Hamilton, ON- From top to bottom, the OUA Central division might be the most balanced of them all. The first-place Brock Badgers had 16 wins while the fifth-place McMaster Marauders had 12. Even the last place York Lions had six wins. Can any team run away with the division title this year or will it be a tight race to the end once again?
2022-23 Record: 19-11 (16-6 regular season)
Preseason Record: 5-6
The Badgers were a dominant team two years ago, when they won the Wilson Cup. Last season, they won the division but exited in the OUA quarterfinals after a close loss to Queen’s. Willy Manigat’s Badgers will have OUA All-Star Isaiah Bujdoso for his fourth season. Fellow guard Jevon Brown looks to take an increased role as well, averaging 18 points this season.
Brock has dipped into taking transfers in the past and this year’s the same. Guard Kevaughan Ellis is making his debut after redshirting last year. The team has guard depth but the key could be in the frontcourt. Michael Matas and Jordan Tchuente will be relied upon as both players have seen important minutes up front. This year will be a crucial one to see if Brock can continue to contend for OUA hardware.
2022-23 Record: 24-9 (16-6)
Preseason Record: 5-2
The Thunderwolves have been a consistently strong program the past few seasons. They have three winning seasons in a row but will enter 2023-24 without a key member of those years: OUA All-Star Michael Okafor. His missing presence will be felt but Ryan Thomson’s squad still has a cadre of returning players to make up for it.
Guards Chris Sagl, Laoui Msambya and Jared Kreiner are seeing the bulk of the minutes this season. Fourth-year wing Nathan Bilamu is leading the team in points and rebounds. If preseason records are anything to go by, there’s some positives as well. Lakehead finished with a 5-2 record with wins over Algoma, Winnipeg, Manitoba and McMaster. In the OUA Central though, they’ll have their hands full with plenty of tough opponents.
2022-23 Record: 17-15 (12-10)
Preseason Record: 2-6
The Marauders had a veteran squad last season and then lost many important individuals from that team: OUA All-Star Mychael Paulo and OUA Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Miller are the two most notable ones. Head coach Patrick Tatham has brought in high school recruits and OCAA transfers. The likes of Parker Davis (Memorial), Daniel Graham (Mohawk), Tyrelle Miller (Lambton) and Moody Qasim (Sheridan) have all seen significant action this preseason.
The exhibition slate has been one of learning and gelling. They’ve lost most of the games – including blowing a few second-half leads – but ended on a high note with a home win over the Calgary Dinos. As for returning players, their go-to player figures to be OUA All-Star Mike Demagus, who’s a reliable scorer and player for them. Nathan Charles, AY Osunde, Brendan Amoyaw and Ares Culley-Bremner will also have significant roles to play as the team looks to build chemistry together.
Toronto Metropolitan Bold
2022-23 Record: 20-13 (14-8)
Preseason Record: 7-2
The Bold showed flashes of how dangerous a team they could be by the end of last season. It ended with a narrow loss to Ottawa in the OUA quarterfinals. It could be even better this season as they’ve brought in reinforcements.
Let’s start with who was already there. Aaron Rhooms continued his rise with an OUA All-Star berth and a standout second season as TMU’s top scorer. Guard David Walker proved to be a top-notch running mate and a dangerous offensive player in his own right. Former Carleton Raven Simon Chamberlain and former UBC Thunderbird Lincoln Rosebush are two of their most important frontcourt players.
As for additions, the name that sticks out the most is Jahcobi Neath, a former Wisconsin Badger. Former New Mexico State guard Marsei Carson has fit right into the rotation as well as first-year guard Kobe Charles. They will add to any already strong core as David DeAveiro’s team aim for the OUA crown.
Toronto Varsity Blues
2022-23 Record: 16-13 (13-9)
Preseason Record: 6-2
For a stretch in the past few years, the Toronto Varsity Blues went through their lumps. They won five games in 2020 and again in 2022. Then, they promoted assistant coach Madhav Trivedi (a former Brock head coach) to their main job. Toronto enjoyed a 13-9 season with their first playoff berth since 2018. They beat the Carleton Ravens for the first time since 2002 and swept the TMU Bold in the season series.
Will those highs last? It will depend on this year’s team. The good news is their best players have returned. From OUA All-Star Inaki Alvarez to OUA All-Rookie team guard Noah Ngamba to leading scorer Callum Baker, the Blues have plenty of firepower. A new part of their rotation is NCAA transfer Dane Quest, who has produced right away (10.9 points on average, 4.3 rebounds). They’ll have more familiarity with Trivedi and more time together as a group – which could be a boost.
Their preseason was memorable as well with a walk-off victory over Harvard as well as wins over Ontario Tech, Laval, UBC Okanagan and McGill. From what they’ve shown recently, the rivalry between them and TMU could be heating up even more this year.
2022-23 Record: 6-19 (6-16)
Preseason Record: 3-3
The other team in Toronto found themselves in the basement of the tough division. York went through a transition with Jermain Holness in his first season as head coach after three years as a TMU assistant.
Despite their record, the Lions finished the season strong with three straight wins, including one over the Queen’s Gaels. They’ve picked it up this season with three wins in the preseason as they look to snap a playoff drought that’s lasted since 2019. Two of York’s top players – Somto Dimanochie and Prince Kamunga – have left but there’s a couple of new faces leading the way.
Toronto transfer Evan Shadkimi had a stellar first OUA campaign a couple of years ago and has taken control offensively this year, averaging a team-best 23.2 points. Fellow transfer Josh Noton (Central Methodist) has done the same. The Lions do have a group of second and third-year players who are back. Elias Panagiotopoulos, Travon Hamilton, Tyler Pryce and Johnny Brown are among those. They will be among those tasked with taking York out of the basement and back into the playoffs.
Featured Image: Stephen Leithwood/Brock Athletics