Preview: Rams head to nationals looking to write off unfinished business

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By Bryan Meler

The Ryerson Rams head into the U SPORTS Final 8 tournament for the fifth-straight year, looking to secure their first W.P. McGee Trophy in program history this weekend in Halifax.

The Rams have come up just short in their past two appearances by securing silver. Last year, Ryerson lost by a mere two points to the Calgary Dinos, while in 2017 they lost to the Carleton Ravens. Both teams are back this year alongside the Rams, who are looking to secure gold.

“Now, we have unfinished business,” said Rams’ Jean-Victor Mukama ahead of their playoff run.

Ryerson hasn’t played Calgary since last year’s defeat, but they’re coming off a lost to Carleton in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) final. The Rams still have every reason to come into the tournament feeling confident, having handed Carleton their only loss this season, as they finished the 2018-19 campaign with a 21-2 record.

Before suffering a defeat in their provincial final, the Rams got through the playoffs easily. They beat the Laurier Golden Hawks by 15 points in the OUA semifinals, after beating the Ottawa Gee-Gees by 23 points in the quarterfinals.

Now, behind their duo of fifth-year guards in Mukama and Myles Charvis, who were named OUA first and second-team all-stars, respectively, they’ll be looking for gold as they enter the tournament as the third seed.

Their first matchup will be against the sixth seeded Concordia Stingers at 1 p.m. EST on Friday, March 8.

For a brief breakdown of the Stingers and the remaining six teams, scroll down to the bottom of the article. But first, here’s what we can expect to see from the Rams as they head into nationals led by their head coach Roy Rana.

The Rams: A breakdown

Photo courtesy: Alex D’Addese

Biggest difference since last year

Aside from losing Ammanuel Diressa due to graduation, the biggest difference for the Rams heading into the Final 8 is their length, with nine players on their roster being six-foot-five or taller.

Last year, they were without the services of Keevon Small, a six-foot-six defensive-minded forward, who had to sit out during nationals because of his academic standing. The Rams were also without Jayden Frederick, who at six-foot-five, has provided the Rams with an offensive spark off the bench after redshirting last season.

Their overall length helped the Rams lead the OUA in rebounds (44.2), blocks (5.7) and opponent field goal percentage (33.6) during the 2018-19 campaign. It could be their ticket toward a gold medal if the saying remains true: Defence wins championships.

Their greatest weakness

Perhaps the Rams’ only weakness might be their tendency to rely on hero ball. During the 2018-19 campaign, the Rams finished sixth in assists per game (14.1) among OUA competition, and 10th out of 12 teams in the playoffs with 10 assists a game.

With a six-foot-nine sniper in Mukama averaging 18.4 points, the Rams have one of the best scorers in the country alongside four other players who put at least 10 points a game during the 2018-19 season.

However, their lack of ball movement hurt them in their OUA Final matchup against Carleton, putting up seven team assists compared to the Ravens’ 16.

The X-Factor

Photo courtesy: Alex D’Addese

The Rams are a different team when Tanor Ngom can stay out of foul trouble. At seven-foot-two, the NBA prospect sits tied for first among OUA players in blocks (2.3) and field goal percentage (63.8).

In their win against Carleton this season, Ngom registered six blocks while testing his luck with five fouls. His inability to stay in the game hurt the Rams in their last regular season loss against the Laurentian Voyageurs, when he fell into foul trouble early, not allowing him to build on his 6-6 shooting from the field. It also didn’t help the Rams stop Kadre Gray, a back-to-back OUA MVP, who posted 45 points without Ngom’s intimidating presence in the middle.

Having played in last year’s U SPORTS Final 8, Ngom should also be more comfortable on the big stage as opposing teams try to bait him into fouling out.

Rams vs. Everybody

1st seed: Carleton Ravens

Before losing in last year’s semifinal against the Rams, the Ravens won seven straight national titles. Coming into the tournament having won the 2019 OUA championship, they’ll be looking to continue on their momentum behind their three provincial all-stars and their head coach Dave Smart, who won the OUA’s Coach of the Year award.

2nd seed: Calgary Dinos

The defending U SPORTS champions haven’t slowed down, posting their first undefeated season in program history in 2018-19. They’ve done it with many of the same pieces who guided them to gold last year, such as Canada West’s MVP Mambi Diawara and all-star guard David Kapinga, who posted 25 points in last year’s final.

3rd seed: Ryerson Rams

4th seed: UBC Thunderbirds

The Thunderbirds have one of the most potent offensive attacks in the country, behind their trio of Jadon Cohee, Manroop Clair and Grant Shephard, who all have averaged over 16 points this season. They’re coming into the tournament having lost in the Canada West finals against the Dinos, but they’ll be looking to win their first U SPORTS title since 1972

5th seed: Dalhousie Tigers

The Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference might not be as strong as others, but it’s one the Dalhousie Tigers have dominated. They’ve won four of the past five AUS titles, and head into the Final 8 having won 11 straight games (including playoffs). They’ve never won nationals, but they’ll have the luxury of playing at home as they welcome everyone to Halifax.

6th seed: Concordia Stingers

The Stingers are in the Final 8 after winning the RSEQ (Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec) title for the first time since 2012, which marks the last time they made nationals. Their success comes from RSEQ Coach of the Year Rastko Popovic, as well as the backcourt duo of conference MVP Ricardo Monge and Adrian Armstrong, who leads them with 16.4 points a game.

7th seed: Saint Mary’s Huskies

The Huskies had the better season compared to the Tigers in the AUS, posting a 19-1 record, but they fell short in the conference finals against Dalhousie. They’ll be looking to regain their stride behind the AUS’ MVP in Kemar Alleyne, a Scarborough-native who leads them with 14.6 points a game on a red-hot 42.7 per cent shooting from beyond the arc.

8th seed: Alberta Golden Bears

The Golden Bears received a at-large berth to the Final 8, marking their third straight appearance. Despite losing in the Canada West semifinals, they’re still a formidable team, led by Toronto-native Brody Clarke. The six-foot-seven forward led the Golden Bears with 19.8 points and 10.9 rebounds a game, which includes a 40-11 performance to end the 2018-19 campaign.

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