Magic remain undefeated
By José Colorado
The hallmark of a great team can be many and varied.
If you were to ask former champions of the NBLC, selflessness, commitment, focus and resiliency would likely come to mind.
One that should stand alongside that equation could be described simply as: the will to win.
This past week the Moncton Magic and Halifax Hurricanes both demonstrated just that in a pair of gutsy performances, making this upcoming week's Dec. 9 showdown all the more anticipated.
1. Moncton Magic (7-0)
LW RANK: 1 | LW Record: 2-0 | Upcoming Schedule: @Halifax
Following a take-care-of-business 102 – 89 win against the Cape Breton Highlanders at home on Nov.30 in which the Magic lead at the end of each quarter and stifled the Highlanders to just 36.2 per cent shooting, the undefeated squad had to dig deep the following night.
There, Moncton played on the tail end of a back-to-back and welcomed the desperate St. John's Edge to town.
The game was ugly and low-scoring but in the end Moncton prevailed despite shooting just 37.6 per cent from the floor and 20 per cent (five-for-25) from three.
The fact that the club was able to come out on top despite an off-shooting night is a great sign.
Championship calibre teams traditionally must lean on its defense and find ways to win when needed; Moncton is doing just that.
2. Halifax Hurricanes (4-2)
LW RANK: 4 | LW Record: 2-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Moncton
The Hurricanes are the perfect example for why power rankings and not solely conference standings are necessary to gain a true pulse of the league.
With its two latest wins, Halifax is riding high on a four-game win steak and are the second hottest team in the league behind Moncton.
The (re)addition of Rhamel Brown and Gabe Freeman have rejuvenated Mike Leslie's roster and given them some added firepower demonstrated by a stunning 22-0 run to begin the third quarter against the KW Titans this past week.
And with proven winners and familiar faces in Mike Poole, Cliff Clinkscales and Tyrone Watson still in the mix, Halifax's experience has also shown.
The Hurricanes hung tough and held on for a buzzer-beating 112-111 win over the Edge this past week despite absorbing a massive 44-point fourth quarter barrage by St. John's.
This upcoming week's Magic – Hurricanes match up plays as a great measuring stick for both squads.
3. Sudbury Five (4-1)
LW RANK: 2 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Saint John, Windsor
For as celebrated as the newest franchise's strong start at 4-1 (win-loss) has been, things could have easily gone the other direction to begin the year.
In the five games the Five had played thus far, three of them have been against the second-last placed Windsor Express.
This past week they suffered a double-digit loss on the road to Windsor before rebounding with a strong fourth quarter performance at home to salvage the split.
In fact in the trio of games the Five and Express have played to date, Sudbury has had to gallivant two gutsy come-from-behind fourth quarter rallies to come away victorious.
Sure, the Five may have the Express' number when it comes to crunch time but in the long run that trend points towards disaster against the elite-level squads.
4. London Lightning (3-2)
LW RANK: 3 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Windsor, Saint John, Kitchener-Waterloo
With the Magic undefeated, the Hurricanes riding high and the Five with only one blemish to their name, the two-time defending champions - by default - have to slide down another spot.
It was a ho-hum type of week for the Lightning as the club split between the Riptide (109 – 95 win) and the Storm (123 -111 loss).
If nothing else, London can take solace in the fact that a variety of players on its roster seem capable of stepping up on any given night.
This week, Xavier Moon (25 points and 27 points) and Garrett Williamson (12 points and 22 points) put together a pair of terrific outings.
Last week A.J. Gaines was the team standout.
Head coach Keith Vassell seems to be unravelling a promising luxury for the champs.
5. Island Storm (2-1)
LW RANK: 6 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Cape Breton
It's tough to get a full gauge of the Storm just yet.
That doesn't come from convoluted boxscores but rather from simply a lack of games.
The Island have played a season-low three games to date and a cancelled match up against the KW Titans on Nov.30 (rescheduled for Feb. 28) didn't help alleviate that lack of sample size.
However this past week the club did, indeed, come away with its most impressive victory of the season against the Lightning.
If the bench can produce anywhere near its 59 point total from that game moving forward, the Island should be in great shape the rest of the way as the Storm boasts a formidable starting trio in Alex Campbell (12.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists), Sampson Carter (22.3 points, 7.3 rebounds) and Russell Byrd (19.3 points, 7.3 rebounds).
6. Cape Breton Highlanders (2-3)
LW RANK: 5 | LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: St. John's, @The Island
An abnormally poor shooting night from the league's third-best offense did the Highlanders in against the Magic in a 102-89 loss.
Cape Breton – who are the third-best three point shooting team at 36 per cent – were shooting blanks from downtown going an abysmal four-for-21 and 34-of-94 (36.2) overall.
Canadian sensation Jamal Reynolds (22.2 points per game, 7.6 rebounds) also came back to earth with a modest outing – by his standards – of 14 points (five-of-12 shooting) and 10 rebounds.
Moving forward it will be interesting to see how Reynolds responds for Cape Breton.
They will need him.
7. KW Titans (2-3)
LW RANK: 7 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @London
After three weeks the Titans' Achilles heel has emerged: three-point shooting.
This week sans its starting point guard, Ashton Smith, KW took care of business against the Riptide in a wire-to-wire 107 – 84 blowout win on Nov.28. In that affair, the Titans were surprisingly hot (12-for-26) from three-point range.
Three nights later, KW subsequently went lifeless against the Hurricanes in a 100 – 88 rout – a game that saw Halifax outscore Kitchener 61-39 in the second and third frames combined, including a 22-0 run.
The three-ball regressed to the mean for KW once more in the loss as the club went two-for-15, saddling the Titans to dead-last in league three-point percentage (30.7 per cent) by the night's end.
Despite its sub.500 record, the Titans' average margin of defeat has only been 5.6 points per game.
Perhaps the club would be better served surrounding its centre pieces (e.g. Smith and Derek Hall) with consistent shooters in the mould of Ed Horton (38.9 per cent) and Tramar Sutherland (40 per cent) moving forward.
Or maybe the shots will begin to fall.
8. Windsor Express (1-4)
LW RANK: 10 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @London, @Sudbury
The flip side of the Five's bad habits argument (see Sudbury at No.3) is perhaps the Express simply aren't good enough to hold onto leads.
Windsor does have a tendency to fall flat in the crucial moments of games, especially on the offensive side as the club is dead-last in points per game (87), second-worst in field goal percentage (41.4) and third-worst in three-point efficiency (31.7 per cent), respectively.
The Express however shot above 50 per cent in both of their matches this past week; it's not by coincidence then that they notched their first win in the process.
9. St. John's Edge (1-5)
LW RANK: 8 | LW Record: 0-2 | Upcoming Schedule: @Cape Breton
It was an exceedingly frustrating week for rookie head coach Doug Plumb and his boys as the club went 0-2 (win-loss) despite having a genuine chance to secure both games.
The Edge played the Magic tough on Moncton's home floor falling by only five points and then turned around on the second night of its back-to-back and nearly mounted one of the greatest comebacks of the year.
Trailing 86-67, St. John's crawled all the way back to take a 111-110 lead with just four seconds to play before Hurricanes' forward Tyrone Watson tipped in a devastating buzzer-beating basket.
Despite the incredible fight and 'moral victory' one must wonder how much longer management can sit by before the club starts collecting tangible results.
This, after all, is a club that made a serious run at the league finals last year, possesses one of the league's most faithful fanbases and holds the league's reigning MVP in Carl English.
10. Saint John Riptide (0-5)
LW RANK: 9 | LW Record: 0-2 | Upcoming Schedule: @Sudbury, @London
Despite a previous 0-3 mark heading into the week, the Riptide had remained consistently competitive by only allowing a 4.6 margin of defeat per contest.
That all went out the window this past week.
A pair of double-digit losses sees the squad take sole position of last place as they remain the only team yet to register a victory.