by Nicholas Bueno
The CMU Blazers have been here before.
Head coach Billy Isaac has taken his team to four of the last five MCAC finals. After winning his lone championship in 2016-17 in an upset victory over the Red River College Rebels, their attempt to repeat was thwarted by the Rebels in an 88-75 loss last season.
They have another chance at a finals birth Friday night with the Providence Pilots again in their path. The last time these two didn’t face off in the semifinal was in 2015, which was the last time Providence found themselves in the championship game.
Coach Isaac’s squad has rebounded well this year by replacing the production of last season standouts Jaden Harms, Kniel Sullera and Nick Kasmik admirably. CMU is the second highest ranking Manitoban team in the NIAC standings, sporting a 6-8 record.
The Blazers scoring is led by second-year forward Riley Ens putting up 17.4 points per game and guard Keegan Beer’s hot shooting nailing 40% from beyond the arc this year. Forward Ty Venderbos leads the teams in rebounds at 9.3 per contest.
On the other side of the bracket, the Providence Pilots sit at 5-11 on the season and are looking to break a four-year MCAC final appearance drought. It would be an incredible feat for rookie head coach Pierre Dubreuil.
The two times these sides have met in the season produced two CMU wins, 98-91 and 80-74 respectively. The Blazers are second in NIAC three-point percentage at 34.4% with the Pilots not far behind at 27.9%.
The Pilots are led by their fourth-year leader, Kendall Perpall. Perpall scores 18.3 points a night and converts his free throws at a 74% rate. The Pilots scoring punch is complemented by Winnipeg natives third-year Chris Dick and fourth-year Cash Blanca, who each score 11.6 points per game.
Not to be forgotten in the Pilots lineup is third-year forward, Jordan Lawson. Lawson is the whole package for the Pilots, averaging 17.8 points per game while contributing nine rebounds per game.
The semifinal between the Blazers and the Pilots takes place at CMU’s Loewen Athletic Centre on Friday, February 8 at 8 PM following the women’s match. Entrance is free for MCAC students with valid Student ID.
The MCAC has been run by the Rebels for the past decade collecting nine conference banners along the way. The Rebels have continued their winning ways with the best Manitoban record in the NIAC this season at 11-5, tied for the most wins on the season.
Head coach Scott Kirkpatrick and the Rebels are looking for back-to-back titles this season, including winning three of four titles with a win on Saturday.
A big key for the Rebels was getting forward Mark Ridd back on the roster this year, as there was some doubt as to whether or not he would return to action this season. Back on the floor, Ridd has not disappointed, averaging 9.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game while shooting a perfect 100% from the free throw line.
The Rebels bolstered their roster in the offseason with key additions including forward Joshua Charr, guard Liam Soliven, and guard Devin Kinch.
The biggest strengths of the Rebels roster this year is their depth – 11 players played over 70 total minutes this season – and their balanced offensive attack, with no player scoring more than 90 total points over the course of the season.
The Rebels also boast a stout defense, leading the NIAC division in blocks (28) and steals (94). Their physicality is made even more obvious with their league-leading 151 offensive rebounds.
The Rebels will be waiting to meet their match Friday night before taking the court on Saturday, February 9 at 4 PM to battle it out for this year’s banner.