Halftime: Checking in on Canada West Men’s Basketball at the Winter Break

VANCOUVER, BC – It’s exam season all around the country, and that means that the Canada West basketball season has hit the halfway mark of their year. It’s been a great return to the hardwood for some, while other programs are taking this break to regroup and come out stronger in the new year. 

Here’s how things are stacking up so far. 

Alberta Golden Bears

(Alberta Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics)

The Bears have rocketed out of the gates in 2021. With an undefeated record of 6-0, they’re sitting pretty as the number two ranked team in the country. It’s not without merit, playing in a tough division the Golden Bears have averaged 87.3 points per game on a very efficient 50.1% shooting.

While Alberta has tended to have more team success rather than individual category leaders, that has also changed this fall. Tyus Jefferson and Adam Paige, as expected, have been two of the best performers on their Bears team. Jefferson is currently averaging 15.8 points to go with 3.3 assists through six games, while Paige has 13.8 points and 1.5 blocks per game. The biggest revelation this year, however, is the emergence of Geoffrey James. After two relatively unremarkable seasons, the third-year guard has exploded, going from 6.8 points per game in 2019-20 to leading the Bears with 16.7.

With a big three setting the pace, Alberta looks very good heading into their brief pause. All eyes will be on them to see if they can continue to keep up this pace with the new year right around the corner. 

Brandon Bobcats

Brandon University baller selected to play with pros in Canada this summer  | CBC News
(Brandon Bobcats)

Well, it could be worse for the Bobcats. At least they have a win on the board, against the Winnipeg Wesmen. After the departure of Haashim Wallace, the team has entered a bit of a rebuilding phase. It’s not all bad, as they’ve fought hard in each and every game they’ve been in. 

Anthony Tsegakele was expected to take a step up this season after a good stint with the Fraser Valley Bandits of the Canadian Elite Basketball League, and sure enough, he has. The sophomore is leading the way with 17.4 points per game and a Canada West-leading 12.1 rebounds. He hasn’t been without help either, with rookie third-year transfer Jahmaal Gardner and first-year Sultan Haider Bhatti tacking on 14.1 and 13.0 points respectively. 

A 1-7 record might look bad on paper, but there are some very encouraging signs with Brandon’s young roster. This season might be a write-off but the Bobcats will be a team to watch in the future.

Calgary Dinos

Noah Wharton
(Calgary Dinos)

It’s been a rocky fall for the Dinos this season. After starting the year off 3-1, they’ve fallen back down to 3-3 after two losses to rivals Alberta. With the postponement of the MRU series, Calgary now has time to get healthy and regroup to hopefully recapture their 2019-20 form. 

Injuries have been a big story this year for the Dinos, eating into their team. Canada West second-team all-star Mason Foreman has been limited to four games, only playing 9 minutes in their last game against the Golden Bears. With him headlining the sidelined, it’s no surprise that the team hasn’t performed as expected. One bright spot thus far has been Noah Wharton. The second-year out of Brampton has emerged as the leading scorer on the Dinos, jumping from 7.3 points to 15.7 this season. In tough times, Calgary’s bench has seen more action as well, demonstrating depth that has been very much needed. 

It’s not all lost for the Dinos. At 3-3, they sit in third in the division and still very much within striking distance of second-place MRU. The break couldn’t have come at a better time for this group in Calgary.

Lethbridge Pronghorns

De'Andrae Pierre
(Lethbridge Pronghorns)

The Pronghorns have been decent this season, but decent usually isn’t enough in Canada West. Still, there’s lots to like with this group that looks to be a year away from contending with the giants of the conference. 

It’s been a third-year nucleus that’s guided the way for Lethbridge so far. Their top four leading scorers have all averaged in the double digits, showing a very balanced offense, if not terribly remarkable. Depth scoring hasn’t been an issue either, the Pronghorns able to call on options like Chad Oviatt and Shae Gibb to supplement their leaders. 

Again, at 3-5, the Pronghorns definitely can’t be ruled out of making some noise in the second half of the season. It’s going to be interesting to see if Lethbridge can pull it all together to get some wins on the board.

MacEwan Griffins

Griffins rookie Marco Correas led the team with 18 points in Friday's loss to the Pronghorns (Lethbridge Sports photo).
(MacEwan Griffins)

To say that this season has been a struggle for the Griffins might be an understatement. This is a squad that hasn’t broken the 70 point barrier once in their six games. It was expected from the start of the year though, with a very young roster and the departure of Jake Notice. The Brit returned home to play with the Bristol Flyers of the British Basketball League, leaving a huge void in scoring. So far, there hasn’t been someone to replace him.

It’ll be another year at the bottom of Canada West for MacEwan, who will hopefully add some wins to their record before it is all said and done.

Manitoba Bisons

Bisons MBB vs Wesmen Nov 5th 2021 IGAC
(Manitoba Bisons)

The East division of Canada West has been a bloodbath this year. Three teams sit tied for first with 5-3 records, the first of which being the Bisons. Manitoba rocketed to the lead with a 5-1 record, though they enter the break having lost their previous two games. 

James Wagner and Keiran Zziwa were asked to fill the void left by Rashawn Browne, and step up they have. Wagner is currently averaging 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds, while Zziwa is tallying 13.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. First-year guard Mason Kraus has been cooking as well, averaging a respectable 8.4 points and starting every single game for the Bisons. 

The battle for the number one spot is going to be one to watch in the new year, and Manitoba definitely has the talent to secure it. They’ll want to get back to their winning ways after this break and buck their losing trend.

Mount Royal Cougars

(MRU Cougars)

There’s been no bigger surprise than the Mount Royal Cougars so far. After a rough 3-17 season the last go around, the Cougars have taken advantage of Calgary’s stumbles to jump into second in the central division. With a 4-2 record going into the break, all eyes will be on them to see if they can continue this run. 

At the start of the year, it was hard to identify a true leader on this squad. Now, it’s become very apparent. Second-year guard Nate Petrone has absolutely taken off in the fall, scoring 17.3 points to lead the team. Fellow second-years Holt Tomie and Dylan Lutes have chipped in well themselves, averaging 12.8 and 11.2 points respectively. 

A young core points to lots of success down the line for the Cougars. Though there is still the second half of the season to play, there’s a ton of positives to take away already.

Regina Cougars

Josiah Thomas
(Regina Cougars)

The second 5-3 team in the East division, Regina has also been a fearsome force in the fall. Coming off a split series with provincial rivals Saskatchewan, the Cougars are looking to put together a run in the new year. 

Benjamin Hillis has taken the reigns of this team. The 5th year guard has improved each and every season and this year has been his crown jewel. Hillis is currently averaging 16.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists, an all-around performance that’s been critical in their success. He has plenty of help too. 4th year forward Carter Millar has been a force in the paint, with 13.1 points and a team-leading 9.5 rebounds per game. Brayden Kuski and Josiah Thomas have also been stepping up their games, the guards averaging in double digits themselves. 

There’s a very good crew in Regina that definitely has what it takes to make a playoff push. The only problem with the Cougars is that they play in a very competitive region.

Saskatchewan Huskies

(Saskatchewan Huskies Athletics/GetMyPhoto)

Capping off the East division are the Saskatchewan Huskies. They’ve been the hottest team in their region as of late, riding a three game win streak heading into the winter break. They’ll want to continue that momentum, and they’ve got all the tools to do so. 

Leading the way for the Huskies is the second-highest scorer in Canada West. Marquavian Stephens has run rampant against divisional foes, tallying 18.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in his 8 contests. Supplementing him are Alexander Dewar and Nervens Demosthene, both who are chipping in with 14.4 and 12.3 points respectively. It’s a big three to be feared, being the 5th highest-scoring team in the conference. 

There’s a lot to like in Saskatchewan, and it’ll be interesting to watch them take to action down the road. If they can keep the good times rolling, the Huskies could be a Canada West champion come February.

Thompson Rivers Wolfpack

Jayden Lalonde
(TRU Wolfpack)

In my season preview, I wrote that the TRU Wolfpack would probably be in rebuild mode following losses of some key cogs. They’ve decided to take that narrative and rip it to shreds. The Wolfpack currently sit right in the thick of things, a 4-4 record good enough for third in the conference. 

Much of their success can be attributed to Brendan Sullivan, the third-year guard out of Mill Bay, BC. He’s been on a roll, averaging 17.1 points and 5.0 rebounds so far. Fellow third-year Brad King has been great himself, posting 14.1 points and cleaning the glass with 9.8 rebounds. The biggest surprise however is in the form of sophomore Asher Mayan. After averaging 1.3 points in his first season, he’s come alive with 13.9 points as the third option. 

With TRU’s emergence in the West division, there’s a lot to fight for in the middle of the pack. It makes things very interesting to watch, and the Wolfpack will want to be the best of the rest when all is said and done.

Trinity Western Spartans

(TWU Spartans Athletics)

The Spartans are where they were expected to be: at the basement of the West division. With a record of 0-6 heading into the break, the team in Langley will be in for another season of reflection if something doesn’t change come 2022. 

One positive is that the Spartans aren’t the Ja’Qualyn Gilbreath show anymore. Though the guard has been his usual electric self with 15.2 points per game, his supporting cast has stepped up around him. Andrew Goertzen leads the team in scoring with 15.3 points, while Mason Bourcier is having himself a year with 12.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists. With Tre Fillmore adding in another 13.3 points into the mix, it’s a wonder why Trinity Western hasn’t been able to win at least one game. The answer is surprisingly simple: the team can’t defend. Currently, the Spartans are averaging a whopping 96.2 points against per game, and in Canada West, that’s a death sentence. 

Hopes should not be high for the Spartans. Though there are much more encouraging signs recently, they’ve dug themselves into a big hole with their skid to start off the year.

UBC Thunderbirds

(UBC Thunderbirds Athletics)

Up in Point Grey, the UBC Thunderbirds have been on a rampage. A 10-0 record to start the season saw them rocket up into 4th in the country, and it has been well earned. There’s a lot to like about them, the team gelling together even after key departures. 

Grant Audu is another product of the CEBL’s Fraser Valley Bandits that has been on fire so far. The guard is averaging 17.8 points as the 4th highest scorer in the conference. Alongside him is fourth-year forward Sukhman Sandhu, who’s averaging 16.8 points and nabbing 7.5 rebounds. Third-year transfer James Woods has been electric himself, the former Central Wyoming Rustler putting up 14.1 points through the fall. 

It’ll be a two-horse race to the top of the West division, with UBC doing a lot to get the upper hand through the first half. The key for them will be to continue this momentum through the break and challenge for the top spot in the nation.


(Photo Credit: Julie Pringle/Snap Photography)
(UBCO Heat)

While UBCO wasn’t expected to be a true contender this year, they certainly weren’t expected to be as poor as they are right now. An 0-7 start was pretty much their death knell, though the Heat have picked up one win heading into the winter break. 

Hafith Moallin regressed hard from his 12.5 PPG in 2019-20, currently only playing 13 minutes a game and averaging 2.8 points. Jesse Vogel and Kevin Hamlet lead the team in points with 12.6 and 10.9, but it’s not enough to offset the 82.4 points per game they give up. It’s going to be a long one in Kelowna if things don’t change.

UFV Cascades

Aidan Wilson
(UFV Cascades)

A season full of challenges that they could not have possibly foreseen, it’s an admirable squad from UFV sitting in 4th. With a 3-3 record, the Cascades have had to deal with flood-related postponements. It might’ve improved their record too, with the games being against the UBCO Heat. 

Vickie Toor has been the star of the show. The 4th year guard is averaging 15.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists, doing a bit of everything to help his team to victories. Kyle Claggett has done well for himself as the second option, with 12.7 points and 5.8 rebounds to his name. 

The Cascades might be in for a good spell in the second half of the year as well, considering that their schedule appears to be “easier” in terms of competition. It could very well be a dark horse contender in the valley. 

UNBC Timberwolves

(UNBC Timberwolves)

After starting off their campaign with an even 2-2 record, the Timberwolves have seen themselves skid back to 2-6 with four straight losses. They’ll want to buck that trend and make some noise in the postseason. 

Their 5th-year backcourt duo of Tyrell Laing and Vova Pluzhnikov has continued to impress, even if their counting stats aren’t as impressive as years before. Laing is currently posting 16.9 points, while Pluzhnikov is adding in 10.0 points and 4.0 assists as his averages. They’ve stepped up to become leaders and have helped second-year Fareed Shittu grow into another offensive threat. 

It’s certainly not all lost for the Timberwolves. They have the talent and capacity to challenge the teams in their division. It’s just a question now of if they can get their season back on track.

Victoria Vikes

Diego Maffia vs UBCO 2021
(Victoria Vikes)

Currently the only team in the West that’s been able to keep pace with UBC, the Victoria Vikes have had a very good season themselves so far, 7-1 with their only loss coming against the T-Birds. It’s quickly become a two-horse race at the top, and the Vikes will want to show they’re ones to challenge for the throne. 

Matthew Ellis has been his usual excellent self this year, averaging 15.5 points as the team’s second-highest scorer, while Scott Kellum has taken a step up in his production with 13.4 PPG. The headliner for Victoria has to be Diego Maffia, however. The second year has emerged as one of the most fearsome scorers in Canada West, sitting third with 17.9 points per game.

A triple threat on the island gives the Vikes all the tools they need to contend with the best. There’s still the second half to play, and they’ll want to play spoilers to UBC’s undefeated record.

Winnipeg Wesmen

Shawn Maranan makes a pass to the wing during Winnipeg Wesmen men's basketball action against the Brandon Bobcats on Saturday, December 4, 2021. (David Larkins/Wesmen Athletics)
(Winnipeg Wesmen)

Alright, I might’ve gotten ahead of myself when I wrote the Wesmen would miss the playoffs. In the rough and tumble East division, Winnipeg has kept pace with a 4-4 record and looks to improve on that in the second half. 

Much of their success is on the backs of Don Dayrit. The fourth-year guard has come out of nowhere to become the best scorer in Canada West, currently averaging 21.6 points per game which works out to be a quarter of the Wesmen’s average offensive production. His co-star Spas Nikolov, a fourth-year forward from Bulgaria, has been no slouch himself, giving 14.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. 

It’s a start to be proud of for the Wesmen, and they’re definitely not to be overlooked as the season gets back underway in January. Many eyes will be on them to see if they can keep it up in possibly the toughtest division in Canada West. 

Standing Predictions

Central Division

  1. Alberta Golden Bears 
  2. Calgary Dinos 
  3. Mount Royal Cougars 
  4. Lethbridge Pronghorns 
  5. MacEwan Griffins 

East Division 

  1. Manitoba Bisons 
  2. Saskatchewan Huskies 
  3. Regina Cougars
  4. Winnipeg Wesmen  
  5. Brandon Bobcats

West Division

  1. UBC Thunderbirds 
  2. Victoria Vikes 
  3. UFV Cascades
  4. TRU Wolfpack
  5. UNBC Timberwolves
  6. UBCO Heat 
  7. Trinity Western Spartans

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