For those who followed the blog last year, this season's first edition of the RPI might look a little strange. Carleton is at no. 7 even though they're undefeated so far and are coming off a championship year. Regina is 0-2 yet finds itself at no. 5. And Waterloo's in the top 10.
Don't worry about all that. This is too small a sample size for the formula to say much about rankings. Instead, let's take the RPI top-10 and try to assess whether they'll be sticking around when the CIS rankings come out. (As you'll be able to tell, some will and some won't.) We'll also look at some "lower-ranked" teams that will actually be in contention once the season kicks off.
- ST. FX X-MEN: Three invitationals, three victories. The X-Men have looked good with their re-tooled roster (out are Christian Upshaw, Charlie Spurr, Alberto Rodriguez and Will Silver, in are, well, a lot of new guys) in winning the UPEI, McGill and St. FX Invitationals. Terry Thomas looks like a classic East coast CIS scorer, Tyrell Vernon has spent a year transforming into a legitimate point guard and Jeremy Dunn (6'5", 240) just looks scary in the paint.
The X-Men are also quickly becoming the mix 'n' match recruiting team of the CIS. They've sniped four former Ontario guys and have players from Sudan (Riiny Ngot), Australia (Shaen Coupland) and the Dominican Republic (Rodrigo Madera) — [insert Spurs/Raptors comparison here]. If they don't live up to preseason expectations, at least they'll ace their first-year geography midterms.
THE VERDICT: They probably won't hang on to no. 1, but they'll be around in the top-10 all year.
- LAKEHEAD THUNDERWOLVES: Apparently the Great Group of Dudes (GGODs from now on, so pay attention) are 6-0, not that you'd know from their site (they also apparently have the world's biggest 11-year old on their roster). Lakehead's big graduation loss from last year, Jamie Searle, was crucial in organizing their offence and keeping it from looking like a really good pickup game. Still, they've got some explosive pieces coming back from their historic OUA Championship team and should have enough talent to stick around.
Ryan Thompson, the big man with unlimited range (I've seen it: he grew up on my street and was known as that dude who was always knocking down jumpers from the middle of the road), looks to be off to a good start, scoring 32 in a win over Regina. In addition to Thomson, Lakehead just has a bunch of guys (sorry - Dudes) that are tough to match up with — Yoosrie Salhia is an undersized but really strong rebounder, Greg Carter is the smallest guy on the court yet usually the best defender and Venzal Russell has that weird, unguardable combination of size and speed.
THE VERDICT: The top-10 won't be a strange place to the GGODs this year. They'll be around.
- WINNIPEG WESMEN: Note: for the Canada West teams, I'd refer you to friend of the blog Wayne Thomas, who knows approximately 1,372 times more about these teams than I do.
Here's where we start to get a little tricky with the RPI. A .500 record against CIS opponents (though 3-5 overall) with the fourth-toughest schedule so far is enough to keep them afloat, but they'll have to pull off some sort of miracle to stay anywhere near the top-3, let alone the top-10.
That's not to say the Wesmen aren't on the rise — a repeat of last year's 6-18 record would certainly be disappointing — but there are too many good teams in the Canada West to make it easy to leapfrog into this top-10.
THE VERDICT: Probably not a top-10 team this year.
- SASKATCHEWAN HUSKIES: The Huskies, like the rest of their Canada West counterparts, aren't without their question marks this year, with Jamelle Barrett nursing a minor knee injury and his partner in scoring-a-lot-of-friggin'-points-crime Rejean Chabot gone to graduation. However, a healthy Barrett and the addition former Wesman Peter Lomuro should mean another contending season for the Huskies.
Between big guys Michael Lieffers, Nolan Brudehl and Chris Unsworth, the Huskies have perhaps the most versatile frontcourt in the conference, with equal parts long, quick, strong and good at basketball. Depth is a question mark, but if they can get anything from some of their youngsters, Saskatchewan should be a force to be reckoned with once again.
THE VERDICT: These dogs aren't going anywhere. Woof!
- REGINA COUGARS: They're 0-2 (not counting wins over Obscure State College and some dudes from Medicine Hat) you say! How are they in the top-10?
The answer: I'm not really sure. Rob can handle this one...
[Short answer: not enough games played to have an accurate ranking. Long answer: Since one component of the RPI is opponents' winning percentage, and Regina's opponents haven't lost a game yet, the Cougars have an artificially high strength of schedule. They've played only Lakehead (twice), and as mentioned the GGODs are 6-0. Having opponents who are technically undefeated raises Regina's RPI by quite a lot. —RP]
Regina's Paul Gareau is a force to be reckoned with and a very, very good big man. But with a high turnover of experienced players and an influx of rookies, contending probably isn't in the cards for the Cougars this year. It's a bit troubling when one of your lead recruits is described as "surprisingly agile."
THE VERDICT: Nope.
- UPEI PANTHERS: 7-13 last year and with a new coach? It might be doable for a new bench boss to contend with a boatload of talent, but there's still a long way to go on the UPEI road to contention. Manock Lual is an interesting player and there are a few veteran pieces around him, but the Panthers aren't on the same level as the contending AUS teams.
THE VERDICT: Top-10 dreams are likely out to sea.
- CARLETON RAVENS: In case you were wondering, Carleton's 31st-ranked SOS is what got them all the way down to 7th place.
(Keep in mind that the Ravens haven't had Tyson Hinz, Phil Scrubb and Cole Hobin for much of the fall, as they've been busy playing for some other red-and-white team.)
The question for Carleton this year is whether they'll lose a game at all. Last year's exceptionally young championship core is back, led by Player of the Year Hinz and Scrubb. They've also added local standout Justin Shaver to the mix — another guy that teams will have to double in the paint, leaving the Carletons to rain triples.
Who knows — maybe another group of dudes (heck, if it's anyone, it probably will be the actual GGODs) can come along and upset Carleton again. But with their core returning and a championship to defend, it's not going to be pretty for the rest of the CIS against the Ravens this year.
THE VERDICT: Yeah, I think they'll get a vote or two.
- WATERLOO WARRIORS: We know Cam McIntyre is going to score a lot of points, but is it going to transfer into wins for the Warriors? For a program that's experienced a ton of turnover in graduating players over the past two years, that's a tough ask.
The 'years experience' on Waterloo's roster reads like a binary code and though they've got some pieces in place (McIntyre and Wayne Bridge can score), this team isn't likely to fight its way out of the parity-filled OUA West. That's too bad, because McIntyre's final year is likely to be a spectacular one.
THE VERDICT: Probably not a top-10 team this year.
- ALBERTA GOLDEN BEARS: This is a big year for the Golden Bears program. It's not every year you get to pair a versatile, dynamic forward and a lights-out shooting guard together with a ton of depth to boot, but that's exactly what Alberta has.
Jordan Baker and Daniel Ferguson are arguably both top-10 CIS talents, both with different yet complementary skill sets. Baker is a double-double machine and a good shooter while Ferguson can simply fill up the basket. Last year, Baker really came into his own and was also a member of Canada's Pan-Am squad last month, while Ferguson showed he's a real threat in the CIS game, averaging over 23 points per contest in '10-11.
They've got seniors, size, depth and two awesome players. With some of the other Canada West powers dealing with their own question marks, this is a 'golden' opportunity for Alberta.
THE VERDICT: They might not be no. 1 contenders, but they'll certainly occupy a top-10 spot for much of the year.
- LAURENTIAN VOYAGEURS: Does this one seem out of place? It might not be. Laurentian has quietly developed a nice roster of diverse talent that could surprise some people this year.
Firstly, the Pasquale brothers (Manny and Isiah) are true basketball players — they shoot it well, play hard on defence, pass the play, play the game the right way, etc., etc., etc. The point is, they're going to have nights where the Voyageurs out-execute other teams on offence because of these guys. Throw in a very solid jump-shooting big man in Mike Hull and your average freak athlete in Tychon Carter-Newman and you've got some very tough matchups across the lineup.
THE VERDICT: Top-10 might be a bit of a stretch, but if this team goes on a run and gains some momentum it's not ridiculous.
Once again, given the small sample size, we should point out the above is by no means a definitive list of contenders. There are a few teams outside the RPI top-10 that are likely to be mainstays in the coaches' vote and perhaps even feature prominently at the 2012 Final 8. Here's a look at what those teams will need to do to get on the list.
11. UFV Cascades: Good returning group could make for a breakthrough season.
12. Concordia Stingers: They have Kyle Desmarais and it's the QUBL. They'll win.
14. UBC Thunderbirds: With Josh Whyte, Brent Malish and Alex Murphy gone, they have questions to answer. Still have lots of talent but depth is a big concern.
16. Toronto Varsity Blues: Could feast on lesser OUA East foes for wins.
17. Laurier Golden Hawks: Have had an up-and-down preseason, but have tons of talent and good depth.
20. Ottawa Gee-Gees: Can Warren Ward lead them into the top-10?
21. Calgary Dinos: Will need the badly injured Boris Bakovic to return to have a chance, and it seems that won't happen.
26. McMaster Marauders: They have a great rookie class. Is success in their first year do-able?
NR. Trinity Western Spartans: It's tough to predict how a team will do when it just imports senior transfers every year (and when they haven't played CIS competition at all so far this year). My guess is they'll be pretty good though.