The anticipation is over. It’s now playoff time.
The Atlantic University Sports (AUS) men’s basketball playoffs start on March 1, and a season of preparation for the Dalhousie University Tigers will be put to the test. They’re hosting the U Sports Men’s Final 8 national championships this year- guaranteeing them a spot in the tournament –– but the Tigers wants to prove they deserve to be there.
“We know we are going to be in the nationals, but we would like to go through the front door and win the conference like we did a couple of years ago,” says the team’s head coach Rick Plato. “I believe that if we play our best basketball, we can compete with any team in the country.”
Dalhousie hosted nationals two years ago and won the AUS Championship and a national bronze medal. They failed to qualify to the national stage last year after losing to St. Francis Xavier University X-Men in Dal’s first game of the AUS playoffs.
The team two years ago was in a different situation than this year’s team. The 2017 team had many veteran players and was back-to-back AUS champions heading into the season. Even though they had never hosted nationals before, they had experience playing against national-level competition.
Alex Carson, Kevin Duong, Sascha Kappos, and Cedric Sanogo are the four remaining players who were on the 2017 team. However, both Carson and Sanogo missed the AUS playoffs and nationals because of injuries. Sanogo did play in the 2015 and 2016 national championships.
Plato understands that the national stage will require more work, so the preparation for each game is critical. He spends extra time with the guys to help them know what they will have to face every game.
“We spend a lot of time with the video, and we spend a lot of time in meetings,” says Plato. “Between yesterday and today, I pretty much met with everybody to break things down, so guys can understand things and do their homework.”
Keys to the playoffs from the player’s perspective
Preparation during the playoffs is tricky. Outside of the first game of each tournament, Dal will know who their next opponent is with only 24 hours notice. Plato’s coached Dal to three AUS championships, so he knows the situation.
“Our coaching staff does a great job of getting us prepared, so it comes down for us buying in and coming in ready to go,” says Kappos. “It will be important to understand every defensive scheme against different opponents and details like how to defend screens and individual matchups.”
Duong, a fifth-year forward, will play his last games for Dal during the national competition.
“Honestly, playing at home in my last nationals, is more than I could’ve asked for,” says Duong.
Duong expects to be a vocal leader and make sure that the team is at the right state of mind regardless of the situation.
“I think, it’s really easy to get caught up in the emotions especially in tight and close games,” says Duong. “When things start to look bad, we’ll have to make sure that we stay on the right track.”
Carson, a third-year guard/forward, leads the team in scoring, averaging 14.4 points per game. He looks forward to taking part in this year’s playoff run. Even though he was hurt two years ago, he still learned what it takes to be a champion and have success at nationals.
“I’m really excited for
For Carson, leading by example means spending as much time as possible preparing in the gym.
“We have to give it our all, so at the end, we have zero regrets about our run.”