ANTIGONISH, N.S. - A 3-3 record and only 12-point differential in points for versus against (522-534), would suggest it was a perfectly balanced good and bad start to the St. F.X. X-Men basketball 2018-19 season.
More good than bad when you take in other considerations, offered veteran bench-boss Steve Konchalski.
“Considering our youth, I’m relatively pleased with our positioning right now; being, basically, in the middle of the pack, a game or two out of second place,” Konchalski, in his 44th season with the program, said, while stressing the importance of securing a first and or second place position at the conclusion of the regular season.
The top two seeds receive automatic byes into the conference semi-finals.
“So being only a game out with a young team,” he said. “Six freshmen used the first half of the year; getting their feet wet as far as what AUS basketball is all about. So I’m relatively pleased with where we are right now.”
St. Mary’s leads the conference with 14 points in six games; followed by UNB (12 points in seven games), CBU (10 points in seven games) and then Dalhousie tied with St. F.X. at eight points with the Tigers having played seven games to the X-Men’s six.
Some games are worth four-points which accounts for Konchalski’s assessment.
Asked about a specific area of the game he would like to see his young team continue to make progress on, Konchalski talked about rebounding.
“Definitely, I would like to see our rebounding improve; especially from our guards,” he said.
“Our big men are doing a great job; in actual fact, we have the two leading rebounders in the league. Azaro Roker is leading the league at 10.5 rebounds a game and Daniel Passley is averaging 9.8 rebounds a game – one and two respectively in the league. I would like to see our guards rebound the ball better and, at the same time, just overall defensively I think we have to become better.
“We’re scoring the ball at a pretty high rate, but we are giving up too many points at the other end.”
Back on the break-even theme, Konchalski noted the rebound stats have the X-Men averaging exactly the same per game as their opponents – 39.
“That was my biggest concern coming into the year, losing Kevin Bercy who was, over his career, one of the top rebounders we have ever had in our program, over many years,” he said. “And Cameron Walker, another big man who was strong on the boards; so I was concerned about rebounding but those two players, Roker and Passley, have really stepped it up and, I think, if they can get some help from the guards.
“We do play a small line-up around those two players, which has it challenges, but it [rebounding] is an area we can definitely improve upon.”
Before the X-Men get back into AUS regular season play, they’ll compete in the annual Dalhousie-hosted Rod Shoveller Tournament. This year’s tournament runs from Dec. 28 to 30.
“We open up with St. Mary’s at 1 p.m. on Dec. 28; St. Mary’s is the only undefeated team in our league right now and ranked number five in the country,” Konchalski said, noting they haven’t played the Huskies yet this season.
“They have a lot of depth, a lot of athleticism so that is going to pose a challenge for us, but the whole idea of the Shoveller is to get back into the swing of things, after having a month off. The more important game against St. Mary’s is Jan. 4 when we travel to Halifax and play them at the Homburg Centre in a league game, a four-point game.
“So the Shoveller will be a good test for us in terms of getting back into our rhythm and seeing how much these freshmen absorbed. I think our potential for growth is as good or better than most of the teams in the league since we’re, probably, the youngest team in the league.”
The holiday can help to bring back the fitness level but the veteran coach knows that’s on the players to follow a conditioning program while at home enjoying their break.
“They have a training log they have to fill in every day,” he said.
“It does challenge their discipline, especially with a young team, to understand while they haven’t been home for three or four months and now they’re going to see all of their friends, nonetheless, they have to keep up their fitness, get on a basketball court, and not take a step back with the long break.”
The X-Men’s next home game is Jan. 9 versus the Tigers. Tip-off at the Oland Centre is 8 p.m.