NBLC Power Rankings Week 10: Express Joins League’s Elite with Unexpected Run

NBLC Power Rankings Week 10: Express Joins League’s Elite with Unexpected Run

Club has now won eight of its last nine games

By José Colorado

The Windsor Express just keeps chugging along.

In what has been a sudden and – frankly – unexpected turnaround, Bill Jones and his club cracked the plus .500 barrier for the first this season after picking up two more wins this past week against the Sudbury Five and KW Titans.

For the Express, the victories group the club with the St. John's Edge, Cape Breton Highlanders and Moncton Magic as the lone squads in the league with a winning record.

Yet with the latter three, the trio each held more wins than losses from Dec.21 onwards while the Express sat at 2-7 (win-loss) on that date.

That means Windsor – winners of five straight – has had to crawl its way out of the basement of mediocrity while the others, really, were never there (with perhaps the exception of the Edge who started 1-5).

Whether that is to the Express' advantage remains to be seen but for the meanwhile the Rose City has announced its presence heading into the second half of the year.

1. Cape Breton Highlanders (14-7)
LW RANK: 2 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Sudbury, Windsor

Cape Breton put forth one of its most impressive showings of the season on Jan.15 as it absolutely hammered the KW Titans in a 112 – 89 road win at the Auditorium.

Leading by as many as 29 points the Highlanders relentlessly dominated the paint coming away with a 56-34 advantage in that department, as well as a (tied) season-high seven blocks.

Perhaps more impressive however is the fact that the team allowed its star forward, Bruce Massey, to exhale a bit as the bench contributed 48 points with four other players hitting double-digits.

For as great as the Edge have been, the Highlanders have been right there alongside them; they've now won three straight on the road and 12 of its last 15 games overall.

And with a favourable five-game home stand looming, Cape Breton has a chance to put together a serious streak to end off January.

2. St. John's Edge (12-7)
LW RANK: 1 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Bye Week

If the Highlanders are 1A then the Edge are 1B.

The boys out east split a two-game home stand against the London Lightning this past week in what in all likelihood should have been a weekend sweep.

The Edge used an 18-to-five points off turnovers advantage along with a plus-10 rebounding surplus to easily take the first game 109 -100 on Jan.19, leading by as many as 19 at one point in the fourth quarter.

One night later with Glen Davis – who had been unstoppable the evening earlier with 31 points– seeing just five minutes of action, St. John's squandered a 12-point halftime lead and eventually conceded a 119 -113 overtime defeat.

In that match the Edge's concentration faltered down the stretch as the club shot a season-low 62.5 per cent (20-of-32) from the charity stripe with Davis himself going one-of-six in the extra frame.

Despite the loss there is still plenty of sunshine in St. John's as the club has still won 11 of its last 13.

And with the reintegration of local legend Carl English – who returned this past weekend following an eight-game absence – the talented team can finally see what it's capable of at full strength.

3. Moncton Magic (13-7)
LW RANK: 4 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Bye Week

After dropping four straight, the Magic put together its first consecutive game win streak since its historical start ended with a 110- 103 win against the Island Storm on Jan. 18 at Avenir Centre.

Joe Salerno's club was able to overtake a negative 24 free-throw deficit by outshooting the Storm from the field and three-point range by 20.2 and 16.9 percentile points, respectively.

Beyond that the Magic were buoyed by a solid offensive attack as seven of its 10 players hit double-digits, including rookie, Freddie McSwain Jr., who had a fine debut off the bench collecting 11 points (five-of-eight field goal shooting) and six rebounds in just 21 minutes.

With Moncton finally stringing together a pair of wins, the long lay-off (Magic don't play again until Jan.29) could be seen as a negative in some ways, slowing the club's momentum.

But regardless after weeks of hardships week 10 must be viewed as a success; the Magic bump up a spot.

4. Windsor Express (10-8)
LW RANK: 5 | LW Record: 2-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Kitchener-Waterloo, @Saint John, @Halifax, @Cape Breton

Where exactly did these guys come from?

After starting the season 2-7, the Express have made a B-line for the top of the Power Rankings by winning eight of its last nine games, including two more on the road this past week against the Five (115 -107) and the Titans (100 – 92).

Juan Pattillo led the charge in both matches as the bruiser had huge back-to-back double-double efforts, averaging 28 points on 57 per cent shooting to go along with 13.5 rebounds in what must be considered an MVP worthy campaign to date.

The Express as a whole held down the fort despite the league's third-best three-point shooting team being abandoned from its long distance accuracy by going a combined 12-of-40 for just 30 per cent.

Most notably, the free-throw line must be considered Windsor's saving grace as the Express - already a terrific foul-shooting squad at 78.7 per cent for the year – went 41-of-50 (82 per cent) as a team in the pair of victories.

Four games in seven nights – including three on the road – will test The City of Roses even further this week but at this point it looks like the Express will take on all challengers with open arms.

5. London Lightning (10-12)
LW RANK: 8 | LW Record: 2-1 | Upcoming Schedule: The Island, Sudbury

A highly successful three-game road trip in which the Lightning went 2-1 have the Bolts surging upwards this week.

By playing three games in four nights, it was imperative London had all hands on deck – and it did just that as a different player led the charge in each match.

In the Lightning's 108 - 104 win on Jan.17 against the Titans it was Maurice Bolden who took center stage, going for 23 points and 10 rebounds while shooting a season-high 12 free-throws, making 11.

Two nights later against the Edge it was Xavier Moon who gave the Bolts a fighting chance. He collected a NBLC career-high 33 points – although a 19-point deficit was ultimately too much to overcome.

The following afternoon however Garrett Williamson (26 points) and Jaylen Babb-Harrison (25 points, seven three-pointers) made certain the Lightning rallied to overtake another large deficit – this time 20 points – as London came away with a 119 -113 overtime gut-check win.

Point being, if the defending champs are capable of having multiple players single-handily take over a game they will be that much tougher to defend moving forward.

And with two floundering teams coming to town in the Island and Five on Saturday and Sunday, the club should be able to pull itself back to .500 by the time week 11 concludes.

6. Halifax Hurricanes (10-10)
LW RANK: 7 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Windsor, Saint John

The Halifax Hurricanes had six days of rest and only one game on its slate this past week – and it showed as the club absolutely blasted the Sudbury in a wire-to-wire 122 -93 win on Jan.20.

Have your pick when it comes to the congratulating the 'Canes in its tour de force effort as Mike Leslie's troops dominated on multiple fronts including: a 20-plus rebounding advantage, a 30-plus points in the paint edge and a 40-point lead when it came to production off the bench.

With the lead swelling to as many as 34 points at one time, only one starter on Halifax (Mike Poole) saw above 30 minutes in the matinee.

That added rest bodes well for the club as it now has a very good shot of stringing together two more wins at Scotiabank Center this week when the Express and Saint John Riptide roll into town.

7. KW Titans (8-9)
LW RANK: 3 | LW Record: 0-3 | Upcoming Schedule: @Windsor, The Island

The Titans six-game home stand couldn't have gone the way head coach Cavell Johnson envisioned as the club went 2-4, including 0-3 most recently.

The week started off on a sobering note as the Titans suffered a humiliating defeat before a record crowd of 5,036 fans in its second annual School Day Game, losing 112 – 89 to the Highlanders on Jan. 15.

Two nights later the Titans conceded its first blemish of the year to London – having won its previous two matches –in a 108 -104 score line, with the goose egg being capped off on Jan.19 in a 100 – 92 loss to the Express.

KW's offense was the culprit as the NBLC's second-most lethal attack faltered, twice being held to double-digits – something that had only occurred once in the Titans' previous 14 games.

For the week KW only shot 39.18 per cent from the floor - well below its 47.1 per cent seasonal mark, with a season-low 34.5 per cent shooting night against the Highlanders being the black eye.

If one is looking to comprehend how poorly the Titans played offensively to its normal standards, just know this: the team had only shot below 42 per cent once entering the week.

A four-game skid and multiple squandered opportunities at home bump KW back to the lower end of the pack.

8. Sudbury Five (9-12)
LW RANK: 6 | LW Record: 0-2 | Upcoming Schedule: @Saint John, @Cape Breton, @London 

Two more losses have the Five at its lowest Power Ranking yet as Sudbury have now lost a season-high four in a row, including seven of its last eight matches.

A woeful shooting week in which the league's best offensive team fired at a 41 per cent clip from the floor and 20-of-79 (25.31 per cent) from three-point range played a huge role in its 115 -107 home loss to the Express on Jan.17 and a 122 -93 blowout defeat to the Hurricanes on Jan.20.

At this point Sudbury's dilemma can be summed up pretty succinctly: if they aren't hitting, they aren't winning.

In the club's 12 defeats to date it has averaged just 43.5 per cent shooting from the floor and 31.6 per cent from downtown.

 In contrast, in its nine victories they've gone 48.2 per cent from the field and 39.4 per cent from three-point range.

When coupled with the fact that the Five are the unequivocal worst defensive unit in the league by over four points a game, it really can't be seen as a surprise.

If one isn't hitting shots nor defending usually that's a recipe for disaster – which is exactly what has unfolded in Northern Ontario over the past month.

9. Saint John Riptide (6-12)
LW RANK: 9 | LW Record: 1-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Sudbury, Windsor, @Halifax

A one-of-13 effort from its best player, a minus-12 rebounding deficit and a sub-38 per cent shooting night from the team as whole – not exactly the makings of a great collective win but that's exactly what the Riptide received in its thrilling 87 – 85 road win over the Island Storm on Jan.17.

With Saint John struggling on multiple fronts the team still rallied to win its third game in its past four outings in large part to the brilliance of TJ Maston who scored the game-winner while adding 25 points (10-of-20) and 12 rebounds – both season-highs.

For a team having gone 4-6 in games decided by five points or less this season, the most recent victory must be considered a serious step in the right direction given the circumstances.

Albeit it was against the lowly Storm but for any team looking to take the next leap, ugly wins – and finding alternative contributors (i.e. Maston) – are a must.

10. Island Storm (4-13)
LW RANK: 10 | LW Record: 0-2 | Upcoming Schedule: @Kitchener-Waterloo, @London

The Island's brief stay in the winner's circle came to an end this past week as the club dropped both of its games, losing to the Riptide (87-85) and the Magic (110 -103), respectively.

A pair of valiant efforts came in vein with the sudden disappearance of Russell Byrd – the Storm's second- leading scorer – who struggled in both matches averaging just 8.5 points on five-of- 21 shooting (24 per cent) in total.

Granted the Island did win a pair of contests in the week prior with Byrd only averaging 10.5 points per game, including a season-low three points.

But if the last-place squad is going to ascend it will need its key scorer to regain his touch.

It's clear that with the recent additions of Kareem Canty (14.6 points per game, 11 games) and Guillaume Boucard (14.3 points per game, four games) the league is dealing with a new and improved Storm squad.

Now whether it is too late for that to do any good is another matter entirely.