Opportunities Aplenty as Acadia Axemen Look to Replace Their Top Four Scorers

Miller, Ben
Ben Miller is one of four key losses for the Acadia Axemen heading into the 2019-20 season, and all four players were the team’s top four scorers last season. (Source: U Sports) (Header: U Sports)

WOLFVILLE, N.S. — If you’re reading this, it’s not too late.

The 2019-20 basketball season is right around the corner, and we’re here to help you get set for what will surely be an incredible journey.

While we’re still looking back on an incredible 2018-19 season, one that saw two teams win their first-ever National Championships in school history, it’s also the perfect time to look ahead. The 2019-20 season promises to deliver a heightened level of excitement, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the new campaign.

To get fans across the country ready for the new season, we’ve taken on a challenge that hasn’t been done before. In the coming weeks, we will preview every team from coast to coast ahead of the 2019-20 season.

That’s 111 different programs, if you’re keeping a tally.

From August 8th through to October 6th, every team will be previewed in some capacity. For institutions that have both men’s and women’s basketball, a separate preview piece will be done for each team.

Rosters will be dissected and a look back at the year that was will help us determine what the team looks like this time around as every team begins with a blank slate in the standings.

Without further adieu, here is today’s preview on the Acadia Axemen men’s basketball program.

2018-19 in Review

In 2018-19, the Acadia Axemen started off slow and finished in a bit of a rut as they looked to advance back to Nationals for the second consecutive year.

After hosting the 2018 U Sports Men’s Basketball Final Eight on their home floor, the Axemen entered the 2018-19 season with hopes of advancing back to the National Championship. Instead, they finished 6-14 in the regular season, narrowly missing out on a playoff spot in the competitive AUS.

Out of the gates, the Axemen struggled to find their rhythm. In seven games before the Christmas break, Acadia picked up just one win. They went 1-6 before the break, putting themselves behind the proverbial eight-ball.

To start the 2019 calendar year, the Axemen started to gain some momentum. Acadia reeled off three straight wins to start the winter semester, a stretch that included a win over the eventual AUS champion Dalhousie Tigers in a four-point game, plus a two-game sweep of the Memorial Sea-hawks.

Despite their hot start, the Axemen quickly cooled off down the stretch. Over their final 10 games, the Axemen went just 2-8 to narrowly miss the playoffs. Three teams were tied for sixth in the regular season standings, as Acadia was joined by Memorial and the UPEI Panthers at 6-14 overall.

By way of a tiebreaker, the Sea-hawks secured the sixth and final playoff spot in the conference, marking the end of the year for the Panthers and Axemen, alike.

After limping to the finish, the Axemen turned their attention to the 2019-20 campaign. Ahead of Acadia lies a season in which there will be plenty of opportunities for players to step up their game and assume new roles within the program. The Axemen will be without their top four scorers from last year’s team, all of whom graduated at year’s end.

Who’s Gone?

The 2019-20 season marks a changing of the guard, so to speak, for the Axemen. Acadia will be without its top four scorers from last season, all of whom were fifth-year players. In terms of experience and talent, the Axemen will be in tough to replace their overall production on both ends of the court.

Veteran guard Ben Miller (Winnipeg, Man.) was the team’s leading scorer last season. Miller posted 11.4 points per game on 34.0% shooting from the field and 31.8% shooting from three-point range. The 6’2’’ guard also averaged 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, giving Head Coach Kevin Duffie an impact player on both ends of the floor.

Also graduated from the back court is Trevon Grant (Nassau, Bahamas). Grant was second to Miller last season in terms of scoring, averaging 11.2 points per game while shooting 35.5% from the floor and 32.9% from long distance. Similarly to Miller, Grant posted 6.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.5 steals per contest for a solid two-way stat line of his own.

Both Miller and Grant gave Coach Duffie options on both ends of the court with their versatility and experience, all of which will be tough to replicate.

Up front, the Axemen lose their top rebounder with the graduation of Junior Moaku-Matia (Hamilton, Ont.). Moaku-Matia came to the Axemen from the Cape Breton Capers, and he gave them a strong interior presence. Moaku-Matia posted 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game during his senior season.

Rounding out the group of four graduates is Nick De Palma (Bedford, NS). De Palma finished fourth on the team in scoring last season with an average of 9.5 points per contest to go along with his 1.9 rebounds and 0.8 assists. He shot 33.0% from three-point range, the highest mark of the four graduating players.

“It will be a new look Axemen this year, based on the graduation of four 5th year players from last year’s squad,” said Duffie. “We will miss those four young men, but we are also optimistic and excited about the players who have been working hard and are ready to step into new roles.”

Replacing the experience lost with the graduating class will be the biggest challenge for Duffie and his staff. Fortunately for the Axemen, they have returnees who are primed to take on expanded roles this season with the program.

Who’s Back?

The Axemen return the bulk of their roster from last year’s team. While they lost a lot of their production and experience from their fifth year graduates, Acadia still brings back some intriguing pieces to the puzzle. However, all of them will be stepping into new roles next season as none of them started more than nine games in 2018-19.

Rowan Power (Dartmouth, NS) is the returning player with the most starts under his belt from last season. Power, who came to the Axemen from the Concordia Stingers, saw the floor in all 20 regular season games last season and made nine starts along the way. He posted 7.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 0.8 assists per game while shooting 52.3% from the floor.

Down the stretch, Power started to find his rhythm on offense. He started the last seven games of the season, and he averaged 11.3 points per game over that span. As the season wore on, Power became more and more consistent on the offensive end of the floor, ultimately earning him a regular spot in the starting five to close the season.

Lukusa, Jacques
Jacques Lukusa is ready to take on a leading role with the Axemen in 2019-20. (Source: @JacquesLukusa on Twitter)

Acadia’s top returning scorer in 2019-20 is second-year guard Jacques Lukusa (Ottawa, Ont.). As a freshman last season, Lukusa posted 8.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game while appearing in all 20 regular season games. After making eight starts in 2018-19, Lukusa should be a permanent fixture in the starting five this season.

Over the course of 2018-19, Lukusa showed flashes of what he can do on the offensive end of the floor. He put together eight games with at least 10 points. On the flip side, he was a non-factor on occasion. While he reached double-figures eight times throughout the year, Lukusa was held to two or fewer points on seven occasions. Consistent playing time and an expanded role in 2019-20 should help Lukusa post steady numbers throughout the year.

Marcus Upshaw (Burlington, Ont.) is back in the mix and looking to build off his 2018-19 season. Last season, Upshaw made four starts over the course of the regular season, and he had at least six points in 12 games. He averaged 6.5 points per game on 34.4% shooting from the field and 34.0% shooting from three-point range.

Both Forest Mahoney (Beachburg, Ont.) and Eli Kraushar (Halifax, NS) were used primarily off the bench last season, and both players should see an influx in minutes this season. Mahoney averaged 14.1 minutes per game over his 18 regular season appearances, three of which were starts. He posted 4.3 points and 3.2 rebounds per game while shooting 45.7% from the floor.

As for Kraushar, he averaged 12.6 minutes per game over 17 regular season appearances, seven of which were starts. He posted 3.5 points and 2.1 rebounds per game.

Despite their losses in terms of personnel, Coach Duffie likes what he has coming back in 2019-20.

“I’m certainly looking forward to getting back on the floor with everyone in September,” added Duffie. “The key will be how quickly we can come together as a group and solidify our style and identity.”

For the Axemen, the returnees will need to adjust to their new roles before the season gets underway in November. A handful of exhibition games before the season begins will help both the returnees and newcomers get acclimated to the new season and their new responsibilities before the games matter in the standings.

Incoming Talent

In addition to their returnees, the Axemen have added five new faces to the mix in their 2019-20 recruiting class. They have added three bodies to the front court, increasing their size and depth in the paint, while also adding a pair of guards who will look to impact the game right away.

Guards Jaylen Passley (Burlington, Ont.) and Ryan Munro (Timberlea, NS) will add their share of talent to the guard rotation for the Axemen. Passley comes to the Axemen from King’s Christian Collegiate where he was teammates with Luka Sakota, who has committed to the Harvard Crimson.

Up front, the Axemen have added three players who add to their depth on the wing and in the paint. Brandon Aultman (Kitchener, Ont.) stands at 6’8’’, and is the tallest of all five recruits. He is also the tallest player on the roster this season, which should help him see big minutes from the outset of the year.

Joe Frenette (Bedford, NS) stands at 6’7’’, while Dylan Landry (Yarmouth, NS) adds versatility and size on the wing at 6’5’’. With their forward recruits, the Axemen have significantly improved the size of their roster, and their guards add size to the mix from the back end.

The Axemen have addressed their need for size inside with their new recruits, and they’ve also helped to restore some of the talent and depth in their back court rotation with Passley and Munro.

After missing the playoffs last season, Acadia will be looking to punch their ticket this season and make a run at the AUS Championship.

In order for them to do that, they will need to solidify their identity and style of play sooner than later, like Coach Duffie said. With four graduating fifth-year players now out of the picture, there are opportunities aplenty within the Axemen rotation this season for players to step into new roles.

With the experience of partaking in Nationals just two years ago fresh in their minds, the coaching staff knows what it takes to compete at the top level. You can bet that Duffie and his staff will have their team ready to go this season as they look to bounce back from a sub-.500 finish last season.

Be sure to bookmark our 2019-20 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.

– T. Bennett

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s