Hamilton, ON- The U SPORTS rankings can provide interest and intrigue. This year’s rankings for teams from the OUA men’s basketball conference certainly has. The latest one before the holiday break saw the defending national champion Carleton Ravens remain number one while their cross-town rivals Ottawa Gee-Gees sit second.
Brock (fourth), Queen’s (fifth) and Lakehead (ninth) make it five OUA teams in the U SPORTS Top 10. The conference seems as deep and loaded as ever. Here are five takeaways from the first half of the season.
Carleton’s Ups and Downs
The signs started with their annual NCAA games in the summer. The Ravens went 0-4 as they were breaking in several new players into the lineup. First-years Ben Riley, Marjok Okado and Reginald Jean Seraphin all played important minutes. Meanwhile, Aiden Warnholtz, Wazir Latiff, Connor Vreeken and Grant Shephard are being counted on as the go-to veterans.
The Ravens have had their moments with wins over McMaster, Windsor and Western. However, they’ve also been in some close games and have lost to fellow OUA contenders Brock and Queen’s. The X factor for Taffe Charles’ squad is whether they can learn and grow from those experiences by the team the OUA playoffs come around to repeat as national champions.
Veterans Making their Mark
There’s quite a field of players that could be OUA All-Stars this year. TMU’s Aaron Rhooms has kept up his strong play from his rookie season and his stint with the CEBL’s Scarborough Shooting Stars in the summer. He’s tied for second in the OUA with 19.6 points on average. Western’s Aryan Sharma (who leads the conference with 22.5 points per game) and Tyson Dunn (19.4 points per game) are a formidable combo.
Windsor forward Thomas Kennedy has built on his stellar play with the Fraser Valley Bandits and the Canadian Men’s National Team as he’s second in the OUA in average points (19.6) and first in average rebounds (13.5). Other notable players include Warnholtz (who leads U SPORTS with 8.2 assists-per-game), Laurentian’s Caillou Lacroix, Ontario Tech’s Jayden Coke, Queen’s Cole Syllas, Brock’s Isaiah Bujdoso and Ottawa’s Quincy Louis-Jeune and Guillaume Pepin.
Rookies Showing Out
When looking at the best players from this rookie class, you’ll notice they’re on many different teams. Toronto’s Noah Ngamba leads all OUA rookies in scoring and is fifth in three point percentage. The four players ahead of him: Ottawa’s Lidan Abdalla and Jacques-Melaine Guemeta, Carleton’s Marjok Okado and Queen’s David Ayon.
Algoma’s Johan Germain and Ontario Tech’s Stefan Prica and Tombe Pitia have enjoyed excellent seasons so far as well – taking on significant roles and playing time. Pitia is fourth in all U SPORTS rookies with 5.8 rebounds per game. First-year guards Quinn Carey of Windsor (leads all U SPORTS rookies in assist-to-turnover ratio) and Tyler Garcia of McMaster have done well.
Breakthrough Toronto and Windsor Squads
While most of the top dogs have lived up to the billing, there have also been some breakthrough teams. The Windsor Lancers are atop the OUA West with a 7-2 record thanks to Kennedy as well as transfers Najee Brown-Henderson, Xavier Ochu and Daniel Cummings. It looks like head coach’s Chris Cheng’s work with high school recruiting and transfers is paying off as Windsor has already matched their win total from last season.
The Toronto Varsity Blues lead the OUA Central with 8-2 record – ahead of nationally-ranked division foes Brock and Lakehead. Head coach Madhav Trivedi is in his first season after being an assistant for the past three years. Ngamba and fellow first-year Ryan Rudnick have made an instant impact. As has transfer guard Callum Baker, who leads the team in scoring. Third-year guard Inaki Alavarez is having a career season, averaging 17.9 points and 5.8 assists.
Can the Varsity Blues keep their division lead? They’ve already beaten TMU twice and lost a close game to Queen’s. Toronto will have the opportunities to do so in 2023.
Race for the Wilson Cup
The battle for the Wilson Cup, Final 8 berths and ultimately the national title should be fierce. Four of the top five teams in the latest U SPORTS rankings are from the OUA. Carleton is number one in the rankings but third in their own division’s standings. The upcoming games between Carleton, Ottawa and Queen’s will be a good preview for the playoffs and possibly nationals.
The reigning Wilson Cup champion Brock Badgers have had a strong first half with a 7-2 record. As have the Lakehead Thunderwolves, led by former Hamilton Honey Badgers guard Michael Okafor and guard Laoui Msambya. In the OUA West, Windsor figures to be a contender while Laurier and Western remains dangerous.
Featured Image: Ian MacAlpine/Queen’s Athletics