Carleton University is about as close as you can get to a Canadian version of John Wooden's UCLA. The Ravens have absolutely dominated the Canadian Inter-University Sports competition, winning eight of the last ten Canadian national titles, including the most recent one.
The 2011-12 edition of Carleton basketball has been called one of the finest teams Canada has ever seen -- going undefeated as they charged toward the March championship. They played punishing, shut-down defense against opponents, denying access to the rim and creating huge challenges for opposition.
Carleton returns nine players from last season's team.
They have taken to playing a number of exhibitions against American Division-I universities in their preseason to help prepare them to dominate north of the border. They will play against multiple NCAA Division-I schools this fall, reportedly including Buffalo, UNLV, and Boston University. Games against Boston College and Northeastern were also scheduled over the weekend but do not appear to have been played.
They also have an exhibition date with La Salle on Friday.
Key to their team is third-year point guard Phillip Scrubb, who has helped the program to two CIS titles in his first two seasons and will look to bring home a third this Spring. He is a talented guard who can handle the ball, create for his teammates and knock down shots from the perimeter when needed -- he averaged 16.2 points per game last season to lead the team. Scrubb is a do-everything guard who will likely rise to the occasion from tip-off onward tomorrow.
His brother Thomas is also on the team, listed as a 6-5 forward for the Ravens.
Tyson Hinz, a 6-6 fourth-year forward, has also been awarded with the CIS's MVP award in the past, and will be expected to offer leadership on the court this season. Hinz is one of many veteran players who will be deployed by the Ravens as they attempt to take down the Wildcats.
The Ottawa-based university does not possess a lot of height, with their tallest player being listed at 6-8 and only two other athletes listed above 6-6. The tallest player is freshman forward Jean Emmanuel Pierre-Charles, from Ontario.
Their roster is filled with some of the best Canadian talent that hasn't migrated south to NCAA institutions. They are athletic and fundamentally sound, playing an aggressive style of defense. They work hard to crash the boards and fight for rebounds, even in meaningless exhibition games.
Their offense is spread around the court and though Scrubb lead the team in scoring, his teammates each get a chance to shine. They rarely have the same leading scorer in consecutive games.
That unselfish style of play has helped them to build a decade-long dynasty that is tied for the most CIS basketball titles of all time and will likely take the record this season. They received 43 of 44 first-place votes in the first Canadian preseason poll, ranked an near-unanimous number-1.
So far, in their nine preseason games, they have managed eight wins, going 2-1 against NCAA opponents (with the wins coming over Buffalo and Boston University). Even in a loss to UNLV (ranked 18/19 in preseason polls), the Ravens kept it close in a 74-70 game.
Villanova will have to engage the Ravens defensively and make it difficult for them to score. The Wildcats have a size advantage over their Canadian counterparts, but the CIS champions will attempt to make up for their deficit with teamwork and fundamentally-sound basketball. That means that shots may be difficult to find on the perimeter, especially if the 'Cats aren't moving the ball around and leveraging speed and athleticism to create openings.
Carleton will try to deny entry-passes into the post, which is perhaps where Villanova can do most of it's damage. With Mouph Yarou, Mo Sutton and Daniel Ochefu on hand, the Wildcats will likely have a size and strength advantage up front. It will be up to the guards to find ways to get the ball inside to the bigs.
Tony Chennault and JayVaughn Pinkston like to try and penetrate offensively to get to the rim. If they are successful in those efforts, scoring may not be difficult, but the Ravens will be prepared to work against the dribble-drive and it may be up to the 'Cats to make some shots from outside in order to force the defense to adjust and open up their strengths.
That means potentially seeing just how good a shooter Ryan Arcidiacono really is, and whether James Bell, Darrun Hilliard and Pinkston are truly improved shooters from beyond the arc.
In the end, the result of the game isn't terribly important. It will be a tough test for an exhibition game, but one that will be treated no different from other preseason contests. A practice with officials and score-keepers, the 'Cats will likely go deep into the bench and try offensive and defensive concepts out that might not make the cut once the regular season begins.
This is a game where you ultimately ignore the scoreboard at the end and instead look at how the team handles tough defense, the strategies employed on offensive and defensive plays, and the skill sets of the newer additions.