What we learned this week: Canada West is going to be fun

What we learned this week is a weekly column on the latest developments in the men's and women's CIS basketball scene. This will focus largely on team's in the top ten, using metrics, game tape and (hopefully) interviews to provide a unique perspective on Canadian university hoops. 

Men's CanWest is wide open

One weekend teaches you very little, and the results are not likely to be accurate predictors. But still, the opening weekend of men's CIS basketball showed us one thing: CanWest will be the most entertaining conference this season.

I watched film from both Alberta-Saskatchewan men's games. The Golden Bears are nursing injuries already, while playing deep bench guys heavy minutes. The Huskies are still acclimatizing to a new rotation, with Mike Scott taking the main offensive role and other players being asked to carry more of the scoring burden.

Seeing the teams split the games wasn't necessarily surprising. Alberta's offence came together as the first game went on but I really liked the minutes that Brett Roughead gave them defensively. Roughead is listed as 7 feet tall, but according to the broadcast, Alberta's measuring tape stops at 7 feet and the coaching staff thinks he's probably got another inch on him. The third-year big man started the second game and got three blocks in 19 minutes of play. His agility in the paint is a work in progress, but Roughead uses his length to compensate for that.

Scott, the latest in a series of dynamic American gunners coming north and lighting up the CIS, had a weird weekend. He played 27 minutes off the bench in the first game and only six the next night. There was no traumatic injury, he just got pulled off in the second quarter after traveling before a three. Perhaps a nagging injury forced Sask to shut him down for the night. Otherwise, weird to see the drop off. For now, it's a balanced offence with Matthew Forbes bruising in the paint.

The short rotations for either team put an asterik on the performances, but if this is representative of how two CanWest contenders are going to look this season, it might not be the prettiest season.

That being said, Calgary and Winnipeg played a heck of a second game. The pace in the first quarter was really quick yet in control. What stuck out to be was the smoothness of the Dinos offence at times. They have a handful of versatile players, and Calgary's Dallas Karch put together a sweet 14 point (6-7 shooting), seven rebound, four assist game. His only miss came near the end of a possession where he was pinned under the basket. Small sample size, but he is a nice piece for them and will be a match-up nag for opponents.

 Neither the Wesmen or Dinos had any interest in defence the second game, but if you were watching for entertainment (guilty as charged) it was worth the time. Side-note: Winnipeg's court-design is bizarre. The black and red make for an awesome colour scheme, but splitting the area inside the arc with those? Weird.
The colour is a nice change from the snow-white Winnipeggers usually see, I guess
The final relevant game was the UVic taking on Regina. The Cougars deserve a top ten vote for the jerseys they wore. They looked damn good, very Washington Wizards-esque.

UVic played well enough. It is hard to put too much stock in their performance, given the opponent. Chris McLaughlin is a beast, and Regina did not have anyone to physically match up with him. (I don't know how many teams in the country will have someone to guard him, though). Marcus Tibbs, who broke out at the CIS Final 8 tournament, looks real good off the dribble and the chemistry between him and McLaughlin is already apparent. These guys will grow as the year goes on and will test for the CanWest championship.

Sask, Alberta open season in clash of CanWest titans
The Pandas (I hate when schools different names for men's and women's program) were ranked No. 3 to start the season, and they solidified their position with a couple of wins over then-No. 6 Saskatchewan. Sask dropped to No. 7, despite no other conference playing games. I think that's a bit unfair after watching the game.

Alberta made a ton of bad passes in the first half of game No. 1, forcing balls into cutting post players. They have some good perimeter defenders, annoying Sask ball handlers the entire game. That being said, the Huskies shot 5-20 from three in the first game, and a handful of those shots were wide-open looks.

Dalyce Emmerson -- an All-Canadian last year -- struggled, and that really was the difference. Emmerson shot 60.1% last year, second-best in the country. This weekend, she shot a collective 8-19. It's early, but Emmerson only shot under 50 per cent in four of her 19 regular season games.

It was close until the very end, so I don't really think we learned anything from this series. The coaches saw something I didn't, considering they dropped Sask a bit.

UVic and Winnipeg put up convincing wins, but it was surprising to see Regina lose by 20 while giving up 89 to the Vikes. Regina was leading after a quarter, 20-13, but two 31-point quarters from Vic turned this into a rout. The box score from the first game is worth a look. Two teams to keep an eye on as the season gets going.

What to watch this week: 

Victoria at UBC - Men's and Women's

Both of these games can teach us something. The men's squad at UBC had a down year in 2013-14, but expectations are high for them. At No. 7 in the top ten and the highest-ranked CanWest team, this team should make a run to the Final 8, provided they stay healthy.

UBC's women's team is ranked second, and we could see how tight the CanWest race will be if Victoria can hang tough (or possibly steal a game).

Acadia at UNB - Men's

How good is UNB? This game, against a new-look Axemen squad (new head coach, no Owen Klassen) will provide a glimpse into what the Varsity Reds will look like going forward. Also, Javon Masters is playing so you should try to watch him whenever you can.

St. FX at Saint Mary's - Women's

Without Justine Colley, how will Saint Mary's score? I know they still can score, but it is never easy to replace one of the best scorers in recent CIS history. Worth a view just to see how the Huskies acclimatize to their new situation.

McMaster at Ottawa/Carleton - Men's

This should be at the top of everyone's viewing list this weekend. The No. 4-ranked team against the No. 2 and No. 1? And they've played each other twice, in the regular season and playoffs? And there are high school buddies going against each other? And Mac's last trip to Carleton saw them hang 88 on the Ravens? Yeah, I'm in. I'll actually be in-house for both games, calling the games for the McMaster radio station. I'm hoping for an improved experience, as Ottawa had fans dropping homophobic slurs towards players when I visited two years ago.

Everyone else - it's opening weekend

Watch your team, and let's see what happens. We lost some major names last year and there are more teams than I listed who have to find themselves. Should be a fun one.

That's all I've got this week. Let me know what I missed in the comments and enjoy the games.
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