IN THE NEWS:
Ryerson relishes role as underdog at CIS basketball championship (Pollack, National Post)
A national championship didn't appear to be on the men's radar following the first month of the season. A serious case of the injury bug hit the Rams early in the year, and the men were stuck with a short-bench minus the likes of OUA all-rookie Aaron Best (Scarborough, Ont.) and key post Bjorn Michaelsen (Otterburn Park, Que.). A 1-4 start to open the year prompted a players meeting in mid-November, and the men were able to salvage a slow start to win two of their final three games before the holiday break to head into the New Year just one game back of second place in the East.
The return of Michaelsen during the annual Ryerson University National Invitational Tournament (RUNIT), where the sophomore was named MVP after leading the host Rams to their first title since 1999, was followed by Best making his way back into the Ryerson lineup. The result was an explosive second-half where the men posted a 10-4 record and leapfrogged Ottawa in the final weekend of the regular season to earn second in the East division. It was the first time in over a decade that the Rams finished second or higher in the standings.
A 74-71 win over the Gee-Gees in the last-ever game at Kerr Hall Gym in the OUA quarter-finals set up a semifinal match with Lakehead. Coming in as heavy underdogs, the men were inspired by the busloads of fans that made the trip to Waterloo for the Final Four, and recorded arguably the biggest upset of the season in the CIS, booking their ticket to Halifax with an 86-70 triumph.
The OUA silver-medalists will once again be considered one of the tournament's underdogs this weekend, and that should suit the hard-working Rams just fine.
2011-12 East all-stars and team scoring leaders Jahmal Jones (Mississauga) and Jordon Gauthier (Windsor, Ont.) will continue to be important pieces for the Rams in the national championship, as will all-time team steals leader Ola Adegboruwa (Toronto) and senior Luke Staniscia (Pefferlaw, Ont.), whose 7.8 rebounds per game is amongst the nation's leaders.
Best and Michaelsen were both incredible against the Thunderwolves last Friday. Best dropped 11-of-14 shots and tallied a season-high 26 points, while Michaelsen picked up 17 points, six rebounds and five assists in the victory. They will also be integral to the men's success this weekend.
The Rams are facing the Canada West champion Golden Bears, who similarly upset a couple of CIS banner contenders to reach the Final 8. After disposing of the Saskatchewan Huskies, who were ranked No. 3 in the CIS at the time, in the conference semifinal to clinch a national championship berth, Alberta notched the Canada West banner with a tight 72-71 win over the former No. 4 Fraser Valley Cascades, who are seeded fifth going into this weekend.
Third-year guard and recently named first-team all-Canadian Jordan Baker averaged a double-double per game throughout the season. His 19.1 points per game is sixth in Canada West, and he was ranked third in the conference with 10.5 rebounds per game. Senior Daniel Ferguson led Alberta and was fourth in Canada West with 19.7 points per game.
The Golden Bears have made 16 championship appearances, winning the national title three times, most recently in 2002. They are returning to the Final 8 after a three-year absence.
The Rams will look to become the Cinderella story of the tournament on Friday when they challenge Alberta in the third quarter-final of the day. Tip-off is set for 6:00 p.m. (5:00 p.m. EST).
Be sure to follow @ryersonrams on Twitter for minute-to-minute updates of the contest.