Men's basketball: 2012 AUS Final 6 preview

The AUS championship starts up this weekend at the Halifax Metro Centre and it looks to be one of the more competitive tournaments in recent history, at least on one side of the bracket, as St. Francis Xavier is the only ranked team in the conference. After X the conference is relatively equal, with the lowest team still given a 3% chance to win it all by our reckoning. And of course it is playoff time so ramp up the clich├ęs because anything can happen.

Win-loss records below refer to conference play. RPI and SRS rankings can be found here, and are the basis for The CIS Blog's tournament odds.

1. St. Francis Xavier (16-4) (ranked 6th, 3rd in RPI, +8.0 SRS)
Chances of winning: 49.7%
Will play CBU-Dal winner in semifinal

The X-Men are the odds-on favorites for the AUS crown this season. They cruised through conference; their only blemish was a three-week stretch in January during which they lost to four different teams. The CIS all-time wins leader, coach Steve Konchalski, has his team ready to go for its first conference title since '06. The X-Men are on a seven-game winning streak as they enter the tournament and are paced by a conference-best defence: they only gave up 74.1 points per game and held teams to under 40% from the field.

Offensively, Terry Thomas is their best player, averaging 18.9 points per game. The sophomore was also fourth in the country for steals and the team as a whole is +4 per game in the turnover department; ball security is extremely important come playoff time. For those who consider themselves bracketologists and understand the importance of free throws in these ‘one and done’ tournaments, the X-Men were second in the conference from the line, shooting 74%.

The X-Men look to be the favorites with their veteran lineup. It would be an absolute shocker for them not to be in the Final 8 next week, but anything can happen. Just ask them (or Cape Breton) last year.

2. Acadia (14-6) (12th in RPI, +6.2 SRS)
Chances of winning: 26.1%
Will play SMU-UPEI winner in semifinal

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the young Axemen. The players with the most seniority are only in their third year, but this team has come on strong lately winning 12 of their last 15. Recently, they won a key weekend series versus UPEI; these were two of the most entertaining games of the season. The Axemen have not been able to beat X this season, losing both games, albeit by a combined 12 points, but given the bracket setup here they will not have to face them unless and until they make the finals.

Acadia has the conference’s second best defense to go with the nation’s 7th-ranked offense. They are also 6th in the country from three point range. Down the stretch, they have been able to pull out wins without star players Anthony Sears and Owen Klassen (now cleared to play from suspension). The Axemen are aggressive defensively, averaging 10 steals and 3.2 blocks per game.

For Acadia to go back to the CIS tournament they are going to continue doing what they have been doing down the stretch and stay out of foul trouble. Coach Steve Baur’s young squad should be able to secure a berth in next week’s tournament. The question remains: are they ready to unseat X?

3. UPEI (13-7) (14th in RPI, +4.3 SRS)
Chances of winning: 11.0%
Play SMU in quarterfinal

The Panthers could have very well had the bye instead of Acadia but have slumped as of late, losing four of their last five. Yet, as the three seed, and with the nation’s fourth-ranked offense, they still need to be taken seriously. The team’s philosophy is to shoot often, and they hit most, attempting 72 field goals per game (second to Acadia) and sinking 44.7% of them (second to St. F-X). The Panthers are led by Manock Lual, the 5th year star from Ottawa. Lual averages almost nine boards per game to go with his 17 points. Rebounding is another the strength of this team as they are only one of three teams who grab 60% of rebounds on their offensive glass. The team’s two (potentially fatal) flaws are:

  1. Their record away from Charlottetown (3-7).
  2. Their abysmal performance at the free-throw line.
The Panthers get to the line about 26 times per game, good for third in the country, but are only shooting 67.6% (30th). If they can get more efficient at the line and figure out how to win off the island the Panthers have the potential to be this year’s upset special.

4. Cape Breton (11-9) (18th in RPI, +0.2 SRS)
Chances of winning: 6.5%
Play Dalhousie in quarterfinal

Jimmy Dorsey: If there is one reason to fear the Capers, it has to be him. Dorsey, in his fourth year out of Baltimore, has scored 410 points this season, good for second in CIS. He also led the nation in assists. His skills were highlighted in a 49 point, 14 assist performance vs. Acadia. Dorsey has to be the favorite for conference MVP and has a chance for the national honor.

Despite Dorsey’s successes, the Capers (a young squad with only two players above their second year of eligibility) have struggled with consistency and were forced to lean on their star. Defensively, they have room for improvement: they allow teams to shoot 42.6% against them (33% on threes) and they cause few turnovers, leading to 84 points allowed per game, second-worst in the conference.

For Cape Breton to compete in this tournament they will need to be better defensively and hopefully have Dorsey steal them a win (or three!) if they want to be AUS champions. Next year might be their year to contend.

5. Dalhousie (9-11) (20th in RPI, -3.6 SRS)
Chances of winning: 3.2%
Play CBU in quarterfinal

The reigning champs and winners of two of the last three AUS titles went through a rebuilding year this season. The strength of their game is their rebounding: remember how the Panthers were one of three teams above 60% in offensive rebounding? The Tigers were another one. (Carleton was the third. Good company to keep.) The Tigers were unable to capitalize on those additional opportunities, however being ranked 26th on offense and shooting just 40.9%. Casey Fox (14.3 ppg) and Robert Nortmann (14.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) are the two standouts with Ritchie Kanza Mata showing some potential, but overall the Tigers have underperformed this season due to an inexperienced squad.

Coach John Campbell has his work cut out for him this weekend; though, as we have seen recently, Dalhousie has found ways to come up big in this tournament.

6. Saint Mary’s (9-11) (25th in RPI, -1.4 SRS)
Chances of winning: 3.5%
Play UPEI in quarterfinal

In coach Ross Quackenbush’s final season the Huskies fell on hard times. Not a bad squad by any means — perhaps the more appropriate term is bad luck. Battling injuries and illness, they were forced play games with six- or seven-men benches, and even though they managed to gut out some victories they were so desperate for depth they resorted to bringing in former quarterback Micah Brown as a reserve (though he did not play). The Huskies have an older squad but have lacked the star power outside of Tory Fassett, one of three forwards shooting above 49%. Their inside game isn't matched in their other percentages as they struggle from three-point range and from the free-throw line.

The Huskies will look to Coach Quack for motivation. If they can keep games close, they do have a chance at making some noise as the team certainly is battle-tested, but it does not look like they will be advancing too far. This is a team that could not get a break.
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