Men’s basketball provincial preview
Blues men’s basketball team look to avenge last year’s finals loss
CARLO JAVIER // EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
With the playoffs right around the corner, the Capilano University Blues men’s basketball team find themselves in familiar territory.
Last season, the Blues entered the Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST) basketball championships on an uneven note. The team memorably started the 2016-17 season with a bang, winning eight of their first nine games – including an ultra rare, back-to-back pair of wins on the home courts of the Camosun College Chargers and the Vancouver Island University Mariners. Their fortunes shifted for the worse in the second-half of the season, winning just two of their final seven games as they finished with the third seed.
Despite the less than stellar finish, the Blues defeated the Chargers in the first round, squeaked past the Langara Falcons in the second round and fought the Mariners to a first-half tie in the gold medal game, before finally falling short.
If the 2017-18 season has to be described by a single word, the best one to use might be inconsistent. Beyond a four-game winning streak that sandwiched the start and end of the winter break (three wins coming against the lowly Columbia Bible College Bearcats), the Blues seem like they have traded a win for a loss every weekend. Finishing the year as the fourth seed with a 9-9 record, the Blues once again enter the playoffs without the most ideal of momentums.
Similar to last season, they’re set to face the Chargers in the quarterfinals. Known for their physical and gritty brand of basketball, the Chargers look to take advantage of one of the Blues’ pre-conceived weaknesses: rebounding. “They got some big, athletic guys and some good guard play,” said rookie forward Nathan Bromige. This year, the Blues have been outrebounded by an average of 7.7 boards per game, and in their three regular season games against the Chargers, the Blues have lost the rebounding battle by a whopping 68 boards (118-115). The numbers however, as head coach Cassidy Kannemeyer emphasized, do not represent the entire story.
Throughout the season, the Blues have kept the Charger’s offence to just a 40.6 field goal percentage, and a paltry 29.6 per cent shooting from beyond the arc. The sheer volume of missed shots forced by the Blues’ stifling defence inevitably lead to more rebounds – securing more of them is the issue. “The coaches are going to work on rebounding drills in practice a lot, help us work on our physicality and our toughness, as well as positioning on both the defensive and offensive glass,” Bromige said.
Though the rebounding problem cannot be overlooked, the Blues’ ability to force turnovers could be the key in repeating their early round success from last playoffs. The Blues average an impressive 11.4 steals per game, with defensive stalwart Hassan Phills leading the way with two per contest, and 37 for the entire season. The team’s active hands and excellent work with passing lanes is particularly beneficial to their run and gun offence. Kannemeyer knows that the Chargers will try to slow the tempo down and force the Blues to play in the half court, but if the Blues can use their ability to generate steals and create transition possessions effectively, then the pressure will be on the Chargers to keep up.
The transition game has been one of the Blues’ best weapons this year. They have a terrific mix of slashing guards like Wowie Untalan and Brenden Bailey, while the sharpshooting rookie, Michael Kelly has helped increase spacing with his impressive 42 per cent shooting from downtown. Up front, forwards Denver Sparks-Guest and Nikko Motus have not only been able to man the interior, but also stretch the floor with their ability to shoot from range. Also impressive is the play of Bromige. The 6’7 rookie has forward stood out with his offensive efficiency, shooting a healthy 48 per cent from the field and 37 per cent from beyond the arc. “There’s some pretty incredible players on this team that make it easy for me to get good looks,” he said. “I’ll take shots when I’m open and play off my other teammates, that way its been nice to play with some guys who can do quite a bit and that makes it a lot easier for someone like me.”
The PACWEST basketball championships are set for Mar. 1 to 3 at Vancouver Island University – arguably the toughest home court in the conference. Kannemeyer isn’t sweating it though, “We’ve won in that building before,” he said.