HALIFAX – While his Carelton Ravens haven’t lost a game this season, coach Dave Smart isn’t taking anything for granted at the Canadian university men’s basketball championship.
The defending champions enter the eight-team tournament as the No. 1 seed, fresh off an 82-39 drubbing of the Ryerson Rams in the OUA final last week.
But if they’re going to secure their eighth title since 2003, the Ravens need to stay focused, Smart said.
”It’s always a problem when you haven’t lost to find motivation and come in as the aggressor,” Smart said after the Ravens practice Thursday.
Smart is looking to players such as guard Philip Scrubb, the OUA’s most valuable player, and forward Tyson Hinz, last season’s CIS player of the year, to help Carleton avoid any letdown.
“A good chunk of our guys have been here last year and the year before and a little experience never hurts,” said Hinz. “Still, it’s a whole new tournament and the past is the past.
“Every game we play as if there’s a target on our backs. Everyone wants to beat the number one seed.”
Carleton begins its title defence with a quarter-final matchup against the eighth-seeded Acadia Axemen on Friday. Acadia upset favoured St. Francis Xavier in the AUS championship last weekend.
Smart and Hinz both identified Acadia forward Owen Klassen, who averaged 10.1 rebounds per game this season, as a player the Ravens must contain.
Smart is familiar with Klassen, having coached him at the Pan American Games in 2011.
“I was beyond impressed with (Klassen’s) talent level and his understanding of the game,” said Smart. “(The Axemen) go through Owen and how you deal with Owen’s skill set is how you’ll defend them.”
Hinz said the Ravens must also pay attention to Acadia’s small lineup while keeping Klassen off the scoresheet and the glass.
“They shoot the ball incredibly well, as you saw last weekend,” said Hinz. “We have to control the shooters and make sure Owen doesn’t hurt us.”
Klassen acknowledges that his team was surprised to have been assigned the eighth seed after knocking off St. FX. The upside of an early date with the powerful Ravens, he said, is that the Axemen can play without the weight of high expectations.
“The way we look at it is, if you want to win a national championship you have to play them anyway, so you might as well get it over with in the first game,” he said. “It sucks that we’re eighth seed but it means there’s a lot less pressure on us so we can just go out and play.”
Acadia coach Stephen Bauer is confident his team can pull off a quarter-final upset.
“If we can find a way to disrupt their rebounding and take care of the basketball, we feel pretty confident,” he said. “We’ve got the same opportunity everybody else has. We’re three games away so we’re going to try to come in and win it.”
In other quarter-final action Friday, Canada West champion Alberta (No. 2) takes on Ryerson (No. 7), RSEQ winner Concordia faces (No. 6) St. FX and fourth-seeded Lakehead, which earned the tournament’s wild-card entry after a 20-2 season, plays Canada West finalists Fraser Valley (No. 5).