Kingston,ON- The Edmonton Stingers are set to meet the Fraser Valley Bandits in the CEBL Summer Series championship game on Sunday afternoon . The two teams took very different paths to get to this point.
Led by the core of a team that lost in the semi-finals a season ago, the Stingers were one of the favourites coming into the tournament. Fraser Valley, on the other hand, finished last in the CEBL in 2019, and brought back only one player from that 4-16 team. The Bandits have been fuelled by their underdog status throughout the Summer Series.
The semi-final performances of both Edmonton and Fraser Valley were microcosms of their teams and Summer Series journeys. Fraser Valley took the most difficult path possible. On Saturday they scored a total of 50 points through three quarters, turning the ball over far too many times against the Honey Badger zone, and becoming increasingly frustrated with the referees, their opponents, and themselves.
The frustration culminated in the third quarter when Marcus Capers, after being run over by the Mack truck also known as Owen Klassen (Acadia), reacted to the block call with about as much tact as Will Ferrell, in Old School, telling his teammates to keep their composure. Capers was promptly ejected from the game, and things didn’t exactly improve from there. At the end of the third quarter Hamilton had built their lead to 14. But in typical Fraser Valley fashion, at the time that most teams would fold, they dug their heels in and became stronger and tougher. The fourth quarter was an absolute war. There was Junior Cadougan and Briante Weber talking non-stop junk every time there was a stoppage in play (and sometimes even during the play). There was a full-out scrum on the floor underneath the Hamilton basket that resulted in a Derek Cooke Jr. technical foul.
It was never particularly pretty on the offensive end, but if you enjoy watching extremely competitive people putting everything on the line as if their lives depended on the outcome, it was must see television. And in a grind-it-out, mix-it-up, physical, no blood no foul, war of attrition, there’s no team whose chances you should like more than the Bandits.
This Bandit defensive possession during the Elam Ending was absolutely beautiful.
I also loved the Fraser Valley reaction when Olu Ashaolu scored the game-winning bucket. When he first ran onto the court, Kyle Julius was about two steps away from going full Jimmy V. When Valvano was asked about that, he said that if they won the national championship he was supposed to hug Dereck Whittenburg, but that in all the commotion he couldn’t find him. I wonder who Julius’ “hug guy” was today.
Joe Raso commented on this for CBC, but I think it bears repeating. The optimal offensive strategy in the Elam Ending is really pretty simple – don’t change your strategy! Hamilton was three points away from the target score while Fraser Valley still needed nine points to win. Below are clips of three of the first four Hamilton possessions while they were three points away from winning (the other was the travelling call shown above).
If Fraser Valley’s semi-final was as difficult as possible, Edmonton’s was rarely in doubt. Edmonton won on Saturday because they were the better, more complete team, and because they went out on the floor and played like it.
In my semi-final preview I speculated on how Ottawa might defend reigning CEBL MVP, Xavier Moon. It turns out that they opted for a strategy that they didn’t show in the first match-up – they switched nearly every Moon ball screen or hand-off, and helped early any time Moon tried to attack. It also turns out that it didn’t matter. Edmonton is so deep, so talented, and so confident, that they are capable of having a different hero in nearly every game. During the Summer Series their hero has most often been Moon, Jordan Baker (Alberta), or even Travis Daniels. On Saturday it was Mathieu Kamba. Kamba was unstoppable, scoring 26 points on only 12 field goal attempts. Kamba’s shot chart is a thing of beauty to analytics nerds around the world. 12 field goal attempts – six from three and six at the rim. The man shot from the most efficient spots on the floor, and damn was he efficient on Saturday.
We’ll keep the numbers to an absolute minimum today. We’ve done more than enough number crunching over the past two weeks. For anyone who’s curious, my model projects Edmonton to come home with the title in 65.0% of simulations. That’s it for the probabilities or advanced stats talk, I promise.
Championship Game: #1 Edmonton vs. #2 Fraser Valley (Sunday at 12:00 PM)
Round Robin Stats
What happened the first time they met?
Fraser Valley never trailed, jumping out to a 6-0 lead and never looking back. Mid-way through the fourth quarter they led by as many as 26 points, before cruising to a 113-100 victory.
Both teams had six players in double figures. Fraser Valley was led by Cameron Forte with 28, Kyle Johnson with 19, and Jahenns Manigat with 16. For the Stingers, Adika Peter-McNeilly (Ryerson), Xavier Moon, and Mathieu Kamba, had 18, 16, and 15, respectively.
What should you watch for?
1. I went into significant detail discussing pace in my semi-finals preview. Fraser Valley will want to slow the game down. Without Cameron Forte, they’re unlikely to win another track meet against a team as talented as Edmonton. The Bandits will prefer if the score is in the 70s, similar to their semi-final, rather than in the 100s (like their first match-up versus Edmonton).
2. In the round-robin stage, Edmonton had six active players average in double figures (Moon, Baker, Daniels, Kamba, Peter-McNeilly, and Brody Clarke (Alberta)), while Fraser Valley had three (Manigat, Duvivier, and Cadougan). Championship games often have an unlikely hero. Will we see one today? It could be someone like Mambi Diawara (Calgary), Kareem South, Kyle Johnson, or Marcus Capers.
3. It goes without saying, but in a championship game there’s no reason to hold anything back. As a result, both coaches have the opportunity to throw the kitchen sink at this game, so to speak. What do Kyle Julius and Jermaine Small have up their sleeves? I can’t wait to find out.
The CEBL Summer Series has been a smashing success. It went off without a hitch, and the on-court product has been excellent. The CEBL has done a great job of showcasing just how much basketball talent our country has produced in recent years. It won’t be long before the CEBL is a popular, well-known product all over Canada. More than any of the questions above, today I want to see a well-played, entertaining championship game that is a fitting ending to what has been such a fantastic tournament.