[Editor's note: The X-Men dropped a 96-92 decision, in OT, to the UNB Reds Oct. 18 on Coach 'K' Court.]
The young basketball X-Men will host the annual Pizza Delight St. F.X. Invitational this weekend on Coach ‘K’ Court at Amelia Saputo Centre (formerly Oland Centre).
“It will be a challenge – a good test for us,” veteran head coach Steve Konchalski said.
The four-team tournament will have an Atlantic University Sport (AUS) flavour, with the Acadia Axemen, Dalhousie Tigers and Cape Breton University Capers rounding out the field.
The opening game is scheduled for Friday (Oct. 25), at 6 p.m., when the Capers and Tigers take the court.
In the second semi-final, set for 8 p.m., the host X-Men will battle the Axemen.
“It is always special,” Konchalski said of the pre-season event, which is celebrating its 41st year.
He added the players are always primed “to defend their home court.”
When it comes to their semi-final opponent, Konchalski said the Axemen are “in a bit of a rebuilding mode.”
“In that way, they are similar to our team,” he added.
Konchalski noted Acadia lost a “lot of their firepower,” with the departure of key players, such as Ben Millar and Nick DePalma.
As for the Capers, who the X-Men mentor described as a “traditional foe,” they are led by Paul Watson – the conference’s defensive player of the year last season.
“He [Watson] does it all – he brings a lot to the table and he can fill the stat sheet,” Konchalski said of the 6’6” forward.
The Tigers, who have won four out of the last five AUS titles, will bring a veteran line-up to Antigonish, which includes fifth-year forward Sascha Kappos and “dead-eye shooter” Alex Carson, who both suited up this summer at the World University Games.
“They will be looking for revenge,” Konchalski suggested, noting the X-Men defeated the Tigers in the tournament championship game last fall.
In the 2018 conference playoffs, St. F.X. snapped Dalhousie’s three-year run as conference champions with a semi-final win in the year-end AUS tournament.
“I think you would have to say they are the pre-season favourites,” Konchalski said of the Tigers.
‘Work in progress’
In their first four games of the pre-season, the White and Blue scored only one victory – a 90-83 win over the UBC Thunderbirds at the Calgary Invitational.
“We were able to beat a very good team,” Konchalski said, noting the west coast foes are one of the “stronger teams” in the country.
He added the X-Men played their best defense of the early pre-season in the victory, something that has been missing in their losses.
“We are not really where we want to be, from a defensive perspective. It is a work in progress,” Konchalski said, noting the focus since the start of training camp has been establishing a defensive “mindset and culture.”
In order for the X-Men to be a “championship contender” in the conference, they are going to have to continue to improve on that end of the court.
In that lone victory, fourth-year guard Justin Andrew sparked the offense, with a game-high 27 points, including five baskets from three-point range, while adding six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
“He had an outstanding game; he showed what he is capable of doing,” Konchalski said of the Hamilton native.
Unfortunately, in their next game of the tournament, Andrew injured an ankle and only played 13 minutes in a 99-90 loss to the host Dinos.
“It was an emotional game,” Konchalski noted of the match-up.
During the pre-game, on 4AM Night, the Calgary program honoured their player and Antigonish native Andrew Milner, who passed away in April.
“It was really well done,” Konchalski said of the ceremony.
The X-Men wrapped up the Calgary tourney with a 102-93 setback to the Mount Royal University Cougars.
“He was exceptional,” Konchalski said of freshman guard Avan Nava, who finished with 32 points, including four three-pointers.
He added the Mississauga native, who averaged 21 points in his first four games with the X-Men, is off to a “terrific start.”
Konchalski offered some statistics to illustrate that point; 63 per cent shooting from the field, along with 60 per cent from three-point range; not to mention 85 per cent from the free-throw line.
St. F.X. tipped-off the pre-season with an 88-81 loss to the Bishop’s Gaiters; while they hosted the UNB Reds Oct. 18 (results were unavailable at press time).
Friday, Oct. 25
6 p.m.: CBU vs Dalhousie
8 p.m.: St. F.X. vs Acadia
Saturday, Oct. 26
6 p.m.: consolation final (losers of Friday’s games)
8 p.m.: championship game (winners of Friday’s games)