With the Christmas break over and classes back in session, it's time to get focused back on one thing - CIS basketball! The CIS Blog's hoops guy Brian Decker gets you set up with five storylines to follow in the seasons's second half.
1. Can Boris Bakovic turn Calgary's season around?
Perhaps the biggest offeason storyline in all of CIS basketball was Boris Bakovic’s decision to join the Calgary Dinos for his fifth and final season. That took a turn for the worse, however, when Bakovic went down with a preseason knee injury — one many feared would be season/career-ending.
Thankfully, Bakovic has recovered enough that he’ll make his season debut this weekend against UFV. Bakovic, simply one of the best offensive players in CIS basketball history, should help a Calgary offence that has been struggling to keep up this year.
Sitting at 3-5 and 37th in the RPI, the Dinos have shot under 42 per cent from the field nearly twice as often as they’ve shot above it. Based on my amateur calculations, they’re averaging 94.1 points per 100 possessions, a number that Bakovic could certainly help (for reference, Carleton, arguably the best team, is averaging 121.9/100, while RMC, arguably the worst team is averaging 68.4/100).
Bakovic is a superbly efficient player on offence, especially when he’s the centerpiece of a halfcourt attack. He’s a good facilitator, can create his own shot and gets to the free throw line as well as anyone in the league.
It’ll be interesting to see if Bakovic’s boost on offence can turn Calgary’s season around.
2. Will Justin King's monster numbers get him some MVP consideration?
One of the best turnaround stories in the CIS this season has been in Kamloops, where the Thompson Rivers WolfPack have already matched their win total from 2010-11. After going 4-20 last year, they’re 4-4, with two of those losses coming in close games at undefeated Victoria.
Right at the centre of the turnaround has been the production of transfer Justin King. After coming up from Skagit Valley Junior College, King has absolutely torched his CIS competition, averaging 26.9 points a contest on 58.1 per cent shooting and posting better than 10 rebounds a game.
He’s making noise as a legitimate MVP candidate.
Based on statistical production alone, no one has been better than King this season. Does that mean he’s more valuable than Tyson Hinz or Jamelle Barrett? Maybe not, but if he keeps putting up these numbers and TRU keeps winning you could probably make a case for him as MVP.
If TRU continues their massive turnaround, you’ll start to hear Justin King’s name a bit more often.
3. Who will break free from the pack in the OUA West?
If you could make one conclusion about the first half of the OUA season, it’s that apart from Carleton and maybe Ottawa, the OUA East is vastly inferior to its counterpart division in the West.
The West dominated the interlock schedule, with everyone but Western posting a record above .500. Three teams (Lakehead, Laurier and McMaster) went 7-1, and after last night’s games (where Laurier trounced Waterloo, Windsor beat Mac and Brock beat Guelph), five teams have 6 wins or more.
Once again, it’s going to be a dogfight for playoff positioning in the OUA West.
As the defending OUA champs and the most experienced team, Lakehead has be considered the favourite, while Laurier’s duo of Max Allin and Kale Harrison should make them a legitimate challenger. But other than that, each team has some question marks.
Brock and McMaster are extremely talented but still gelling. Windsor and Guelph have shown flashes, but are still competing with very different teams from past seasons.
The rest of the regular season has less than two months left. With the parity in this division, seeing what teams separate themselves – if that happens at all – from the pack should be a heck of a show.
4. Is Concordia head and shoulders above the rest of the QUBL?
Coming off a nice showing at the Rod Shoveller tournament, Concordia is once again the team to beat in the QUBL.
In addition to the Kyle Desmarais show, Decee Krah and Evens Laroche are finally giving the Stingers some consistency on the perimeter, giving Concordia some semblance of a ‘big three.’
Of course, they've only played three conference games, so it’s tough to make any legitimate predictions about how things are shaping up for Concordia. But the Stingers have beaten McGill and Laval, their two closest rivals, and should be the team to catch from here on out.
With the crazy Q schedule coming up — you get to play opponents approximately 4,500 times per season in a 5-team league — we should get a better idea of whether Concordia truly is the favourite in that conference.
5. Will UPEI's wild turnaround continue?
Another team that’s almost matched its win total from last season already is UPEI, who sit undefeated at 6-0.
Thanks to the three-headed monster of Jonathan Cooper, Donathan Moss and Manock Lual, who are averaging nearly 60 points per game between them, UPEI has become one of the feel-good stories in the AUS, if not all of CIS.
There’s a caveat, however, in that the Panthers have played their games against three teams with a combined record of 5-13 and have yet to face off with Cape Breton or St. FX, the two established contenders in the conference.
People who are probably a lot smarter than me say the Panthers are for real this year, thanks to a solid starting five and a tricky defence. They're also 7th nationwide in our RPI. But personally, I’d like to see a bit more against the top teams before I’m convinced.
UPEI’s rise from mediocrity to contention will be another storyline to watch.