The dominance of the Carleton Ravens basketball program is a given, having powered to a record nine Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s titles over the past 11 years.
The Ravens are now starting to exert their superiority against U.S. NCAA squads, teams that historically have dominated Canadian opponents over the years.
The Ravens, with an impressive 95-82 victory over perennial Division 1-powerhouse Wisconsin Badgers in Ottawa last Wednesday, have increased their preseason record to an unblemished 3-0 against American foes, with the biggest test yet to come.
Friday in Ottawa, the Ravens will take the floor against the Syracuse Orange, one of the NCAA’s top teams last season, with a Final Four appearance at the national championship tournament.
The game is generating a lot of interest in Ottawa and will be played at the newly-christened Canadian Tire Centre (formerly Scotiabank Place), where a crowd numbering around 6,000 is anticipated.
“This is a big part of what we’re trying to do, just continuously push toward higher levels,” said Rob Smart, an assistant coach and former star player with the Ravens who is running the CIS squad this week while head coach Dave Smart is with the Canadian national team. “That’s what we preach to our players every game.
“Obviously, you try to get games that match up with that philosophy, even if it means that there might be some tough games along the way. It’s motivating as long as you can handle the odd failure.”
The McGill Redmen discovered just how good Syracuse is last Wednesday in Montreal, where the defending Quebec conference champions were blown out 80-40 in the first of four exhibition games the Orange will play against Canadian competition.
Syracuse beat the Bishop’s Gaiters 77-35 on the McGill campus Thursday night, before Friday’s game against Carleton, and Wisconsin beat the Ottawa Gee-Gees 101-92. The Orange’s international venture will wind up Saturday, with a game against Ottawa.
“No one likes to get beat 80-40, but it was a great experience for our kids and it was great for the McGill fans and the Montreal basketball community,” McGill coach Dave DeAveiro said. “It’s not often we get a chance to have a team as prestigious as Syracuse playing in Montreal.
“We have a really young team this year – we started three freshmen against Syracuse – and our kids were intimidated. Syracuse is a really big, strong, athletic team and when they go to the bench they don’t get any smaller. They get bigger.”
Despite the lopsided result favouring Syracuse, DeAveiro says it was a worthwhile experience.
“For some of our players, maybe it is a dream come true in terms of playing a high-Division 1 school like Syracuse,” he said. “And for us it’s a great evaluation tool for some of the kids, to see how they would do playing under such tough circumstances, how they deal with it.”
After registering double-digit victories over the Towson Tigers (Baltimore) and TCU Horned Frogs (Fort Worth, Tex.), the Ravens saved their best performance for Wisconsin, which has 15 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances to its credit.
CIS player of the year Phil Scrubb scored a team-high 30 points, while dishing out 12 assists in the win.
“I don’t think [the Badgers] knew what hit them,” Carleton athletic director Jennifer Brenning said.
In defence of Wisconsin, it was the first game of the season and the team was obviously not prepared to handle a fast-paced Canadian game that utilizes a 24-second shot clock as opposed to the 35 that is the NCAA standard.
“Until you see the game speed of a team like this and how they move the ball and how they get it up and how they’re used to playing with a shorter shot clock like that,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “They were able to get better shots than us because of their timing.”
It was the first time in three years Wisconsin, rated No. 18 in a NCAA preseason poll by The Associated Press in July, had given up at least 90 points.