Bennett’s Breakdown: Instant Classic

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Photo credit Richard A Whittaker

Feb 06, 2015

By Donnovan Bennett – Sportsnet TV Personality

Follow Donnovan on Twitter: @donnovanbennett

This game is a precursor to something bigger. It’s not an inaugural meeting and chances are it won’t be the last. It may not even be the second last. Despite all of that, the MBNA Capital Hoops Classic is unequivocally the biggest regular season matchup in CIS sports. Not CIS basketball, CIS sports.

The Canadian Tire Centre is the scene of the ninth Hoops Classic on Friday night (women 6 p.m. / men 8 p.m.) and since its inception the event has grown to be the biggest regular season spectacle CIS has to offer. Simply put, the games mean more than just basketball or additions in the win and loss column. They are a celebration of community basketball that culminates in a year-long spectacle.

There will be droves of fans traveling from downtown Sandy Hill in Garnet and Grey and from Old Ottawa South in black and red. Don’t be surprised if 10,000 strong are taking in a collegiate basketball game, a sight foreign to other parts of the country, but not in Ottawa – not for this game. The game has gained so much notoriety, taking part in it has become a huge recruiting tool and is partly responsible for both programs’ sustained success.

It helps that it’s not just a singular game. Part of its lasting relevance is the fact that it’s a double dip where the ladies share the spotlight with the men, and it’s not just a lightweight undercard either, the Gee-Gees and Ravens are seemingly always in contention to make women’s nationals. Three of the best female players in the country in Stephanie MacDonald, Lindsay Shotbolt and Heather Lindsay will be on display. The two ladies both fan bases will have their eyes on are three-point sharp shooters Jen Stoqua and Krista Van Slingerland, two former Ravens that have transferred to their crosstown rival. The “if you can’t beat them join them” narrative only adds to the rivalry. The Gee-Gees actually did beat the Ravens in this game a year ago and if they are able to do it again, Carleton will dip below .500 and have a slim chance at making a deep run into March. If the Ravens pull off an upset win, they’d leap to just one game behind Ottawa in the OUA North standings. Like the men, the female Ravens have dominated the Hoops Classic, winning five of the first seven, but Ottawa has already beaten Carleton once this year.

The competition is just as fierce on the men’s side. In a sport that is demonstrating more and more parity, these two teams have consistently been at the top of the heap. The 2014-2015 season is no different.

Ottawa, currently ranked first in the nation for the first time in program history, leads the country on offence, averaging 94 points per game and is only one of three schools who average over 50% shooting from the floor. One of the others is Carleton. The No. 2-ranked Ravens lead the league on defence giving up just 58 points per contest. Ottawa isn’t far behind with the fifth best D in CIS giving up 69 points on average, holding opponents to 30% three-point FG, which is actually one percentage point better than Carleton’s normally stingy 31%.

The Ravens have suffered two losses in a two-week span, the normal outlay in a two-year span for Canada’s most dominant program. The losses have come at the hands of the only two teams who have current roster members who know what it feels like to beat the reigning four-time national champs, Ottawa and Windsor.

Carleton has dominated the men’s half of the Hoops Classic, winning the last seven after Ottawa won the inaugural showcase. U of O, however, has captured two of the last three head-to-head matchups overall – including 68-66 on January 10 – in which the average margin of victory was measly five points. The outcome of Friday night’s game is widely being seen as a sign that the guard is changing or that the pecking order remains intact.

Ottawa (14-0) will try to maintain its undefeated record this season while defeating the Ravens (12-2) at the Canadian Tire Centre for the first time since 2007. The game will boast the top two ranked teams in the nation, not to mention a rematch of last year’s OUA and CIS finals. Yet it is Ottawa who is looking to stay undefeated, despite the fact that Carleton is trying to win their eighth straight Capital Hoops Classic. One of these streaks will have to give.

Unequivocally the two most exciting players in the nation are the highly skilled Philip Scrubb of Carleton who is in contention to win his fourth straight Moser trophy as CIS MVP, and Ottawa’s Johnny Berhanemeskel, whose late game heroics is making him a dark horse to wrestle the award away from Scrubb to win his first. The matchup of those two in the backcourt as well as their do-it-all swing men sidekicks Caleb Agada and the less renowned but equally effective brother Scrubb – Thomas, will be a 40-minute long chess match.

It’s no coincidence the Gee-Gees will be dawning Ottawa on their chest. Seven of their players are hometown boys but none of them, nor any of their current teammates, has ever won the MBNA Capital Hoops Classic.

Sure, you have big rivalries in CIS sports and some schools have a huge homecoming culture. But no other annual event consistently marries massive stakes, bitter rivalry and elite competition for athletes of both sexes, all of which play out in a world class venue. The 2015 games will be no different. In fact, this year’s event sets up on paper to be the most compelling Capital Hoops Classic ever.

Both U of Ottawa squads have the chance to show they have bypassed their bytown neighbours, while both Carleton teams can put to rest the suggestions that their demise is imminent. We could see OUA North and MVP races settled in a single evening. The Capital Hoops Classic has become the one night of the winter CIS schedule you can’t miss. If it continues to be such a hit, it will become a can’t miss proposition that other university cities across the country do their best to duplicate.

Whether anyone can successfully duplicate a rivalry this good and this meaningful, though, remains to be seen.

MBNA CAPITAL HOOPS CLASSIC: ALL-TIME WINNERS & ATTENDANCE

2014: Ottawa women 57-47 / Carleton men 82-58 (attendance: 6,604)
2013: Carleton women 68-50 / Carleton men 63-58 (attendance: 6,208)
2012: Ottawa women 59-55 / Carleton men 74-34 (attendance: 7,022)
2011: Carleton women 71-63 2OT / Carleton men 78-65 (attendance: 7,565)
2010: Carleton women 53-40 / Carleton men 74-66 (attendance: 8,074)
2009: Carleton women 62-53 / Carleton men 87-72 (attendance: 10,523) *
2008: Carleton women 53-43 / Carleton men 70-66 (attendance: 9,124)
2007: No women’s game / Ottawa men 64-62 (attendance: 9,730)

* CIS basketball regular season record

Follow Donnovan on Twitter: @donnovanbennett

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