VANCOUVER, BC – Gyms have been quiet all throughout Canadian universities. With the season right around the corner, the hardwood sees the return of men’s basketball in Canada West. Much has changed throughout the COVID-19 affected season, and the schools head into this year with plenty of optimism and hope.
Here’s how each team is looking in Canada West.
Alberta Golden Bears
The Golden Bears come into the 2021-22 season with plenty of expectation. They were the runners up in Canada West in 2019-20, finishing the regular season top of the conference with a 19-1 record before dropping a tight contest to the UBC Thunderbirds in the finals. This year, they’ll be wanting to avenge that defeat and claim the Canada West crown.
Alberta is a unit. They might not have a transcendental talent to carry them to the top, but one thing they are is a team. The Bears bid farewell to sharpshooter Ivan Ikomey, who led Canada West in 3-point percentage, but otherwise did not seem to lose any key cogs. Team assist leader Tyus Jefferson returns at the helm of a very experienced squad looking to finish what they started, while Adam Paige is back after a sojourn with the Fraser Valley Bandits of the Canadian Elite Basketball League.
There’s nothing here that suggests anything else but a title contender. Always a fierce competitor, look for Alberta to fight at the very top of the standings and make a deep run into the Canada West playoffs.
It might be a long year for the Manitobans. In 2019-20, the Bobcats snuck into the Canada West playoffs in the very last spot, being bounced in the play-ins by the Victoria Vikes. Brandon’s roster is shaping up to be an extraordinarily young one, with only one third-year student in the lineup. They’ll be trying to avoid the fate of the Charlotte NBA team of the same name as they head into this year with a roster overhaul.
A key graduate of the Bobcats is the high-flying Haashim Wallace, averaging 17.2 points and 4.9 rebounds. He was a very good secondary scoring option, and his graduation means that more responsibility will be placed upon the shoulders of sophomore Anthony Tsegakele. In his freshman season, the Gatineau QC native averaged 17.4 points and 11.8 rebounds. After spending time with the Bandits this summer, Tsegakele will be leaned upon heavily as the primary option of the Bobcats offense.
A fresh young team, the Brandon Bobcats bear little resemblance to the team they were just over a year ago. Whether that is for the better or worse, is still to be known.
After an 18-2 regular season came to a stunning halt in the Canada West semi-finals, the Calgary Dinos will be trying to recreate their 2019-20 season, this time with a happier ending. Like their in-province rivals, the Dinos sport a roster dotted with experience, though they have begun to mix in some more fresh blood.
One huge name Calgary isn’t going to see back is Brett Layton. The transfer from the MRU Cougars had a monstrous 19-20 campaign, averaging 20.6 points, 15 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. His loss is one that the Dinos are going to miss heavily, though they certainly aren’t short on talent to try and make up for it. Forward Mason Foreman broke out in his third year at Calgary, second in scoring on the team with 17.3 PPG while hauling in 8.6 boards. He’ll be one to watch in a bigger role, while guard Ezeoha Santiago will try to improve on his 15.3 PPG season.
Though they may be missing their standout from years past, Calgary is certainly a very solid team with experience and skill abound. Look for them to finish near the top of the conference and really push deep into the playoffs.
The southern Albertans present an interesting case. There’s been a bit of roster turnover when compared to the last season they were in action, though that was to be expected with the veteran-heavy roster they had. Now, with a balance of fresh faces and returning talent, will the Pronghorns be able to break out of mediocrity?
They’ll be without the services of Scott Mazutinec, who averaged .382% from three-point range. The lack of outside scoring may come to hurt the Pronghorns, though they have retained their strong inside presence. Forward Chad Oviatt averaged 1.2 blocks and 1.9 steals in 2019-20, leading Lethbridge’s many giants heading into the new season. It’ll be interesting to watch to see how the Pronghorns adapt, whether their new recruits can spread the defense with outside shooting or if they’ll opt for a paint-heavy offense.
It’s hard to make a true prediction for the Pronghorns. They were bang average last time around, with a 10-10 record and a +6 point differential. Are their new recruits and development enough to contend in a tough Canada West? Only time will tell.
It was a brutal 2019-20 for the MacEwan Griffins. Going 2-18 saw them finish second-to-last in Canada West as the Griffins have just been mired in the basement for the last couple of years. This season is a fresh start for MacEwan, and they’re hoping the changes they made will help drag the program back into the playoff picture.
There were no major departures to speak of for MacEwan. No key cog will be missing, or any strong defenders. What they will be hoping for is a bounce back year from Jake Notice. After averaging 16.1 points in 18-19, the guard from the UK regressed to a measly 12.4 PPG on 38.4% shooting. The Griffins will need their former team MVP to step up if they want any shot of making it into the Canada West playoffs.
With an influx of first year players, MacEwan will be looking for a return to .500 and being in the playoff race. It’s a long shot however, so don’t be surprised if they end up near the bottom once again.
Manitoba’s 4th place campaign in 2019-20 came to an end at the hands of the Golden Bears in the Canada West semifinals. The Bisons are hungry for revenge as they return this year with the team mostly intact, their core leadership supplemented by exciting local talent. Will this be the season that they’ll manage to make a run to the finals?
Gone will be guard Rashawn Browne. The focal point of the Bison offense, he’ll be leaving for the Saskatchewan Rattlers of the CEBL. Browne leaves a pretty big gap in the Manitoba lineup, having averaged 20.4 points to go with 6.0 assists and 4.1 rebounds. Trying to step up in his place will be Keiran Zziwa and James Wagner. The guard and forward have shown themselves to be solid contributors at the Canada West level, Zziwa averaging 15.6 PPG and Wagner 16.4 himself. They’ll be relied upon to step up as Manitoba continues to gun for a title.
With Team Manitoba recruits like Samuel Jansen in the fold, the Bisons look to combine skilled veterans with exciting young talent. It’s a very solid team from top to bottom that will finish towards the top of the conference as the season progresses.
Mount Royal Cougars
After starting out their season with three wins, it all came crashing down around the Cougars. Finishing the 2019-20 season with a 3-17 record, Mount Royal will desperately be trying to turn this year into a better one. It’s reflected by their roster as well, with a multitude of first and second years ready to make an impact.
Matthew Guinto won’t be coming back to the Cougars after leading them in scoring in 19-20. In his place, Mount Royal will want a collective effort from all hands on the team. Up and down the lineup, there isn’t a true central focus for the offense. That may be a good thing as the Cougars will try and find a leader in their lineup. While expectations should be a bit lower for MRU, it’ll be a good development season for a young team to grow together.
Regina had themselves a very up and down season last time out, finishing with a 10-10 record and losing in the play-ins against Lethbridge. This year might be a bit different though as a young Cougars team has taken the pandemic to mature together.
A multitude of redshirts from 19-20 make up a big chunk of the Regina roster, so the number of 1st and 2nd years are a bit deceiving. This is a very experienced squad, led by their 6’5 forward Carter Millar. Averaging a double-double with 18.1 points and 10.1 rebounds, Millar will try and take another step with plenty of talent around him. Drayden Hornoi highlights their recruiting class, averaging 26 points while shooting just under 40% from deep. The Team Saskatchewan player should be a boon for the Cougar rotation.
This season really could be the one that turns Regina into a contender in Canada West. With young talent that is both skilled and experienced, this is a very good group with some very good players. They’ll definitely be in the hunt for a deep run in the playoffs.
The Huskies are in an interesting situation. After finishing their Canada West season with a loss in the Quarterfinals, Saskatchewan looks on the cusp of breaking out as a true force. It’s a much more experienced team that will be heading to the hardwood, but now what remains to be seen is whether or not they can capitalize on their potential.
Sask bid farewell to JT Robinson, the California-native having led the Huskies with 19.2 PPG. In his place will be Alex Dewar, who will hopefully step up to become the centerpiece of the offense. The guard had himself a breakout campaign in 2019-20, averaging 16.7 PPG on .498% shooting. It’ll be a key year with some of his fellow teammates such as Fisayo Moibi and Kessler Bishop also looking to take that next step in development.
With young recruits like Arminas Ilciukas joining the fold, Saskatchewan could become a surprise in the Canada West conference. They’re definitely trending in the right direction, along with keeping most of the rotation together. It’ll be interesting to watch to see where they finish in the upcoming season.
Thompson Rivers Wolfpack
TRU started off their 2019-20 season hot, but slid down the standings with a 7-game losing streak to finish off the year. It seemed fitting that they were bounced in the play-ins against Saskatchewan. This year, they might not even get off to that good start.
It appears that this will be a rebuild year for the Wolfpack. Gone are stalwarts Anton Bilous and Joe Davis, the two leading scorers last time out. Their combined 32.6 points will be a massive contribution that’s missing from the rotation. Though it will ultimately be replaced, TRU does lack that defining leader in their lineup. It’s a roster chalk full of first and second years, all who might not be ready for the big time. It’ll be a tougher season for the Wolfpack, and though they have the ability to cause some upsets, they’re more likely to finish outside of the playoff picture.
Trinity Western Spartans
Trinity Western has not been very successful in basketball. It says a lot when the team has gone back to back seasons without winning a single game. The Spartans will want to buck that trend and record at least a couple of wins this time around.
Leading the way for the Spartans is 5th year guard Ja’Qualyn Gilbreath. Involved with an eligibility issue last season, the Texas native was an unstoppable force in the games that he played. He averaged 27 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists, pretty much doing everything he could to will TWU to wins. Unfortunately, they had to vacate their two wins against MacEwan due to the fact that he did not have Canadian citizenship. Gilbreath enters this year eligible but in his final year, and the supporting cast he has is much the same as years prior. Don’t expect much from them.
The T-Birds are in a bit of a tricky spot. Though they’re coming off of a very successful 2019-20 season that saw them finish third in the nation, UBC might be in tough to repeat that achievement. Still, much of the team is running it back, and don’t count them out for any upsets.
Gone will be Jadon Cohee and Grant Shephard. These two led the way offensively for the Thunderbirds, averaging 19.1 and 15.4 points respectively. Cohee has graduated, but the big surprise was Shephard’s transfer to Carleton. The highly sought-after recruit will be joining the national powerhouse this season and be adding more fuel to the fire there. Trying to fill their shoes is Grant Audu, who averaged 12.3 PPG and 3.8 rebounds. Not to mention, the Thunderbirds secured two transfers, James Woods from Central Wyoming College and Kyle Foreman from Boston University.
It’s very up in the air with the Thunderbirds this year. Their schedule has them playing against the other schools in BC, which may benefit their record. It’s tough to know what to expect, but UBC certainly isn’t lacking any talent.
It’s hard what to make of this Heat team this season. After finishing with a 3-17 record that saw them outside of the playoffs, UBCO added a couple of first year recruits while retaining much of the roster from two years prior. However, it’s unlikely that it was enough to change much for the Heat.
There are no real departures to really speak of here, with their main option in Hafith Moallin returning for another year. Moallin did most of the lifting himself with 12.5 PPG his last season in Canada West. Unfortunately for him, while there are an influx of younger players, there doesn’t seem to be anyone particularly game breaking. This may be another early season for the Heat.
The UFV Cascades had themselves a very good season in 2019-20. Falling in the quarterfinals to Calgary is certainly nothing to sniff at, but it seems the team in Abbotsford will have to take a step back this year.
It’s a pretty top-heavy team that the Cascades will be trotting out, though they will be missing the dynamic duo of Parm and Sukhjot Bains. The guards were the main scorers for the Cascades in their final year of eligibility, tacking a combined 35.6 points onto the score. Their production will have to be replaced by in-house options, especially with the number of 3rd and 4th years on the roster. Look for Vick Toor and Kenan Hadzovic to step up this season.
UFV has done a good job of recruiting local talent, though their impact won’t be felt for the year to come. It’ll be a small regression for the Cascades but overall, still a very solid team in the valley.
The Timberwolves had their playoff bubble popped in 2019-20, missing out on the play-ins on point differential. This year, UNBC will want to make the playoffs outright, and their squad does have the potential to do so.
5th years Payton Tirrell and Vova Pluzhnikov return for another dance, the two some of the best offensive players in Canada West. Tirrell averaged 21.9 points and Pluzhnikov tallying 15.4 points to go with 4.1 assists. These two should reprise their role in the UNBC backcourt and do most of the heavy lifting on offense, while the team has grown around them and developed in this past year as well.
With their big guns back at the helm and some interesting young recruits, it’ll be up to the rest of the rotation to see just how far the Timberwolves can make it. It’ll be tough, but this team definitely has the potential to make the playoff picture interesting.
After a loss against the Bisons in the Canada West quarterfinals, the Victoria Vikes will try and improve on that this upcoming year. They’ve got themselves an experienced roster heading into the season, but will that be enough to try and build upon their successes from two years ago?
Matthew Ellis returns for his final year of eligibility, the forward averaging 15.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. He’ll be the offensive centerpiece the Vikes will try to play around, as he’s surrounded by many of the same teammates as in 2019-20. Scott Kellum is also back to run the offense, the guard averaging 4.7 assists per game.
There’s a lot to like about the roster Victoria has ahead of the season’s start. The Vikes will be in a tough battle in the West division, but look for them to finish in the playoff spots by the season’s end.
After making it to the playoffs with a 10-10 record, the Wesmen might be forced to take a step back this season. They have a couple of veterans left over from that run, but the play-in exit to UFV might be the best result they’ll have for a while.
Leading scorer Narcisse Ambanza will be a sore miss in the rotation, having averaged 18.1 points and 5.8 boards. Winnipeg didn’t have much to call upon before, and less so now. They do have many young recruits ready and waiting, and many of them will get opportunities to prove themselves this season. With that though, there will be growing pains. The Wesmen will miss the playoffs this year, but it should be an exciting team regardless.
- Alberta Golden Bears
- Calgary Dinos
- Lethbridge Pronghorns
- Mount Royal Cougars
- MacEwan Griffins
- Manitoba Bisons
- Saskatchewan Huskies
- Regina Cougars
- Brandon Bobcats
- Winnipeg Wesmen
- UBC Thunderbirds
- Victoria Vikes
- UNBC Timberwolves
- UFV Cascades
- UBCO Heat
- TRU Wolfpack
- Trinity Western Spartans