By Ben Waldman
After finishing the regular season with a record of 17-2, it would be easy for Roy Rana’s Rams to enter Saturday’s playoff game expecting an effortless victory over the Laurier Goldenhawks.
That just isn’t how this team does things.
Having only lost to Carleton and Ottawa in season play, Ryerson entered every other game considered the favourite. But the Rams rarely let confidence become cockiness, and haven’t allowed early success to distract from their championship aspirations.
Now, Ryerson is set to face a 7-13 Goldenhawks team they have not played since Nov. 7, an 87-54 dismantling in favour of the Rams.
A lot has changed between then and Saturday, but if the Rams want similar superiority in the box score, they must respect their opponent and understand that they themselves are mortal, too.
Laurier closed out its season losing four out of five, but the Goldenhawks shocked the Western Mustangs 90-82 in a playoff on Feb. 25 to advance to this weekend’s game against the Rams.
Because Ryerson has not played Laurier in nearly four months, the game tape is likely all but irrelevant now, something which favours both sides.
In that last game, Ryerson ran without Adika Peter-McNeilly and Kadeem Green, two players who became key fixtures as the season progressed.
The Goldenhawks will lean heavily on the play of fourth-year guard Will Coulthard, the centrepiece of a frenetic offense that ranked first in field goal attempts per game. Coulthard averaged 17 points per game and ranked among the top 20 scorers in the country this season.
As usual, Ryerson’s depth will prove valuable, and if the bench gets involved as it has in recent games, Laurier should be afraid.
Forwards Juwon Grannum and Adam Voll have been bright spots for the Rams in a season full of them, actively crashing the boards and moving well in half-court sets. Grannum is averaging nine points per game over his last three, compared to his season average of 6.1, and has helped set the tone for the second unit.
On paper, Ryerson should win this game handily, but as any scholar of the game will insist, basketball games rarely end up well for those who expect a walk in the park.
Roy Rana is a basketball scholar, and rest assured, his pupils will be prepared not for a relaxing stroll, but a challenging hike.
The Rams and Goldenhawks tip off at the Mattamy Athletic Centre Saturday, Feb. 28, at 8 p.m.