take a look at the Dalhousie Gazette’s official men’s basketball season preview and predictions. We may or may not be right, so gamble with caution. Or don’t.
Regular Season Predictions
1) Acadia Axemen
What can we say about the Axemen that hasn’t already been said? With three consecutive trips to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national tournament and the best big man in the country, some would say best player, in Owen Klassen, this team is poised to be the dominant force in the AUS. The paint play for Acadia is clearly their strong suit. However, with solid play from the 2 and 3 positions, no team can double-team down low, allowing Klassen and Rhys Larry to dominate. Though this team has a lot of new recruits who will have to fill out the bench, they will be learning from seven mature players who understand what it takes to go to nationals. Could be the best team to come out of the AUS in some time, but the gap is closing.
Player to Watch: Owen Klassen
This guy is a stud. No question about it. He can put any team on his back and lead them to success. Some say he is the best player in Canada and expect nothing less but absolute domination from Klassen on his farewell tour.
2) UPEI Panthers
The Panthers have been knocking on the door of the AUS elite for the past three seasons and it’s looking like they may be poised to break it wide open. The team has had back-to-back 13-7 seasons and will need to improve on the road (6-5 last season) to enter this upper echelon. The road to the AUS championships runs through the paint and the Panthers will need one of two young players (Stefan Vujisic or Brian Ofori) to show a huge presence in the post to be real contenders. As long as that works out for them, they could be one of the best teams in the CIS, let alone the AUS.
Player to watch: Brian Ofori
Ofori provided a solid if unspectacular freshman year for the Panthers, but if this team is expecting to become a real contender he is going to have to step up. Last season was the DJ Williams show on the Island and if the Panthers remain one-dimensional, they will be another middle of the road type of team. A great performance from Ofori could help this team beat the Axemen or the Capers. He has the most experience in the paint and the Panthers need Ofori to take the next step this season.
3) CBU Capers
How do you replace a player like Jimmy Dorsey? The honest answer is you don’t. The Capers are going to be a much different team than they were last year, despite only losing two players, due to Dorsey’s departure. It’s going to be up to coach Matt Skin and veteran players AJ Geugjes, Meshack Lufile and Sean McCormick to alter this team offensively. By no means is this impossible, but how is this team going to fare against one-on-one looks when opposing defenses don’t need to double team Dorsey? There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic in Caperland (a coach who won the AUS best head coach award in his first season, a group of players that know what it takes to win and a great lot of recruits), but this team will need to prove they are still the dominant force that lost only one regular season game in the AUS last year.
Player to watch: Kayon Mayers
This kid has some huge shoes to fill. Nobody is asking him to be the next Jimmy Dorsey, but he has to put this team in a position to win. As long as he can make a good first pass and prove he is at least an average threat to score, the Capers could be another dominant team in the CIS.
4) Saint Mary’s Huskies
This team is going to be exciting to watch. Coach Jonah Taussig likes his team to play an exciting, above-the-rim style of basketball. This was evident when the Huskies almost took out powerhouse Carleton in the preseason. This team will be better this season with healthier and more experienced point guard play. The team struggled mightily after losing starting PG Brian Rouse last year to injury, but he’s back for the season. Of course you can’t talk about the Huskies without mentioning Harry Ezinebe, the fifth-year player who attacks the boards so ferociously he has earned the nickname “Air Ezinebe.” A major concern for this team will be the play in the paint. There is no proven player down low after key departures this offseason. The Huskies are an athletic and exciting team, but I can’t see them being a top-tier team until they show us something special.
Player to watch: Riley Halpin
Though streaky, Halpin can be a force down low and he is going to get his chance to prove it with the departure of Kevin Thomas. Riley is naturally a power forward, but will be expected to play no. 5 in the post often this season. Halpin is the type of player who may not be great at anything but is good at everything. You may be pulling your hair out one minute and the next jumping with excitement because of him.
5) Dalhousie Tigers
The biggest difference for the Tigers this season is behind the bench. Rick Plato, who had coached the Mount Saint Vincent University men’s team to several national appearances, brings a hard-nosed approach to basketball. This team will continue to grind out games defensively. Offensively the team will rely heavily on AUS second team all-star and fifth-year player Simon Marr. As long as this team can remain strong up the middle there is no reason to expect a drop off compared to last season; if anything, this team is poised to climb the ranks of the AUS.
Player to watch: John Traboulsi
Maybe not the flashiest player on the Tigers roster, but when this team played its best ball last season he was the guy that was clicking. A tough defender who can rain threes, if Traboulsi can develop a more consistent game he will become an AUS all-star.
6) St. FX X-Men
The X-Men are going to be a completely different team this season. They graduated the leaders in every major offensive category (top two scorers, top rebounder and top assist man). However, this team has assembled seven new recruits who will be looking for playing time. In order for this team to be successful, Coach K is going to have to take advantage of an absolutely huge team (six players over 6’6”) and hope that some youngsters step up for this team. After 17 seasons of winning records, this season could easily spell their second straight losing season.
Player to watch: Shane Coupland
Some readers may remember Coupland as a huge contributor for the X-Men when they went on their run at the 2012 nationals. Last season though, he barely registered a blip. With Rodrigo Madera providing his using steady paint presence and the rest of the team virtually unknown, Coupland needs a return to form to thrust this team into contention.
7) UNB Varsity Reds
UNB didn’t provide a lot of excitement or promise last season. After providing little hope for their fan base for a turnaround, this team may be bottom dwellers again. The Varsity Reds have two solid guards in Daniel Quirion and Javon Masters, who could both go off for 30-plus points against the middle of the pack teams in the AUS. With little to no real threat in the middle though, the Varsity Reds will be depending on their perimeter game to beat opponents. If this team finds their hot streak at the right time they could surprise some people, but it’s safer to keep expectations realistic for this team.
Player to watch: Daniel Quirion
Quirion may be the definition of a streaky player. Some nights he can absolutely take over a game, driving the lane and draining easy buckets from the line, but other nights he just disappears. If given the right amount of touches, and if the entire team can be more consistent this season, I feel Quirion could be a second team AUS all-star.
8) Memorial Seahawks
Memorial managed one win last season, beating St. FX by just four points after a huge fourth quarter. Very rarely did the Seahawks even provide a challenge for many of the teams in the AUS, routinely losing by 25 points. Though they consistently started the same five, only Vasilije Curcic regularly stayed on the floor for over 30 minutes. This is a program that has won 10 games over the past five seasons, so don’t be expecting a miracle coming from the Rock this season.
Player to watch: Vasilije Curcic
This team’s lone bright spot is Curcic. He is a steady, maybe not great, presence that can help focus this team’s offence. He is not on par with Owen Klassen, but he is a good player who is always trying hard to win games. He could develop into one of the best if his team situation doesn’t drag him down.