Simon Fraser's Jordan Muir-Keung (centre) and the rest of the Clan's deep core of guards opens the 2019 portion of the GNAC schedule Thursday at home to nationally No. 21-ranked St. Martin's. (Photo by Paul Yates property of Vancouver Sports Pictures 2018. All Rights Reserved)
Feature University Men's Basketball

Simon Fraser opens 2019 by hosting powerhouse St. Martin’s in a battle of GNAC’s most prodigious three-point shooting teams

BURNABY — Too early in the season, you say, to call a trend a true trait?

While the GNAC prepares for the beginning of just its second week of conference play on Thursday, it’s fair to say that when the nationally-ranked St. Martin’s Saints (9-1 overall, 2-0 GNAC) come up the I-5 from Lacey to pay a 7 p.m. visit to the West Gym and face the host Simon Fraser Clan (7-3, 1-1), neither team will shy away from hoisting the three-point shot.

Heading into the game, St. Martin’s and Simon Fraser sit Nos. 1-2 in the conference in made three-pointers per game through their first 10 contests.

The Saints have made 116 over that span (11.6 per game), while the Clan have made 106 (10.6 per game) at a conference-leading 41.2 per cent.

Yet even if the two teams don’t put up numbers approaching those averages, the chess will be played based on the fact that their offensive arsenals are each so capable of dialling from distance.

As he came off the practice floor Wednesday, Simon Fraser head coach Steve Hanson admitted that the task at hand for his team, while tough to execute, is quite clear.

“It’s the amount of threes they shoot, almost 30 per game,” said Hanson of St. Martin’s. “We have to be able to reduce the amount of shots they get.”

Again, easier said than done against a St. Martin’s team led by the GNAC’s preseason Player of the Year Luke Chavez, fellow seniors EJ Boice, Chandler Redix and Rhett Baerlocher and sophomore BJ Standley. 

“Coach (Alex) Pribble has recruited high-percentage shooters, and now what they have done is moved (6-foot-7 senior G/F) Jordan Kitchen into more of a five-spot,” continued Hanson. “So they’re like Golden State, playing small with four good shooters around Kitchen.”

Yet while the Clan’s defensive response will be paramount if they are to climb above the .500 mark three games into the conference season, Simon Fraser is spreading its own wings on offence, re-inventing itself with a schematic which in many ways is not dissimilar from that of the Saints.

Julian Roche, the 6-foot-11 sophomore transfer, has quickly becoming a difference maker inside, and to boot, he’s not afraid to take a three (36.4 per cent, 4-of-11).

“He has fit in nicely,” says Hanson. “In our conference, there are a lot of shooters, but if you have an inside presence, there is not a lot of doubling. We have been able to put four shooters on the floor with Julian.”

It’s been in fact, the biggest difference when comparing last season to this season.

In 2017-18, the gulf between the Clan’s leading scorer (Kedar Salaam, 20.4 ppg) and its eighth-leading scorer (Matthew O’Brien, 3.5 ppg) was 16.9 ppg.

Thus far this season, over that same breadth, from Othniel Spence (16.1 ppg) to Jodran Muir-Keung (5.9 ppg), the difference is just 10.2 ppg.

In-between those book-ends? Roche (13.5), Wilfried Balata (13.1), Drew Bryson (11.0), Michael Provenzano (11.0), Jasdeep Singh (8.4) and Graham Miller (8.1).

“We are getting really balanced scoring,” begins Hanson. “Guys are sharing the basketball, and so what we expected from this group is happening. So many guys can make plays and make shots, and that has been showing.”

Again, the actual conference sample size is as yet minuscule and SFU has had a couple of lopsided wins, but it’s hard not to see how much the Clan shares the ball, especially when they lead the GNAC in assists per game (17.9), with junior point guard Michael Provenzano tops overall at 5.3 per game.

Hanson, in fact, sees another reason why the assists numbers have swelled this season.

“Our chemistry on the floor stems from our chemistry off the floor,” he adds. “We have a group of guys who really like each other and it translates in our overall number of assists going up four-to-five a game. It also shows that a lot of guys are out there, and that they are all playing valuable minutes.”

However you slice it, SFU will face one of the best teams in NCAA Div. 2 basketball Thursday. St. Martin’s was ranked No. 11 (as of Dec. 11) in the D2SIDA poll, and No. 21 (as of Dec. 21) in the NABC Coaches poll, 

Simon Fraser is off Friday, then wraps up the home stand Saturday with a 7 p.m. tip against visiting Seattle Pacific.

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