EDMONTON, Alberta — Get ready for a potential playoff preview come the end of December in the ACAC.
On December 28th and 29th, the NAIT Ooks will host the North vs. South Challenge where teams from both divisions will bring their talents to Edmonton for two days of exhibition basketball. Unlike the regular season where teams only play those in their division, teams will cross divisions for two games over the event.
This year’s edition of the challenge could feature some potential playoff match-ups when the ACAC Championships roll around.
Talented teams from both divisions will take part in the 2018 North vs. South Challenge, and several of the programs are right in the thick of the playoff race in their respective division. One of the top teams in the country will take part on the women’s side of things, while three of the four teams on the men’s side of the ball have 12 points on the year and are right in the middle of a heated playoff race.
Overall, fans will be treated to eight fantastic basketball games over the two-day challenge. Here’s a look at what fans have to look forward to in Edmonton in late-December on the hardwood.
The game of the challenge has to be the match-up on the 29th between the Olds College Broncos and the Lakeland College Rustlers. The Broncos come into the event ranked 6th in the latest CCAA Rankings and have a 7-2 record overall, while the Rustlers sit in a tie for fourth-place in the North Division. Both teams have seven wins on the year, and their rosters are chalked full of talent that will make their match-up that much more exciting.
For the Rustlers, they boast a 7-5 record overall, but that could easily be better. Three of the five losses for Lakeland College have come by single digits, and any of those games could have gone the other way. The Rustlers have been competitive each night out, and they will look to pick up a big win over the nationally ranked Broncos.
As for the Broncos, they have a record of 7-2 through nine games in the South Division, and they sit just two points behind the Medicine Hat Rattlers for first place in the division. With the exception of their two losses, the Broncos have been strong on both ends of the floor this season, but they will have their hands full with another tough test, this time against the Rustlers.
Looking at the rosters for both teams, it’s easy to see why both teams have come out of the gates strong in 2018-19. Olds College has two of the top five scorers in the conference on their side, led by Brittney Thibeaux and Kyla Adams. Atop the list is Thibeaux who leads the conference with an average of 28.7 points per conference, while Adams ranks fifth in the ACAC with 15.8 points. The Broncos also have two of the top five rebounders in the conference, as Macyn Morning Bull ranks third with an average of 10.8 rebounds per contest and Thibeaux ranks fifth (9.3 rpg).
The Rustlers will have their hands full on both sides of the ball with the Broncos, but they have their own impact players who can change the course of a game. Kaitlyn Tonita is the lone player for Lakeland College who averages double-digit points this season, as she leads the team with 12.8 points. However, they have several players who are a threat to go for a big night at any time. That list includes Ally Pilgrim who averages 6.3 points per game. That number won’t blow you away by any means, but she has started to find her groove on offense as of late, posting double-figures in four of her last six outings heading into the holiday break.
Rounding out the women’s field are the host Ooks and the Red Deer College Queens.
The Queens have just one win to their name this season, but the event provides them with another chance to gain experience as a younger team. Win or lose, the experience will go a long way in helping to develop their talent and give them more confidence moving towards the second half of the season.
As for NAIT, they are two points ahead of the Rustlers and the Keyano College Huskies in the divisional standings, sitting in third place at the break, They will have their hands full against Olds College in their opener in what would be a quarter-final match-up in the ACAC Championships if the season ended today. The Ooks will be looking to put forth a pair of strong performances on their home floor to build some added confidence ahead of 2019.
On the men’s side, the marquee game of the event comes in the afternoon on the 28th when the Medicine Hat Rattlers and Augustana Vikings take to the court against one another. Both teams have played some good basketball over the first half of the year and they will be looking for a quality win to keep their positive momentum going into the new calendar year.
Once again this season, the Rattlers are near the top of the South Division standings. They currently sit in second place behind the undefeated SAIT Trojans with a 6-3 record in league play. Medicine Hat is currently tied with the Ambrose Lions with 12 points, but with one game in-hand, the Rattlers sit in the second spot in the standings.
As for the Vikings, they are one of four teams tied with 12 points in the North Division with 6-6 records. The Vikings currently occupy the third spot in the standings, but one loss in regular season play could cause a massive shakeup in the structure of the divisional standings. Augustana picked up a pair of wins to end the first half of the season on a high note, and they will be looking to continue their forward momentum with a strong two days in Edmonton.
The Rattlers boast one of the league’s top offensive units, having averaged 86.0 points per game this season over their nine contests. Medicine Hat has eight players averaging over 7.0 points per game, four of whom average double digits. Jon Sappleton is having himself a strong season on both ends of the floor, ranking second on the team in scoring (15.1 ppg) while leading the team in rebounding (13.3 rpg). Jaamel Slack leads the team with 16.1 points per game while playing under 29 minutes per game. Medicine Hat has their fair share of offensive weapons and that can make them a dangerous team come the post-season.
On offense, the Vikings operate at a slightly higher clip than the Rattlers do. Augustana is averaging 86.5 points per game over their 12 outings this season. Like Medicine Hat, the Vikings have a ton of balance on offense, as eight players are averaging at least 5.9 points per game and four are in double figures. Augustana is led by the pair of Nathan Bowie and Mason Hunter. Bowie leads the team with 16.8 points per game to go along with his 3.4 assists per game, while Hunter is chipping in with 14.8 points per contest. While they have several offensive weapons, the Vikings don’t have a player averaging more than 5.8 rebounds per game.
The NAIT Ooks and Olds College Broncos round out the field on the men’s side of the challenge. The Ooks are one of the four teams tied at 12 points in the North Division, while the Broncos are on the outside looking in on the playoff picture in the South Division with just four points to their name through 10 games. Both teams will be looking for some extra momentum heading into the second half of the season.
– T. Bennett