[A day late and a 1000 words short, so it’s barely a 4-minute read; you can finish it in one Olympic sell-you-stuff competition, but there are HOT LINKS to extend the pleasure!]
And yes, you’re safe. This is NOT more hand-wringing about American gun violence. It’s not even about my bride’s violent dismay at a quick tour of the TV landscape last night, though her horror at what passes for normalcy was real enough. (Our brief fling with hotel television – mainly Olympic coverage – was a side benefit of our
one-night stand anniversary getaway.) This was in another sporting arena, a modest one and far from Rio, where a team known as the Shockers¹ were in for a surprise.
¹And I do know, the Wichita State team name is not about horror movie results or bad interactions with electricity. It’s a Kansas thing. It’s a wheat thing.
No shock for me, though, especially once I knew that Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker from last year’s NCAA Tournament “Sweet 16” team had indeed completed their eligibility² at Wichita State, a strong fixture in recent bouts of March Madness. Surely, too, Coach Gregg Marshall was better prepared than he let on in a pre-trip press conference in Wichita, before heading off to Canada for a four-game pre-season tour. He must have known about the reputation of Ottawa’s Carleton University Ravens, not only their twelve Canadian Interuniversity Sport titles in fourteen years, but their tendency to beat NCAA teams when they come north.
²I wish I could more confidently write “graduated” rather than “completed their [athletic] eligibility”.
The Shockers’ first game was in Montreal, and they dismantled the UQAM Citadins – ostensibly a peer to the Ravens, a CIS squad competing for national honours – 54-18 in the first half on the way to a 50-point win. But surely they’d heard about Wisconsin or Memphis or Indiana (and many others) coming into Ottawa and losing in prior summer junkets by top-drawer Division 1 teams? Of course they had. They weren’t driving blind, but it didn’t matter a bit. As my buddy Seb grinned as the game got out of hand, “I always like to look at the bench of the D1 teams as it sinks in what’s happening to them. Getting rocked by Canadians?” Meanwhile, a less-heralded Stetson University (Fla.) Hatters team had been on the verge of being blown out by the Ravens the previous Friday evening, but managed to keep the score respectable, losing by 9.
Beating the Americans is actually fairly routine for the Ravens. They’re used to this WINNING thing – but don’t tell me those non-scholarship lads don’t take sky-high pleasure in schooling the Americans at the game they’ve dominated for so long. (They do get financial aid, many of them, but it’s no “full-ride” athletic scholarship. And yes, that’s an oxymoron, but nobody notices anymore.) And longtime readers of this site will know that I’ve written this story before. Most recently, the twin killings of Josh Pastner’s Memphis Tigers two summers ago made me wonder. Incredible. I watched it. You should read this and then this – they show how the systematic dismantling of a bigger, more “athletic” team by a bunch of Canucks was done. They also tell most of the story, if I do say so myself, about CU’s rising dominance of incoming NCAA teams.
Last summer, one of the more work-in-progress Carleton teams – they’d lost two All-Canadians and two other starters to graduation, plus head coach Dave Smart was beginning a sabbatical year – split a pair of games with Baylor, and knocked off Valparaiso. So yeah. During the Dave Smart era, the Ravens have lost more games against D1 schools than they’ve won, but the scales are tipping. (Oh, and by the way? The Ravens still won the CIS title last March, and now nearly everybody is back. Uh-oh…)
The first half against Wichita State was wonderfully entertaining, with neither team able to do much to slow down the other; the Shockers finished the half with a flurry to tie it at 47 on a last-second tip-in. Now, here’s the thing: if they hadn’t been so obviously bigger and stronger than the Ravens, the American lads might have been expecting to read something like this, only in reverse: The underdog visitors hung tough for a half, fuelled by pride and adrenaline, but the superior defence, dominant rebounding and offensive explosiveness of the hometown Ravens – especially from three-point land – began to tell in the second. Before the 3rd quarter buzzer, the rout was on, as the six-time CIS champions shocked (I know, I couldn’t resist) travelling Wichita State faithful with a 15-point cushion – which would have been more but for a quarter-ending three-point prayer. The gap only grew as the inevitable Carleton victory ensued, with a 100-75 final score.
There were details, and you can read them in the Wichita Eagle. Tellingly, neither of Ottawa’s two major newspapers appear to have even reported the game, but the Ravens athletic department summary was actually quite good. So while this might have been startling to the average American college basketball fan, those in the know are well aware – there’s something brewing up there in whatever the Washington DC of Canada is. Those boys can PLAY. (Ask at Wisconsin: I was impressed by the grace and humility of the Badgers and coach Bo Ryan, who lost to the Ravens in August 2013, the summer prior to their run to the NCAA National Championship game in 2014. Ryan credited the experience in Canada with being formative in their superb season.) I’ve been writing Raven-ishly for over a decade now, so yes, it’s getting to be routine, but I still marvel at it, just as I shake my head that only about 1000 people showed up to watch.
Two predictions: This team will go
5-0 6-0 (another game, against Morgan State, has been added to the sched) over NCAA teams this summer, the like of which has never been seen and rarely imagined. Ridiculous. And they WILL win their – ready? – seventh straight CIS championship, and their 13th in 15 years. And hardly anybody will notice.