Brandon Bobcats Hope to Build off Second Half Surge, Playoff Appearance in 2020-21

Williams, Shun
Guard Shun Williams and the Brandon Bobcats are hoping that the way they ended the 2019-20 season is a sign for things to come for the program in 2020-21. (Source: Brandon Bobcats) (Header: Brandon Bobcats)

BRANDON, Man. — If you’re reading this, it’s not too late.

While we’re still looking back on an incredible 2019-20 season, one that had no shortage of excitement across both U Sports and the CCAA, it’s also the perfect time to look ahead.

The 2020-21 season is going to be one for the history books. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the start of the season has been pushed back until at least January 2021 for most leagues, with Quebec as the exception. The RSEQ has yet to make a decision on whether or not to delay sports until the Winter semester.

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 2020-21 season.

That’s 112 different programs, if you’re keeping a tally at home.

We are attempting to preview each and every team from coast to coast ahead of the new season. Challenges have emerged in each of the last two seasons as we’ve attempted this feat before, but we’re going to give it another run.

As they say, third time’s the charm. Right?

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 Brandon Bobcats Men’s Basketball program.

2019-20 in Review

Sometimes, it’s not how you start, but rather how you finish.

The Brandon Bobcats Men’s Basketball team were living proof of that last season.

Brandon opened the season with back-to-back losses against the Saskatchewan Huskies at home. They followed that up by notching their first win of the season, a 103-89 decision over the Lethbridge Pronghorns on November 8th. The Pronghorns earned a split in the weekend set, picking up a 94-87 win on Saturday.

At 1-3, things were manageable for the Bobcats moving forward.

Then, the wheels seemingly fell off.

Dennis, Dominique
Dominique Dennis was one of six first-year players on the Brandon roster in 2019-20. (Source: Brandon Bobcats)

After their win over the Pronghorns, the Bobcats proceeded to lose their next 11 games, dropping them to 1-13 on the year and put them at the bottom of the Canada West standings. They were on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, and things were looking grim for their post-season chances.

Again, it’s not how you start, but rather how you finish.

Despite things going against them for most of the season, the Bobcats found another level to their game, and things started to turn around. With three weekend sets left before the regular season was over, the Bobcats still had an outside chance of making the playoffs. Two of their final three match-ups were with the UNBC Timberwolves and Trinity Western Spartans, two programs outside of the playoff picture. Winnable games for the Bobcats, they didn’t let the opportunity pass them by.

A two-point win over the Timberwolves on January 24th ended their 11-game slide, and kick-started a late-season run towards the playoffs. The Bobcats completed the weekend sweep of UNBC the next night out before returning home to host Trinity Western in their final home weekend of the year.

The Bobcats would pick up a pair of wins over the Spartans, pushing their winning streak to four games and putting themselves into the 12th and final playoff spot in the process.

All that was standing between themselves and the post-season was a weekend set with the Manitoba Bisons. Brandon needed a win to secure themselves a playoff spot, a reality that seemed like merely a dream just two weeks prior.

On February 7th, the first game of the weekend series, the Bobcats defeated the Bisons by three, 90-87, securing their spot in the Canada West playoffs and pushing their winning streak to five games.

They matched up with the 5th-seed Victoria Vikes in the First Round of the Canada West playoffs. The Bobcats and Vikes were tied at 63-all after three quarters, but Victoria pulled away for the 88-80 win, thus ending Brandon’s season in the process.

After starting the season with just one win over their first 14 games, Brandon closed the year with a regular season with a record of 6-14 and a spot in the playoffs. Seven of their regular season losses were by single digits, including a two-point loss to the Calgary Dinos and a single-point defeat at the hands of the Regina Cougars.

Brandon came into the season with 11 players on their official online roster, six of whom were first-year players, and one second-year player. The youth on their roster gained a ton of experience, and with the bulk of the roster expected back in 2020-21, they will look to build off their strong finish and carry that momentum into the new campaign.

Who’s Gone?

With the ever-changing situation surrounding the global COVID-19 pandemic, and its effect on school enrollment for the fall semester and beyond, speculating what the 2020-21 roster could look like for the Bobcats is about the best we can do at this point.

As of now, the Bobcats will only be without one name from last year’s roster.

Forward Jaleel Webb (Montreal, QC) was the only fifth-year player on the roster last season, and was honoured at the Bobcats’ final home game against Trinity Western back in February. The Concordia Stingers transfer played three seasons with the Bobcats, amassing a total of 747 points during his time in the Canada West.

This past season saw Webb average 14.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game while appearing in all 20 games. He shot 39.8% from the field, 29.9% from beyond the arc, and 70.8% from the free throw line. Webb gave the team consistent offensive production, recording double-figures in 17 of 20 regular season. Still, he saved arguably his best weekend for his final home games.

Webb, Jaleel
Forward Jaleel Webb was the only fifth-year player on an otherwise young Brandon roster in 2019-20, and replacing his veteran experience may prove to be the most difficult. (Source: Brandon Bobcats)

Against Trinity Western over the January 31st – February 1st weekend, Webb went for a combined 50 points, on 16-of-35 shooting from the field, to close out his home career on a high note.

While the loss of Webb will leave a hole to fill, especially on offense, the Bobcats should have their share of talent back in 2020-21. For a Brandon team that will still be younger in 2020-21, Webb’s veteran experience will be the toughest thing to replace.

Who’s Back?

Like most schools and programs all across Canada, Brandon University is awaiting the start of the school year to officially confirm who will be back and who may be taking a year off given the remote learning offering as opposed to in-person classes.

However, with Webb being the only player who was honoured on Senior’s Night last season, and everyone else on the Bobcats’ roster having at least one year of eligibility remaining, we can speculate that everyone should be back for the 2020-21 season.

What that means is that Head Coach Gil Cheung and the Bobcats will return four players who averaged at least 9.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, two of whom were first-year players that have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to their collegiate careers.

Leading the way in terms of returnees for Brandon is one of the top young players in all of Canada, let alone the Canada West. Forward Anthony Tsegakele (Gatineau, QC) exploded onto the scene last season, posting big numbers and picking up his share of hardware along the way. Tsegakele was named the Canada West Rookie of the Year, along with being named to the Canada West All-Rookie Team and the U Sports All-Rookie Team at year’s end.

Tsegakele made a big first impression in his Canada West debut. Against Saskatchewan on November 1st, he went for 12 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double. That was a sign of things to come, as Tsegakele would close the year with 15 double-doubles to his credit.

Tsegakele, Anthony
Anthony Tsegakele took home his share of hardware last season after a stellar first season with the Bobcats. What will he have in store for year two? (Source: Brandon Bobcats)

For the year, the product of Gatineau posted 17.4 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. Tsegakele finished the season ranked 2nd in the Canada West, and 3rd across U Sports in rebounds per game. He also shot 50.6% from the field, 43.5% from three-point range, and 64.3% from the free throw line.

First year guard Dominique Dennis (Brampton, Ont.) also had himself a strong campaign to kick off his collegiate career. Dennis led the Bobcats with an average of 3.6 assists per game while chipping in 9.9 points and 3.1 rebounds on 32.2% shooting from the field.

Dennis ranked 11th in the Canada West in terms of total assists for the season (73). He also had an assist-to-turnover ratio better than 1:1 on 10 occasions. In the Bobcats’ first win of the season against Lethbridge on November 8th, Dennis recorded 19 points and 11 assists for his first statement game in Canada West play.

In terms of veterans, guard Haashim Wallace (Vineland, NJ) gives the Bobcats a consistent offensive weapon from the back end. Last season, Wallace finished the year 12th in the Canada West in terms of scoring, averaging 17.1 points per game. He posted seven straight games in double-figures to open the year, and had 17 such performances over the course of the season when all was said and done.

Wallace chipped in 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists along the way, in addition to his offensive production.

Fellow veteran Shun Williams (Kansas City, Mo.) led the conference in total steals (42), and was 8th in blocked shots (18). He had 10 games with multiple steals, and he recorded at least five steals on four separate occasions. Williams averaged 11.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game on 41.0% shooting from the field.

With the loss of Webb, the likes of Wallace and Williams will be looked upon to help shoulder the load from a veteran leadership standpoint. Being upperclassmen, they’ll look to help guide the team to another playoff appearance, building off last year’s finish.

The group of Webb-Tsegakele-Williams-Wallace-Williams made up the bulk of the production for the Bobcats last season. After their core, there was a significant drop off in both production and minutes.

With Webb having graduated, opportunity may be there for the likes of forward Hans Befus (Edmonton, Ont.) or guard Elisha Ampofo (Milton, Ont.) to step into an expanded role and take some of the pressure off the other returnees.

Incoming Talent

To this point in the off-season, Cheung and the Bobcats have announced just one recruit for the 2020-21 season, one that they hope will add some more size and depth to the front court rotation.

Forward Blake Magnusson (Gilmi, Man.) has committed to Brandon University as part of their 2020-21 recruiting class. The 6’6’’ forward/center played his high school basketball at Gimli High, and will look to bring some more size and depth to the front court rotation on both ends of the floor.

Magnusson, Blake
Blake Magnusson committed to Coach Cheung and the Bobcats back on May 29th, 2020. (Source: Brandon Bobcats)

With everyone expected back next season, with the exception of Webb, roster spots are hard to come by. But again, all we can do is speculate on rosters until they are formally announced and school is underway. So, who knows what Cheung and his staff have in the works as the 2020-21 season creeps closer (we hope, anyways).

Given the way the 2019-20 season started for the Bobcats, it would have been tough to predict that they would eventually secure the final playoff spot in the Canada West. Still, the team continued to fight, and they rattled off a five-game winning streak that ultimately got them into the post-season, where they almost kept their winning ways going in a close loss to Victoria.

Now, heading into the 2020-21 season, the Bobcats are hoping to continue building off their strong finish and continue to climb in the standings. While we still don’t know what the season will look like, Brandon will be hoping to pick up where they left off and continue to string together strong performances with the hopes of securing another post-season berth.

The Bobcats turned some heads with their strong play in the final three weeks of last season, showing that it’s how you finish that matters, and not so much how you start.

Be sure to bookmark our 2020-21 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.

– T. Bennett

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