Lethbridge hoops, Mount Royal hockey have that Southern Alberta initiative: Random Rankings Remarks

The release each week of the Top Ten rankings brings out so many emotions: joy ... excitement ... scanning a screen. The exercise of publicizing a list of 10 opinion polls during the winter sports season is very anodyne. And the slow death of salaried media also means there is precious little for the university sports-lovin' mind to read. Starting this week, there will be an effort to shout out the teams whose effort and striving is bringing a little light into the university sports world.

Three up for this week:

  • Lethbridge Pronghorns men's basketball. There is a team on the come-up in Southern Alberta.

    From Wayne Thomas:

    Who else is going well? The Lethbridge Pronghorns have won 4 straight, and locked up a play-off spot, and have a bye week to marshal their forces before their final week’s appointment vs. the Bears in Edmonton. (Canada West Hoops

    Now in their fourth season of the Mike Hansen Era (once a coach makes it to year 4, it's capitalized), the Pronghorns (16-8 U Sports, 12-6 Canada West) are gaining  momentum going toward the playoffs. Hansen was a protégé of Dave Crook in the 1990s, the period in which Lethbridge got national attention for being competitive. The coach built up Lethbridge College at the CCAA level (national silver medalist in 2011) and appears to be replicating that model. The 'Horns have a solid international contingent with scoring forward and former Great Britian under-20 national teamer Elliott Sentance (19.1 per game) and point guard Dejon Bordeaux (16.1 per game, plus 3.6 steals) complemented by two homegrown double-digit scorers, Zac Overwater and Mike Pierzchala.

    There are a number of burgeoning small school success stories in basketball, such as Thompson Rivers making the Final 8 last season and Laurentian and Nipissing being more competitive in OUA. There is more available talent in Canada and there is always a surplus of players elsewhere who are interested in a league somewhat like the NCAA, but with better gameflow and an extra season of eligibility.

    Lethbridge could be a tough out in playoffs. Their turnover rate (17.6) seems uncomfortably high for a team averaging fewer than 80 points (79.2), although having Bordeaux up top leads to forcing a lot of cough-ups (19.0). Calgary, Alberta and UBC all take care of the ball better.

    Men's basketball top 10:
  • Mount Royal Cougars men's hockey, ranked No. 9. It is refereshing to read that Cougars coach Bert Gilling says "become relevant" is part of his plan for building up his program. It's very self-aware to realize that it is one thing to win, but it's another to have the wider populace actually taking notice. One can presume that since Gilling's prior employment was at Bemidji, when it was a conference opponent of  the Minnesota Golden Gophers before the Big Ten Network overran college hockey tradition, he understands the whole "chip on each shoulder" ethos of being a smaller school.

    With men's hockey, there is an understanding it is UNB and everyone else down east and Alberta and everyone else out west. Saskatchewan Huskies coach Dave Adolph has made his team a player, though, and the U of S reorganization of its athletics program is probably going to pay dividends on the ice.

    Mount Royal is another aspirational team, which is great to see. To be honest, when Mount Royal first became competitive, I lazily assumed the reason was, "Catch the overflow of WHL alumni using their education packages, add water and stir." After all, there are only four teams in the province and eight in the conference. Canada West scoring leader Connor Rankin is a Dub grad, but three of MRU's top six scorers, including right wing Cam Maclise, are out of the Junior A ranks.

    Alberta and Saskatchewan are the odds-on picks to come out of Canada West for the University Cup, but hey, you never know. Here's hoping for a nice crowd at the Saddledome for the Crowchild Classic.

    Men's hockey Top 10:
  • Cape Breton Capers women's basketball, ranked No. 10. Look at who is headed for their first 20-win season in six years. All-Canadian forward Alison Keough is beasting virtually everyone, going for 20 and 10 on the regular and giving her team the luxury of having their post scorer who presumably gets the most touches also be their most accurate free-throw shooter, at 77.6 per cent. Four of the Capers' starters are seniors and Fabian McKenzie's team has not been to the Final 8 since 2012, so there might be some fierce urgency of now thing happening. Is that amplified by the fact the men's basketball Capers are rebuilding? Maybe.

    Cape Breton's senior leaders include guard Jalynn Skeir, who at a listed 5-foot-2 might be one of the shortest women who is starting for a good team. Ottawa's Julia Soriano is also 5-2.

    Cape Breton was a Final 8 regular throughout the aughties, going to the nationals six times in nine seasons from 2004-12. For want of deeper analysis, the drought was pretty much attributable to Saint Mary's running the league for a few seasons.

    Women's basketball Top 10:

    Also, the women's hockey Top 10:
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