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Shocking. Routine.

[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!]   
Guess they were. Shouldn't have been.

Guess they were. Shouldn’t have been.

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.

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CIS/CSI Toronto: The Birds! (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?)

This is a Crime Scene Investigation. Forensics experts are still dusting for box score prints, still freeze-framing the game tape for clues about how the championship match of the Canadian Interuniversity Sports men’s basketball championship could have gone so right for the Ravens, so wrong for the Gee-Gees. Five minutes into the game, it looked like Alfred Hitchcock was directing Carleton’s birds. It looked bad for Ottawa’s horses, in a dance marathon where they suddenly didn’t know the steps, couldn’t endure the exhausting pace, and had to keep dancing long after they felt dead. Five minutes into the third quarter, any doubts were dispelled. CSI Howdy’s first report was here, then came some sort of consolation, the Final Four, and then this Apparently Inevitable Denouement:

Well, that didn’t even make sense.

Even my sports/TV/Movie mashup title is more logical than a result that sees the Ottawa Gee-Gees, the consensus No. 2 team in the country — and which claimed the top ranking for a time after defeating the Carleton Ravens in January — being so thoroughly whipped. 93-46. Ninety-three to forty-six. 46?! UOttawa is the highest scoring team in the country, with one of the nation’s top scorers in “Johnny Basketball” Berhanemeskel and a collection of other gunners.

That's the venerable Mr. McGee, front and centre, with a flock of happy Ravens behind.

That’s the venerable Mr. McGee, front and centre, with a flock of happy Ravens behind. Smart is second-row left, though he often flees the flashbulbs. (photo by Chris Roussakis, GoRavens.ca)

It was an AWESOME performance, a great and dynastic team playing near-perfect basketball for extended periods. It was surgical, clinical, a beating that was almost worse because there was no taunting or showboating or visible glee. The Ravens don’t bother with distractions like that. They’re All Business. This isn’t personal, Ottawa. We’re just doing our jobs. We’ve never seen anything like this. Well, hmm, come to think, except when Carleton did almost exactly the same thing to the Lakehead Thunderwolves in the 2013 final, where they won by 50. “But this wasn’t Lakehead!” exclaimed a wide-eyed basketball man and Ravens admirer. “Them being in the finals was a bit of a fluke, but Ottawa is really good!

Not Sunday. The Gee-Gees were devastated. I couldn’t get the lost look on fifth-year post Gabriel Gonthier-Dubue’s face out of my mind; Johnny B wore a haunting mask of stunned sorrow. (And they had to stand there for soooooo long! Celebration, a zillion photos, interviews, all this before the formal announcements of the Players of the Game, the tournament MVP and All-Stars, before the GGs bowed their heads to receive a silver medal that they won’t appreciate for years, and before they watched the Carleton Ravens, for the second straight year, accept the gold that they seem to win so routinely now. 11 W.P. McGee trophies in 13 years constitutes a habit, and for the rest of the Canadian university basketball hopefuls, it’s become an utterly intimidating one. Don’t forget, they lost narrowly in the national semis in those other two years! Meanwhile, UOttawa has never won gold. And they had to stand at least 15 minutes and watch Those Guys.) They stood there SO LONG.

It’s too much to ask. (Maybe, too, it’s too much to ask of you to keep reading. This thing hits nearly 3000 words — also more photos to come! — but count me fascinated. And you? )

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The Year of the Ram: Nearly, in Toronto

Here I continue in my micro-odyssey: to see all 11 games at the CIS Final 8 men’s basketball championships, to understand anything and everything about them, and to write it all up without losing subscribers or being fined by the Interwebs. (I’ve gotta be getting close to being long overdue. As opposed to just, um, sorta like, ya know, betterlatethanneverrightamIrightImsureImright. You can find Take One and Take Two with the easiest of clicks.

Listen, you may not know yet what happened in the Northern Territories of Hoopdom yesterday. The grand old W.P. McGee Trophy, first awarded in 1963 for the championship of Canadian university men’s basketball, was cradled and pumped toward the grey ceiling of the old Maple Leaf Gardens yesterday at about 5:30 pm. It was an amazing title game, and not incidentally the seasonal rubber match between a pair of Canadian hoops juggernauts and crosstown rivals: the Carleton Ravens and the Ottawa Gee-Gees.

Home of the Rams (and the ghost of Tim Horton).

Home of the Rams (and the ghost of Tim Horton).

However, I know you don’t want to read about that. Not yet, because you haven’t yet read JH.com’s take on Saturday night’s semifinals at the Mattamy Centre. (Am I right? I’m sure I’m right.) So I’ll get to that right quick, but yesterday’s heavyweight hoops slugfest? Sheesh, it was unbelievable, I mean, nobody saw it coming, not really, not like that, but I won’t spoil it for you. (Good thing that there isn’t some mechanism for quickly finding out facts on any given event or idea! Gosh, then you’d have your CIS Final 8 information out of sequence, the context and appreciation of the tournament’s Large Vista would be lost, and so would you be. Dear reader, I won’t stand or sit for it!) Oh, don’t worry, I WILL get to that stunning game – still reeling, I am, to think that they could have won over a team that many considered the favourite for a big chunk of the 2014-15 season, and holy cow! With such a devastating, heart-wrenching conclusion! But first I want to think and write about Saturday night, since: a) I wrote lots of semi-comprehensible notes, and b) the semifinals featured some of the maddest college hoop March-ing you’d ever want to see, and c) because Sir Henk of the Southlands has asked that it be so. (So has King Karl. There may be others. You may be among them. So here!)

The Raptor was in the House That Conn Smythe Built

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Dave Smart (on coaching, culture & talent)

Dave Smart knew early that basketball coaching was what he wanted to do. A fine and funky player — he led the nation in scoring, and has Queen’s University’s all-time leading scoring average — Smart didn’t even use all his years of Canadian Interuniversity Sport eligibility. He’d likely shrug and agree with the fans of his Carleton University’s chief rivals at the University of Ottawa, who’ve been known to chant, Not so Smart! Not so Smart!

He sees the game at a genius level, and never lets his players relax. (Andrew Vaughan photo, CP)

He sees the game at a genius level, and never lets his players relax. (Andrew Vaughan photo, CP)

While he may not have been an academic superstar, the man is brilliant and a relentlessly insistent mentor. You may have heard: his teams at Carleton, never previously a basketball power, were winning national championships by his fourth season after taking the helm in his early 30s, and they’ve never stopped. That first title began streaks of five straight championships, thirteen consecutive national semifinals, and ten titles in the last 12 seasons. If that number sounds familiar, it tied one of the most storied records in the history of sport: John Wooden’s UCLA Bruin teams (Abdul-Jabbar, Walton, etc.) cut down NCAA nets in 10 of the Wizard of Westwood’s last dozen campaigns. The Ravens, with a win tonight, will play for an eleventh title in 13 years tomorrow. (My rundown on the opening round of the tournament, Carleton’s 40-point win, and the only two teams with a real chance to knock them off is here.)

So, yeah. He’s pretty good, and I’ve been studying why. I’m starting to get it.

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A Canuck Man’s March Madness

WARNING: Contains basketball. And other things.

But lots of basketball.

The man would be me, and the madness — well, it may be terminal. As an international man of leisure, housework aside, I took in the all-Ontario AA (OFSAA) boys basketball championships Wednesday evening. (Lots to say about that, but not today.) An overnight bus trip and a Holiday Inn morning nap later, I was ragged but ready for Day 1 of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) men’s basketball Final 8. Play started at 11 a.m. in the reconfigured shell of dear old Maple Leaf Gardens, now called the Mattamy Centre and enclosing the Ryerson University athletic centre (and a Loblaws grocery store).I look up at the inner

I look up at the inner dome during games and remember the Leafs -- and the NBA Buffalo Braves! Bob McAdoo, Randy Smith, Ernie DiGregorio...

I look up at the inner dome during games and remember the Leafs — and the NBA Buffalo Braves! Bob McAdoo, Randy Smith, Ernie DiGregorio…

I am here because hoops has a hold on me, and especially because of my fascination with the (again!) top-seeded Carleton Ravens. They’re pursuing their fifth straight title (for the second time), and looking for their 11th win in 13 seasons. (This has been astounding for years, and too few notice. I notice. Yes, I do feel lonely at times. What makes you ask?)

I took notes. I noted things like this:

Game 1: Carleton Ravens vs. Saskatchewan Huskies

The Mattamy Centre is a great place to watch ball.  It’s tiny by NCAA standards, seating about 5000, and it’s not close to full. There may be 2000 to 2500 here now, and at least a third, maybe half, are school children — judging by the waving “thunderstix” (who is the genius that we thank for this invention?) all around the bowl bopping along to “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth…”. (I wasn’t among them, but they made me smile.) The floor is laid over a hockey rink, though it’s three storeys above the old MLG’s sacred surface. There are four rows of courtside seats opposite the scoring table and team benches.

And Philip Scrubb, the only man ever to be named national Player of the Year three times — and many Ravens faithful are furious he didn’t get it this year (what, did he get worse?) — is OFF and running and dealing. It’s already 28-10 over the Huskies by quarter time, with Phil driving and firing four three-pointers, including a 4-pt play at the buzzer. Sheesh. Normally impassive on the floor, he’s showing emotion early. Nice to see, actually; it’s genuine exuberance that he’s releasing in his last hurrah, and not Made4TV Emotion. (Heck, this game’s on local cable.)

Big brother Thomas hasn’t scored much yet as of 31-13, but he’s getting the shots he wants.

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Bruins and Ravens and Wins: Hey, WHY?

It’s all so blasé, a profoundly bland kind of humdrum yeah, so what? Even for those who actually pay attention, it gets taken for granted, but for the majority of people here in the capital of Canada an incredible sporting success story is little known and cared about less. Folks might have heard that one of those cute university sports teams, the one at Carleton – yeah, and it’s not even the hockey team, I think it’s basketball – well, it wins. A lot. A few national championships there, some will know; they’ll even sometimes play a game at the home of the NHL Senators. (Most recent commercial nomenclature: Canadian Tire Place. What it’s not called, but is: House of Hockey Worship; Puck Pagoda; Temple of Higher Shinny.) The Sens are fairly supportive, doing their good corporate-citizen best, but this remarkable basketball story, even with maxed-out local interest, gets the Place less than half full.

So listen up, Ottawa. Be warned, Canada! And pay attention down there, Excited States of Basketball – the Carleton University Ravens are poised to do something long thought to be undo-able, for any sports team, anywhere.

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Ravens Back Tigers Into Corner and Peck Them Into Slump-Shouldered Helplessness

They only hit one three-point shot in the first quarter this time, unlike the six bombs they dropped on the startled heads of the young Memphis Tigers last Saturday night, but the Carleton Ravens still led by 11 after a quarter. Memphis, after overwhelming the UOttawa Gee-Gees (and their sad-sack practice jerseys) in the second half Sunday and blitzing the McGill Redmen Monday in Montreal, were back in the Ravens Nest to show that their fourth quarter against Carleton in game one represented the Real Tigers, not the 32 they were down late in the third of their 86-76 loss in the first game of their Canadian tour.

They couldn’t do it.

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Ravens Run Tigers Out of the Gym. Almost.

The place wasn’t even full, for one thing. As the Memphis Tigers returned to the floor 10 minutes from tip-off for the final, all-flushes-flying, let’s-get-this-party-started portion of their pre-game warmup, there were still far south of a thousand spectators in the Ravens’ Nest at Carleton University. True, it was a Saturday night in August, and the students weren’t back yet, but how often do we get to see top American college teams up close?

A long way from home, and a rude Ottawa welcome.

A long way from home, and a rude Ottawa welcome.

Hot young Division One coaching star Josh Pastner knows his stuff. (Gettin’ a little chubby, though!) He knew Carleton coach Dave Smart’s Raveniculous record – 10 Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) titles in the last 12 seasons – though his ‘Net research was a year out of date, citing nine McGee Trophies in eleven. He knew the Ravens were a precise, rapid-fire machine on offence, and had heard, no doubt, of their fanatical intensity. He probably tried to communicate this to his high-jumping, young squad. He failed, as he might have known he would.

After all, even last year’s Tigers benchwarmers are used to home crowds of

Not the Ravens' Nest. The Tigers home experience.

Not the Ravens’ Nest. The Tigers home experience.

nearly 18,000, as they play in

the same FedEx Forum where the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies do, and not in this bland, amateurish northern equivalent of a so-so American high school gym. As do all the American players who come north for a summer tour of Ottawa, his lads learned.

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Spurs Win Again. We Don’t Get It.

I expected to be watching Game Seven of the NBA Finals Friday morning — I’m in China, lest ye forget — and instead I wrote this.

SPURS IN FIVE?! WHO CALLED THAT?

Nobody. Cuz we believe “the team with the best player wins”, cuz the NBA has marketed the hell out of individualism. And MJ did, and Shaq probably was, and so was Tim Duncan, once upon a time, but even back then it was always a team deal with the Spurs.

I forecast San Antonio in seven, so I’m still not adjusted. I’m programmed for an epic climax, as games 6 and 7 in 2013 were the best pair of basketball struggles I’ve seen, what, ever? At least since the Magic Lakers and the Celtic Birds in the ’80s. With the Spurs’ early air-conditioning this year, I’m revising history: they actually won last year, too, even though LeBron James held up the trophies and preened and narcissized “I’m not supposed to be here!” (Sorry, kid king. Noticing the clay feet more than is charitable.)

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Ten for Twelve. Ravens Win! (Well, *I* Felt Something.)

I’ll regret this later in the day, but only with a bleary, weary grin and a bemused shake of the skull. I get a little hoops-deprived here in China, but not in these wee hours. It’s ten to five in the morning, and my adopted hometown team has just done the ridiculous.

To update last week’s Jordan Conn article on Grantland: “If a team wins TEN out of 12 national championships in Canada, does it make any noise? Meet the Carleton University Ravens.” Well, the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees (just Google it) did, and fought madly and well, but the dynasty stands as the Ravens rolled on, 79-67. Did it make any noise? Well, just north of 7000 fans in the home of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators – yup, for all you Murricans reading, our national college hoops classic drew over 10,000 empty seats with the two local unis in it – made a fine effort. Sometimes the play-by-play guys were synchronized with the three cameras operating, and for a second-tier pro and a one-weekend-a-year ex-coach colour guy, the SportsNet 360 team did a fine job.

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