With exams coming to a close and the winter break upon us, it won't be long before many CIS teams are playing in mid-season tournaments and preparing for the stretch drive of the second semester season. But before we start looking ahead to the holiday tournaments and second half games, it's time to make like professors and TAs and start dishing out the first-half grades. How have the teams done in their pursuit of athletic excellence?
National hoops editor guy Brian Decker attempts to sound knowledgeable as we delve into Atlantic University Sport.
Perhaps no conference has seen a departure of talent quite as devastating as the AUS. With stars like Simon Farine, Christian Upshaw and Joey Haywood and more having moved on from contending teams last year, the stage has been set for a substantial re-set of contending teams. It's tough to make much of the 5-7 games each team has played so far, but with the first semester behind us, it's time to take a look at how each team has done so far.
St. FX X-Men
Record: 5-0, 14 points, 1st
CIS Rank: 2nd
Despite losing Upshaw and a handful of other talented players, X has established itself as a favourite not only out east, but for many pundits in the national picture as well. They lead the RPI and have clearly developed a nice team structure. Bruising forward Jeremy Dunn has established himself as a very physical presence inside, Terry Thomas is doing the east coast guard thing (mid size, good shooter, can slash with and without the ball) and McMaster transfer Tyrell Vernon has stepped in nicely as a it tier point guard.
Of course, it's not hard to find X doubters - I've been one myself fairly consistently - and the fact that the AUS' reputation as being watered down was enhanced by a mass talent exodus this year hasn't helped. They've had to earn some of their wins in dramatic fashion and haven't exactly been blowing away opponents.
Five games is way too little to get a real feel for this team, and there's a huge range of realistic possibilities for this team come playoff time. With the Rod Shoveller Invitational coming up and more games on the way, a clearer picture of whether X is for real should be available soon.
Record: 6-0, 12 points, 2nd
Perhaps the Cinderella team of the CIS this season, the Panthers have taken off in coach Tim Kendrick's first season. The team's two previous seasons (7-13 in 2010-11, 4-16 in 2009-10) haven't offered much optimism, but behind a super trio - Jonathan Cooper, Donathan Moss and Manock Lual, who have combined to average nearly 60 points and 20 rebounds per contest - the panthers have become one of the best stories in the CIS this young season.
Now, the three teams they've beat - St. Mary's, Memorial and Acadia - have had just three wins between them in 18 games, so perhaps these were all games UPEI should have won. Like X, six games is probably to few to get excited about.
They get their first real test Jan. 15 against St. FX, and as wildly successful as they've been so far, it's hard to say if the Panthers will still be feeling as optimistic after that game.
Part of being a great story, however, is doing those things that the idiot pundits like myself expect in pre-season previews. So far, that's just about all UPEI has done.
Cape Breton Capers
Record: 4-2, 10 points, 3rd
With coach Jim Charters' resignation, things could have been worse for the Capers so far this year. Charters left the team with no official reason given, though rumblings of a team control problem in the wake of legal problems for former players Tremaine Fraser and Philip Nkrumah let the speculation run wild.
While Charters is gone, CBU's physical brand of defence and solid-as-always play from Jimmy Dorsey hasn't changed. Dorsey leads the team with 20.7 points and 9.0 rebounds and has been instrumental in keeping the team as one of only a few above .500 out East.
Last year, the pylon-orange guys kept a cinderella story going all season before fizzling out in the playoffs. Perhaps with turmoil abound this year and some pieces left to pick up, the Capers can catch momentum later in the year this time and win the ones that really count.
Record: 2-3, 8 points, 4th
Perhaps some late-game heroics by St. FX in a 90-89 OT loss on Nov. 18 prevented this team from being included in the group above. When examining a 5-game sample, 2-3 vs. 3-2 is a big difference. But even if they had pulled out that win, the Axemen haven't lived up to the lofty hopes they may have inspired with their run to the Final 8 last year.
With over 20 turnovers per game and a field goal percentage near 43%, this team has got to be tidier to make a second half run at a repeat appearance for nationals. With perhaps the most dynamic big man in the country in Owen Klassen and a few other nice pieces, they have the pieces to do so.
UNB Varsity Reds
Record: 2-4, 8 points, 4th
Their two wins came by a total of four points over Memorial at home, and they've been outscored bay total of 85 points (!!) in their four losses. That's enough to make a defence Varsity Red in the face with embarrassment.
Record: 2-5, 6 points, 6th
Tory Fassett is doing his best to replace the (figuratively) big shoes of Halifax Rainmen star Joey "King Handles" Haywood, scoring 23.4 points per contest, good enough for third in the nation. And despite five losses, the Huskies have only been outscored by 20 points on the year. A second half turnaround isn't out of the question.
Record: 1-4, 2 points, 7th
They've played some of the better teams tough, but overcoming the loss of a program's signature player (Farine), two imposing bigs (Sandy Veit and Joe Schow) and a legitimate sharpshooter (Peter Leighton) will set any team into rebuilding mode. So far, the Tigers haven't been able to overcome that (substantial) setback.
Record: 1-5, 2 points, 7th
Hey, they beat Saint Mary's in a basket ball game. Give the team some credit.