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Carleton winning CIS final by 50 ‘not indicative of reality,’ but it feeds the perception

Carleton celebrates after beating Lakehead 92-42 in Sunday's CIS final (Chris Roussakis for Yahoo Canada Sport …

Lakehead got Scrubbed clean by Carleton, like everyone expected.

That means in the next day or two, someone will step on the barely Bleacher Report-worthy 'let the Ravens play in the NCAA tournament' soapbox that is always pulled out in between the CIS Final 8 and that other men's basketball tournament that begins in March. It's folderol, of course. Suggesting that an entire country's season should be reduced to a play-in game demeans everything uniquely Canadian about university basketball — academics coming first, bona fide student-athletes having one more season to develop under coaches such as Carleton's Dave Smart, who have fewer restrictions on how much time they can spend tutoring players, unlike the rule-happy NCAA, and so on.

When it comes to building the CIS hoops brand, though, a 50-point blowout in the national final doesn't help. Carleton's 92-42 win over Lakehead happened since Canadian university hoops, with its 24-second shot clock, is more matchup-based than the game down south. The Ravens were simply too strong with forwards Tyson Hinz and Thomas Scrubb and guards Phil Scrubb and Clinton Springer-Williams, all of whom has now been either a CIS rookie of the year, player of the year or Final 8 MVP.

The conundrum is they are a Division I mid-major team thanks to what Smart is able to do in a strata of sport that is more about personal development than packed arenas and bigger TV deals. Some more of the latter for the Canadian game would be nice, eh? Still, here is the third-most recognizable hoops brand nationally after the NBA Raptors and Canada Basketball, and naysayers will wonder if anyone can play with them.

"There are seven or eight teams in the country who are capable of beating us, and this year we've played with teams who are capable of winning a NCAA tournament game," Smart said after Carleton won the school's record ninth national title in front of 5,397 at Scotiabank Place. "I just hope the country and the city realize this ... the score was not indicative of reality."

Lakehead coach Scott Morrison and his team, with six seniors, including guard Greg Carter who played through a painful dislocated shoulder, deserve better than to be the butt of trite blowout jokes. The nation's second-best team simply was a poor matchup with Carleton. The previous record margin of victory was 24 points; Carleton doubled it. Holding Lakehead to 42 also improved the old mark for fewest points allowed in a national final that their 2005 team shared with the 1971 Acadia Axemen. Both allowed 48.

“I’m a little surprised at how we defended,” Smart went on to say. “I mean, I’m never surprised at what we do offensively because we can be a little freakish offensively at times.”

There is no telling where the ceiling might be for the current unkindness of Ravens. The fact it's been exactly 10 years since their first title is a prompt to reflect. The big take-homes is that their dominance is eye-popping even to alumni who contributed to that five-year reign from 2003-07. They never imagined there could be a better guard in CIS than their talisman, Osvaldo Jeanty. Yet Phil Scrubb looks the part. They had to beat teams which were more talented.

The current bunch, which is 99-2 in CIS play over its last three banner seasons, works just as hard but makes it look so much more straightforward. They have their labour pains but are ready to show off the baby in March.

Carleton's Thomas Scrubb and Phil Scrubb (Chris Roussakis for Yahoo! Canada Sports)"We lost three leaders [Willy Manigat, Cole Hobin and Elliot Thompson from the 2012 team], so we had some tough times this year, especially at the start, but it's good to finish off this way," said Thomas Scrubb, who collected Final 8 MVP honours after a 17-point, eight-rebound effort in the final. "I think it came down to never giving up, never getting down on ourselves. We had some tough times, some tough games. Me, Ty and Phil all had our struggles at times but we followed through to the end."

Verson 1.0 of the Raven dynasty was made up almost entirely of players from within the 613 area code whose rapport with Smart began with his Ottawa Guardsmen club program. Now Carleton has name recognition with any ambitious yet team-first teenage baller who wants to play it Smart. There's probably enough talent in the gym for two teams, like they used to say of that Wooden guy at UCLA.

"Success breeds success," says Smendziuk, a Kanata, Ont., native. "We started winning, guys wanted to come here, it's great. We have 18, 19 guys competing their asses off in practice. It definitely gets you into the mentality where if you don't to practise or you don't want to be there that day, there's 18 other guys who are going to get you into it, get your energy level up."

"We keep fighting, we know every possession's a battle, no matter what the score," Hinz says. "Practice we take almost more seriously than games."

That ethos doesn't end with graduation. The meaning of those nine national titles is the players who have moved on want to see the titles continue to roll in.

"They have a lot to do with creating expectations," Smart said.

“If you came to a summer scrimmage, where I’m not even in the gym, it’s almost worse when the Rob Saunders, the Osvaldo Jeantys and the Aaron Doornekamps are in scrimmage with them," he added, alluding to Carleton notables from the aughties. "The expectations are high. Some freshmen come in and do the 'it’s July, Coach is at a cottage somewhere and I’m getting screamed at by some guy who plays pro in Germany.' "

Wait till next year

It's like Carleton is the only team which has to recover from a championship season. Not having a rematch with the rival Gee-Gees took away some before the final. Now, winning by 50 in the final means complacency could be their toughest opponent. Please keep in mind Carleton just went 31-1 with the highest strength of schedule in CIS. It also nearly beat two March Madness-bound teams, La Salle and Villanova, on their own floors in October

"The question [for next season] is, can we put some fear into these guys?" Smart said. "It's going to be tough. Our league [the OUA] is so strong. You look at Ryerson, Ottawa, Queen's, Laurentian, York was coming on at the end of the year, the Ontario East [division] is full of landmines. We could be as good or better than we were last year and still lose five games."

Well, within 20 minutes of the buzzer sounding, Hinz had spoken of his need to get in the weight room ahead of his final season, since Carleton will have to replace graduating big men Smendziuk and Dan Penner ("we're losing a lot of our toughness," he said).

Smart noted that his main cogs got by this season "doing things on talent, not on making perfect reads." It was a reminder of how this group still hasn't reached its ceiling. Just how high that is could be tied to how high it for the Scrubbs, particularly Thomas Scrubb at the small forward spot.

"I think what people don't know about Tommy is how intelligent he is, and not just in a basketball sense," Smart says. "We had three of the greatest leaders we've ever had here last year [Hobin, Manigat and Thompson] and if someone for whatever reason didn't want to go to them with something it would be, 'ask Tommy what he thinks.' He's got so much common sense.

How to run with this

Perhaps there's an argument it's all well and good that university basketball remains in its little bailiwick. It would not be the end of the world. Still, one's left wanting when Carleton drew fewer fans Sunday than it did during the first Final 8 in Ottawa in 2008, when 9,300 witnessed their double-OT loss against Acadia. There's a question for new CIS CEO Pierre Lafontaine and others. How do you convince more Canadians to opt in to an entertaining version of a sport that's growing in popularity and show them while there's no comparison between the OUA and the ACC, the former has merit?

Getting Canadians to support their own in anything not ice-derived is an age-old challenge. Point being, whether it's local or nationally, Carleton should be very catalytic for changing the image of CIS hoops. That's a soapbox you can get on every March; may it one day no longer be necessary.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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