After Trip to Nationals, the Western Mustangs Are Out to Prove it Wasn’t a Fluke

Shiddo, Omar (2)
Guard Omar Shiddo and the Western Mustangs turned a lot of heads in 2019-20 with their run to the OUA Championship Game and a fourth-place finish at Nationals, and they’ll be looking to build off that in 2020-21 while proving that it wasn’t a fluke that they got there. (Source: Western Mustangs) (Header: Robin Kassem – Western Mustangs)

LONDON, Ont. — 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 Western Mustangs Men’s Basketball program.

Shiddo, Omar (3)
The Western Mustangs turned a lot of heads during the 2019-20 season, and they let their play do the talking for them when their doubters started to speak their mind. (Source: Robin Kassem – Western Mustangs)

2019-20 in Review

It’s not good for basketball. [Insert Team Name] should be there. The OUA Playoff format doesn’t make sense.

During their playoff run in 2019-20, the Western Mustangs heard it all, and then some. On the court, they let their play do the talking, and they proved a lot of people wrong in the process.

The Mustangs went 16-6 in the regular season, finishing atop the OUA West Division standings as a result. Western started their year with a four-game winning streak, but followed that up with back-to-back road losses against the Laurentian Voyageurs and Nipissing Lakers.

Following their first two losses of the year is when the Mustangs started to turn heads. They rattled off seven straight wins, pushing their record to 11-2 overall as they looked to continue their winning ways. They would go 5-4 the rest of the way, but closed the season on a three-game winning streak to enter the post-season with an extra boost of momentum.

As a result of their first-place finish in the OUA West Division, the Mustangs earned a First Round Bye in the Wilson Cup Playoffs. That’s when the conversation surrounding the OUA playoff picture started, but Western let their play on the court do the talking for them.

In the quarterfinals, the Mustangs were matched up with Kadre Gray and the Laurentian Voyageurs. Western found themselves down three after three quarters, 61-58, but Omar Shiddo (Brampton, Ont.) made sure that the Mustangs would come away victorious. The Mustangs outscored the Voyageurs by nine in the fourth frame to overtake Laurentian and keep their season alive with an 88-82 win.

Shiddo finished the night with 41 points, on 13-of-28 shooting from the field. He was one of four players who finished with double-digit points in the win.

After their win over Laurentian, the Mustangs got set to host the Laurier Golden Hawks in the semifinals inside Alumni Hall. Little did we know it at the time, but it would go down as one of the games of the season across U Sports.

Fast forward to the fourth quarter, where Western held a slim two-point lead, 74-72. Ali Sow hit one of two free throws with 10 seconds left to give the Golden Hawks a three-point lead, 94-91. With their season on the line, fifth-year guard Eriq Jenkins (Windsor, Ont.) hit a three with :02 left on the clock, sending the home fans into a frenzy and the game into overtime as a result.

That was just the start of it all.

In overtime, the Mustangs once again found themselves down in the closing seconds once more. With a spot in the OUA Championship Game and at the U Sports Men’s Basketball Final 8 on the line, the Mustangs once again found a way thanks to their veterans. After Jenkins hit a three to force overtime, Nikola Farkic (Kitchener, Ont.) stepped into the spotlight in overtime.

With the Golden Hawks leading 103-101, the Mustangs had the last shot to tie or win. Jenkins drove the lane for a layup, only to be met by Kemel Archer, who blocked the ball out of bounds. On the in-bounds play with :04 left on the clock, Jenkins found Farkic at the top of the arc and he did the rest.

Farkic took one dribble to his left, side-stepped a Laurier defender, and drilled a three with just one second left on the clock to give the Mustangs a 104-103 victory over the Golden Hawks in what was arguably the best game of the season.

Still think it wasn’t good for the game?

On the heels of their emotional victory in the semifinals, Western made the trip to Ottawa to take on the Carleton Ravens for the OUA Championship. The Mustangs led for a total of 31 seconds, but the high-powered Ravens were too much to overcome. Western brought home an OUA Silver Medal after a 90-68 loss to Carleton, but both teams were still off to Nationals as a result.

At Nationals, the Mustangs were once again seen as underdogs, or the outliers by some, thanks to their unexpected run to the tournament. Once again, they let their play do the talking, and turned even more heads with their play in the quarterfinals.

Western drew the Alberta Golden Bears in their Final 8 opener in a battle of two teams who brought home conference silver medals. Early on, it didn’t look good for the Mustangs, as Alberta built a 24-11 lead after the opening 10 minutes. From then on out, it was all about the Mustangs, as they regained their footing in the second quarter to take a 46-36 lead into the break.

The Mustangs would continue their rhythm on offense down the stretch, outscoring the Golden Bears by a 25-15 margin in the fourth quarter to seal the deal on their 86-72 victory, guaranteeing that they would play for a medal on Sunday.

In the semifinals, the Mustangs had another shot at the Ravens in an OUA Championship rematch. However, the result was much of the same, as Carleton rolled to the 90-63 win, sending Western to the Bronze Medal game as a result.

Playing for Bronze, the Mustangs took on the UBC Thunderbirds to close the season. After an emotional playoff run, Western was looking to cap their year with a win and a National medal. Out of the gates, things looked good for Western. The Mustangs took a 45-41 lead into the break, but ran out of gas in the second half as the Thunderbirds found another gear on offense.

UBC outscored the Mustangs by a 58-37 margin in the second half, picking up a 99-82 win when all was said and done to nab the U Sports Bronze Medal.

Overall, Western put together a combined record of 19-9 over the regular season and playoffs. They showed that they’re a program that can hang with the best in the country with their run to the OUA Championship Game and fourth-place finish at Nationals, and they took advantage of the opportunities put in front of them along the way.

Looking ahead to the 2020-21 season, and beyond, Head Coach Brad Campbell and the Mustangs are looking to build off last year’s finish and show that it wasn’t just a fluke. They have the talent to be a consistent contender year after year, and with the bulk of their roster expected back, they will be looking to get back to Nationals for a second consecutive season and build on their fourth-place finish.

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 Mustangs is about the best we can do at this point.

Last season, the Mustangs honoured a pair of players on Senior’s Night against the Windsor Lancers. Guards Eriq Jenkins and Nikola Farkic capped their careers with the Mustangs in a big way, both hitting big three pointers in the OUA Semifinals against Laurier to keep their season going, and placing fourth at Nationals against the best of the best in Canada.

Farkic, Nikola
Point guard Nikola Farkic didn’t get near the amount of National love and respect that he deserved over his five-year career at Western.

While the case can be made for essentially every collegiate player in Canada, regardless of program due to the lack of National coverage of the game, Farkic may go down as one of the most underappreciated point guards in recent memory. Over his five-year career with the Mustangs, Farkic dished out a total of 495 assists while committing just 215 turnovers.

That’s an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.3:1.

This past season, Farkic averaged a career-best 7.2 assists per game to go along with 8.3 points and 5.0 rebounds. He led all of Canada in assists per game, and he had 14 games with at least seven assists. Farkic only had one game where he committed more turnovers than assists (3 assists vs. 5 turnovers on 1/11 vs. Ryerson Rams), showing just how good he was at both taking care of the ball and getting his teammates involved.

Farkic closes his career at Western having appeared in 104 games overall, 78 of which were starts. He averaged 5.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per contest.

Having been the recipient of a handful of Farkic’s assists over the years, Jenkins was more of an offensive threat than his back court mate, but still did a lot of everything for the Mustangs. Over his four years at Western, Jenkins saw the floor in 86 games, making 84 starts along the way.

Jenkins capped off his time at Western with a career year, averaging career-best marks in points (12.1), rebounds (5.8), and assists (4.0) per game while shooting 38.5% from the field, 38.7% from three-point range (career-high) and 81.6% from the free throw line (career-high).

Over the course of 2019-20, Jenkins had double-digit points in 15 regular season contests, including three consecutive games to close the regular season.

While their production can be replaced, the impact that both Farkic and Jenkins had on the team from an experience standpoint will be tough to replicate. They were both integral pieces to building the culture of the Western program, and were driving forces behind their 2019-20 ascent to the top of the OUA.

Who’s Back?

Like most schools and programs all across Canada, Western 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.

Looking at last year’s roster, we can speculate that the Mustangs will welcome back the bulk of their group, with the exceptions of the aforementioned Jenkins and Farkic. The returning group should include four of their top five scorers from last season, and two of their top three rebounders.

Guard Omar Shiddo is one of the country’s top scoring guards, and he’ll be back in the mix ready to help the Mustangs build off last year’s success. He ranked seventh in the OUA last season with an average of 19.6 points per contest while shooting 41.0% from the field and 36.0% from three-point range.

In addition to his offensive production, Shiddo averaged 2.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per contest.

After missing the first two games of the season, Shiddo was as consistent as they come on the offensive end of the floor. He recorded at least 10 points in all 20 regular season games, and he topped the 20-point mark on nine occasions. Shiddo’s season was highlighted by his 41-point performance in the OUA Quarterfinals against Laurentian, and he averaged 26.7 points per game over Western’s three OUA playoff games.

Up front, the Mustangs are expected to return the forward tandem of Julian Walker (Barrie, Ont.) and Aaron Tennant (London, Ont.), both of whom had strong 2019-20 seasons and were key cogs for the Mustangs.

Walker, Julian
Entering his fourth season with the Mustangs, forward Julian Walker will look to build off a quietly successful 2019-20 campaign. (Source: Western Mustangs)

Like Farkic, the 6’7″ Walker has flown under the radar thus far in his career. This past season saw the Barrie native average 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game while shooting 58.3% from the field. He was tied for 8th in the OUA in rebounds and ranked 5th in the league in terms of field goal percentage.

Quietly, Walker went about his business last season. He had at least 20 points in four of the last five regular season games, and went for double-digit points on 21 occasions. Walker recorded 11 double-doubles for the year, and was one or two rebounds short of four more.

Over his first two season with the Mustangs, Tennant has shown flashes of what he can do on both ends of the floor. The London product started all 22 games last season, averaging 8.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game while shooting 52.5% from the floor. From November 30th through to January 22nd, a span of six games, Tennant recorded double-digit points of five occasions.

With his height and athleticism, Tennant has the potential to take another big jump in 2020-21, especially with the Mustangs looking for more offensive production with the losses of Jenkins and Farkic.

The Mustangs will look to the likes of Ukasha Khan (Brampton, Ont.), Jerric Palma (Richmond, B.C.), and Aryan Sharma (Milton, Ont.) to take on expanded roles this season on both ends of the floor.

Sharma ranked fourth on the Mustangs in scoring last season, averaging 9.2 points per game. He went for a career-best 32 points on November 2nd against the Algoma Thunderbirds. Sharma went a perfect 11-for-11 from the field, and 6-for-6 from three-point range.

Khan averaged 6.1 points and 2.2 rebounds per game last season, while Palma posted 6.0 points per contest over 20 appearances. In total, the Mustangs are expected to return a total of six players who averaged at least 6.0 points per game last season.

With a core group of returnees back for another run, led by Shiddo and Walker, the Mustangs have talent and experience back that will be looking to build off the 2019-20 finish.

Add in their recruiting class, and Western is gearing up and are looking to build off last year’s fourth-place finish at Nationals.

Incoming Talent

Playing on the National Stage in March put the Mustangs in front of a lot of eyeballs, and it’s paying off on the recruiting trail. Western’s 2020-21 recruiting class consists of nine names to this point in the off-season, with eight names coming into the program and the last being a player who spent last season with the program as a red-shirt.

Campbell and the Mustangs have added three players with post-secondary experience, two from U Sports and one from the NCAA, while the other six come from various high school programs across Canada.

Dixon-Green, Martin
Former Canisius guard Martin Dixon-Green brings both NCAA and professional experience with him to the Western back court, a rotation that features an incoming U Sports transfer and returns one of the top scoring guards in the country. (Source: Canisius Athletics)

Guard Martin Dixon-Green (Toronto, Ont.) comes to the Mustangs by way of the Canisius Golden Griffins in the NCAA. He averaged 2.4 points and 2.0 rebounds per game back in the 2016-17 season. Most recently, Dixon-Green had a stint with the London Lightning of the NBL Canada, averaging 3.5 points per game over 36 appearances during the 2017-18 season.

After spending last season with the program as a red-shirt after transferring from the UBC Thunderbirds, guard Isaiah Familia (Windsor, Ont.) will take to the court this season for the Mustangs. Back in 2018-19, Familia posted 3.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per contest in the Canada West. With the losses of both Farkic and Jenkins in the back court rotation, Familia’s level of familiarity with the Mustangs’ system should allow for him to step into a prominent role from the outset of the season.

The third and final transfer for the Mustangs is up front, and makes the move down Highway 401 to join Western. Forward Anthony Zrvnar (Belle River, Ont.) last played for the Windsor Lancers back in 2018-19, averaging 8.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game over 22 regular season appearances. The 6’7” forward gives the Mustangs another big body inside, and is one of five forwards in their 2020-21 recruiting class.

Up front, the Mustangs have added four players from various high school programs across Canada that will add size and depth to the rotation for years to come. Center Johnny Vrdoljak (Georgetown, Ont.) is the tallest of them all, standing at 6’11”, and comes to the Mustangs by way of the TRC Academy.

Campbell and his staff have added a pair of forwards from the West Coast to the mix. Jaxon Cohee (Vancouver, B.C.) comes to Western from St. George’s High, and George Horn (Vancouver, B.C.) played his high school basketball at Handsworth Secondary.

Rounding out the group of incoming forwards is hometown product Graeme McDougall (London, Ont.). McDougall joins the Mustangs from A.B. Lucas Secondary, and is the second basketball player from the Vikings to join the Mustangs this season. Guard Avarie Thomas (London, Ont.) committed to Head Coach Nate McKibbon and the Western Women’s Basketball program.

On the back end, the Mustangs have added a pair of first-year guards to the mix. Tyson Dunn (Newmarket, Ont.) comes to Western from Bill Crothers Secondary, and is a player that the Mustangs are excited about from year one. Isaiah Pemberton (Ottawa, Ont.) rounds out the nine-man recruiting class for the Mustangs, joining the program from Ashbury College.

[Listen to Western Men’s Basketball Assistant Coach Mo Haidar discuss the 2020-21 recruiting class on the Four Quarters Podcast]

With their 2020-21 recruiting class, the Mustangs have added talented pieces that can help both now and into the future. This is a program that’s riding high from last year’s run to the National Championship Bronze Medal Game, and they are hungry for more this coming season.

They’ll be looking to keep their forward momentum going, and this is a group that will keep the Mustangs right in the thick of things atop the OUA standings once more.

The Western Mustangs turned a lot of heads last season with their play. Most saw the end result, which was their post-season run. However, the Mustangs were one of the best teams in the OUA all season long. Faulting them for taking advantage of the opportunities put in front of them, whether it’s the regular season or playoffs, is absurd.

Western earned their first-place finish in the West Division, and went on to bring home an OUA Silver Medal before finishing fourth at Nationals. Heading into the 2020-21 season equipped with a solid group of returnees and a talented recruiting class, the Mustangs will be looking to build off last year’s success.

Still think that last year’s run was good for the game?

One word. Yes.

Western is here to stay, and they’re out to prove that last season’s run wasn’t just a fluke.

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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