Dave Smart makes an art form of underselling his Carleton Ravens teams. You ought to know it's part of the psych job, tying back to converting that state of practising and preparing scared into maxing out once the ball is tipped at the CIS Final 8.
The best coach who coaches anything in this country has maintained this is a building year. The Ravens' Tyson Hinz-Thomas Scrubb-Phil Scrubb-Clinton Springer-Williams core is in its first season together, yet it is 29-1 in CIS play. (Carleton also stuck within single digits of name-brand NCAA teams such as UNLV, albeit without Canadian NBA first-rounder to be Anthony Bennett, and Villanova.) Some might snort, "Building what, a second trophy case?"
This week, Smart stated the Victoria Vikes would give Carleton "a lot of problems." The Vikes did so for about seven minutes on Friday. Then they went 13:56 without scoring a basket in the Ravens' 37-point win.
Smart is never crying wolf, though. Carleton wouldn't win this often if it didn't respect the hell out of every team who gets to the Final 8. The coach's spin also keeps armchair coaches off-balance. If the clock runs out on Carleton — last in 2010 against Saskatchewan and in '08 against Acadia — it will feel like you didn't see it coming, even though the coach provided all the advance warning. It's like not knowing which highway signs you can trust.
Now here comes Acadia, sharing traits with a Wolfville pack that dethroned Carleton in double overtime at Scotiabank Place in 2008. Just like five years ago, the lone Maritime team in an otherwise all-Ontario last four is indomitable inside thanks to 6-foot-10 all-Canadian Owen Klassen, can hit the deep three and has some Eastern Ontario toughness that includes a starter who answers to Ash.
None of that might be relevant to this matchup (8:15 p.m. ET, The Score, following the 5:30 p.m. Lakehead-Ottawa semifinal). Carleton and Acadia might have really started to building up for this one year later. In 2009, Klassen, from Bayridge Secondary in Kingston, Ont. — Smart's birthplace — was considered the best power forward prospect who was planning to stay in Canada. The Ravens had just won CIS title no. 6 with three starters from the Limestone City, which is less than a two-hour drive from Ottawa.
Klassen, though, ended up blazing his own trail back east. Now he and Acadia, with its history with the Ravens, are the last hope for anyone who might be a tad resentful of Carleton and the OUA, not that regional resentment ever occurs in Canada. Along with Klassen, Axemen guards Anthony Ashe and Sean Stoqua are Ottawans who transferred east from Carleton. Acadia also played Carleton tough for three-plus quarters in the 2012 Final 8 quarter-final.
"Carleton was one of my last two or three schools but at the time they didn't have kinesiology," recalls Klassen, who averaged a double-double for Acadia this seasons. "I knew the kinesiology program at Acadia was really good. I went out there and saw the class sizes and what they offered in that sense.
"It's small, but it's really nice. It's basically my home now. I come back to visit [Kingston], but I live there in the summers. It's just slow-paced. I can get into the gym whenever I want, I can walk anywhere, it's just a nice small town. Everyone's nice, everyone knows you, everyone holds the door for you."
"It's important to represent the AUS," he added. "Everyone always says the AUS is a weak conference, but we know we can play with anybody and it's great to show Acadia is a basketball school again."
In 2008, Acadia's rugged combo of Achuil (Ash) Lual and Leo Saintil kept Carleton boxed off the boards. The Axemen were more athletic and it was evident they were hot from long range, while Carleton was as frigid as Ottawa's infamous winters. Five minutes into that one, my then-Ottawa Sun colleague Chris Stevenson leaned over and said, "They're in trouble." Yet it still took two OTs. Excuse the inside baseball, but thank goodness Stevenson had the deadline story.
"It was probably the best game I ever watched live," says Ashe, who was sitting in the corner of the arena that night with no inkling he would end up playing for both schools. "There's few teams that have ever beat them at nationals and it's special to play at one of the schools that has done it. And we'll try to do it again.
"Everyone knows how great they are," Ashe, whose family home in Stittsville, Ont., is five minutes away from Scotiabank Place, says of Carleton. "They're well-coached, you have to execute."
'Everything goes through him'
Klassen is a one-man Wolfpack inside. The Acadia-UBC quarter-final was the highest-tempo contest of any of the four Friday games. Acadia looked impressive, with guard Tyler Scott hitting 7-of-8 threes en route to sinking 29 points while Ashe, Stoqua and Anthony Sears made the whole look greater than the sum of its parts.
"They're as talented, if not the most talented team in the country," Smart said. "They have the toughest matchup. People can debate whether he [Klassen] is the best player in the country, but he's certainly the best matchup and everything goes through him. They can really score. Scott and Anthony Ashe can really score and Sean Stoqua has played in my [Ottawa Guardsmen] club program since he was in Grade 8. He's one of my favourite kids I've ever coached."
Stoqua, son of Carleton alumnus and former CFLer Pat Stoqua, switched to Acadia in part since he could both hoop and play cornerback for the football Axemen. Man, if Carleton had revived its football team sooner or had the right academic fit for Owen Klassen, it could have really had quite a team this year.
Acadia believes it let a conference title get away in the AUS Final 6 when it lost 83-75 to Cape Breton last Sunday in Halifax.
"We've had a really unlucky season and I don't like to put the blame on that," says Klassen, whose Axemen came to Ottawa as a No. 5-seeded wild-card team, just like the '08 squad. "We've had a ton of injuries, whether it was Anthony Sears being out for the first half of the season with a stress fracture, I had a couple things happen to me. Around Christmas we were feeling really beat up and really down. We started getting everyone back and started playing again. Put the right pieces in place and just started to go from there."
Containing Klassen is likely Carleton's top priority. The second is dousing the Axemen's perimeter game. The Ravens are masterful at taking away a player's go-to moves. Acadia has balance offensively, but after hitting seven threes, Tyler Scott is probably in for a challenging night. Over the years, a lot guards have shot the lights out one night and been forced into bad shots by the Ravens the next.
"We just got to focus on not letting him go to his strengths," says Springer-Williams, who along with Thomas Scrubb is Carleton's defensive stopper. "If he hit seven threes, obviously he's a great shooter."
Acadia grades out better in the post with the all-everything Klassen. The rub is, Carleton's power forward, Tyson Hinz, was CIS player of the year in 2011. That almost seemed to get overlooked Friday when Smart was getting asked how to defend Klassen.
"I think with a guy like Owen, it's really tough to be successful doing one or two things," Smart added. "We've worked hard all year on trying to do some things differently on posts. I'm sure whatever we pick to do will be the wrong thing to do and then we'll be down and have to come back."
Of course, Carleton wants you to forget their past feats. It's part of the hustle.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.