The AUS Men’s Basketball Championships will be played under the bright lights of Halifax’s Scotiabank Centre, as the Dalhouise Tigers look to win their third straight conference title. With Dalhousie hosting the U SPORTS Men’s Basketball Final 8, this weekend will decide the other team that will represent the AUS at Nationals. There has been a lot of parity in AUS men’s basketball over the past few seasons, with four different teams winning the last five championships, and this year is no exception. While Dalhousie and the UNB Varsity Reds have both punched their ticket to Saturday night’s semifinals, the Friday night games between Acadia/Memorial and SMU/StFX are competitive matchups with loads of star power. Can the Tigers make it three in a row? Or will someone else head into the Final 8, fresh off of a big win at the Scotiabank Centre?
#4 Memorial Sea-Hawks (12-8) vs. #5 Acadia Axemen (10-10)
This matchup will be billed as a clash of two of the most skilled big men in the country, in Memorial’s 6’9 Vasilije Curcic, and Acadia’s 6’10 Erik Nissen. Interestingly enough, these two teams hadn’t played against each other all season until last weekend, when they split a pair in Wolfville with the Axemen winning by 15 on Friday night, and Memorial answering with a 10-point win the next afternoon. Memorial PG Davion Parnsalu returned from injury to play a key role in their 10-point win, but he’ll have his hands full against ‘Big Shot’ Ben Miller, Acadia’s star floor general who has a knack for delivering in the clutch. It’s also a matchup of the two top, three point-shooting teams in the conference, and if one team can get hot at the Scotiabank Centre, it could be the difference. But the Sea-Hawks have yet to show that they can consistently win away from home, going 3-for-7 on the road vs. their 9-1 record in Newfoundland this season. Acadia forward Kyle Arseneault could be the X factor, as he’s been shooting the lights out this season and he brings lots of experience at the Scotiabank Centre, and he’s really hungry for a championship as a fifth-year senior. So I’ve got Acadia winning a close one, in what I guess is an upset?
The Acadia Axemen are my pick to advance to meet the Dal Tigers in the semis.
#3 SMU Huskies (13-7) vs. #6 StFX X-Men (9-11)
This is not the matchup the Huskies wanted to see in the quarter-finals. The X-Men beat the Huskies twice this season, with star forward Kevin Bercy going off to the tune of 24 points and 13 boards per game. His size and agility makes him a difficult matchup for the Huskies front court. St.FX was on a five-game losing streak heading into the playoffs, before getting a big OT win against UPEI in their last game of the season. They’ll look to take that momentum into their rendezvous against the Huskies, who are led by a trio of high-scoring perimeter players in Marquis Clayton, Brian Rouse, and Theon Reefer. All three fifth-years were members of Saint Mary’s 2014 AUS Championship team, and are hungry to return to glory to finish off their university careers. Huskies nation always does a great job of packing the Scotiabank Centre come tournament time, and Saint Mary’s won’t want to let the crowd down.
The SMU Huskies are my pick to advance to meet the UNB Varsity Reds in the semis.
#1 Dalhousie Tigers (16-4) vs. #5 Acadia Axemen (10-10)
Rega Acadia or Memorial wins their quarter-final matchup, they are in tough against the two-time defending champion Dal Tigers. Dalhousie has won eight-straight coming into the playoffs, and have dominated both the Axemen and Sea-Hawks in their regular season meetings. A big part of the Tigers’ success is their defence. Dal finished ninth in U SPORTS, allowing just 71 points per game in a conference where six opposing teams average over 84 PPG. The Tigers aren’t as deep as expected, as junior guard Cedric Sanogo missed the season after a shoulder surgery, and sharpshooting top recruit Alex Carson only played six games before being shelved for the year with a groin injury. Despite the injuries, Coach Plato has done a great job at putting role players in positions to succeed. With four, fifth-year seniors in their starting lineup, the Tigers have championship experience and are determined to head into nationals with a lot of momentum.
I’ve got the Dal Tigers advancing to their third consecutive AUS Final.
#2 UNB Varsity Reds (14-6) vs. #3 SMU Huskies (13-7)
The UNB Varsity Reds are 0-3 at AUS Championships in the “Javon Masters era”, and will look to break through to their first AUS Final and Final 8 appearance since 2004. The Varsity Reds reloaded this year with eight new players, most notably Jamaal Potopsingh—my pick for AUS ROY—but their rotation goes 12 deep. This balance has helped take a lot of offensive load off Masters, the three time AUS leading scorer, who finishedthis year second in the country in assists per game. The Huskies and Varsity Reds split their matchup this season, with each team stealing a game on the road (SMU also beat UNB in preseason). It’s a duel of two of the top guards in the country in Masters and Clayton, and once again, Saint Mary’s will hope their championship experience and home court advantage are enough to push them past UNB.
I’ve got the SMU Huskies advancing to their third finals appearance in four years.
AUS Finals Prediction:
#1 Dalhousie Tigers (16-4) vs. #3 Saint Mary’s Huskies (13-7)
The energy in the Scotiabank Centre would be unbelievable if my finals prediction comes true and we end up with another edition of the Battle of Halifax for the AUS Championship. Halifax basketball fans have their fingers crossed, as this would mean there would be two local teams representing the AUS at the U SPORTS Final 8, next weekend. The matchups between these two teams are always exciting and impossible to predict. Over the last two seasons, including playoffs and exhibition, Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s have met 12 times, with each team winning exactly six of those games. But that’s not even the craziest stat. Over those 12 meetings, Dalhousie has outscored the Huskies by just a single point, 896-895! It doesn’t get much closer than that, and with both lineups filled with fifth-year seniors with championship experience, you can expect another hard fought game if this is indeed the matchup. But the Tigers have been at another level lately, and they took down the Huskies 88-83 two weeks ago en route to their eight-game winning streak to finish the regular season.
Call it a three-peat! I predict the Dal Tigers will head into the U SPORTS Final 8 on a 10-game winning streak!
All photos courtesy of Phinney Photography.