Tip Off BlackJacks vs NightHawks

It’s game number two for the Ottawa BlackJacks, who are hoping to make the Guelph Nighthawks first game go as badly as theirs did.

This Nighthawks squad is coming into the season completely revamped, and with a number of big names added to the roster. They’re sure to push the BlackJacks to their limits, so let’s take a look at how these teams match up.

The Opposition

The Nighthawks will most likely turn to the newly signed N.C. State star Cat Barber to run their offense. After averaging 23.5 points in his sophomore year in 2016, Barber has spent the majority of his career since then playing in the NBA G-League, with occasional stops in the top leagues in Germany, Israel and Italy, being among his team’s top scorers’ year after year. Though he’s a decent three-point shooter, the real danger is his first quick step and ability to finish at the rim through contact.

He’s not the only player with big game experience on the Nighthawks; Toronto native Justin Jackson was a second-round draft pick out of Maryland in the 2018 NBA draft, and is coming off a G-League championship with the Lakeland Magic. Likewise, Isaiah Reese has spent the past two years with the Golden State affiliate Santa Cruz Warriors, where his three-point shooting has made him a valuable piece in the rotation.

Of course, there are also the returning stalwarts of the team. Kimbal MacKenzie will run it back with the Nighthawks for the third time, looking to bounce back from a disappointing Summer Series that saw him hit only 34.3% of his field goals. Still, after averaging 21 points over seven games in 2019 and playing in Spain’s top league this year, he’s proven he has the ability to get the job done. Also suiting up for his third year will be 37-year-old Olu Famutimi, who would have been one of the early Canadian basketball stars if not for a devastating ACL injury in his last year of high school. And lastly, U SPORTS product Marcus Anderson will join the team once again from Carleton University, where he has carved out a niche as one of the premiere lockdown perimeter defenders in the country.

The BlackJacks

On the BlackJacks side, the big question will be what- if any- lineup changes we see on Monday. Coach Dube-Brais could brush off Thursday’s opener as a case of early season jitters and lack of chemsity, but the offense clearly struggled, particularly at the guard positions. Earl Calloway and Kyle Johnson get the nod to start, but they combined to finish with just six points on 3-13 shooting, with a 9-1 turnover-to-assist ratio. The team saw much more production from Junior Cadougan (11 points, 3 assists) and a red-hot to end the game Kadre Gray (team high 25 points). Current Carleton Raven Alain Louis even logged over 16 minutes of game time, and though he wasn’t much of an offensive factor, he managed to slow the game down and limit the River Lions offense.

Another key area to keep an eye on is how the BlackJacks will use their forwards this time out. Ryan Wright played a big role in a late first quarter run that saw Ottawa lead Niagara after the first 10 minutes, but saw limited time afterwards. Dube-Brais said it was because he and Ward play the same position, and given that Ward was the catalyst for the team’s offense early in the game, he didn’t want to take him out. The coach also opted not to play Wright and Ward at the same time as he felt it would limit the BlackJacks spacing and shooting.

The Breakdown

Given the Nighthawks depth and skill at the guard and wing positions, winning the battle in the paint will be huge for the BlackJacks if they hope to walk away with the W. Not to take anything away from the Nighthawks Amidou Bamba and Maurice Walker, but their forward corps is the weakest part of the team (until Chad Brown comes out of quarantine, but we’ll worry about that the next time we face them). Ward and Wright should be able to get the better of the big men. Playing them together shouldn’t be kept off the table, as their ability to dominate inside should counteract any spacing issues that are caused. As well, Tahjai Teague didn’t dress in Ottawa’s opener, but he can offer an intimidating presence inside while also being a better shooter than his teammates. Keep an eye out for when he finally gets in the lineup.

A big part of winning those battles is making sure Guelph has to set up their offense in the half-court. If Thursday’s game against Niagara was any indication, the BlackJacks are going to struggle to keep up with the younger Nighthawks team in transition. This means they have to take care of the ball and make sure they don’t allow any fast break opportunities.

Though it’s only the second game of the season, an 0-2 hole is not how any team wants to start out their season, especially when both of those games are at home. Regardless of how early it is, it is imperative that the BlackJacks erase the first game from their minds and make the proper adjustments to pull out the win on Monday. The games aren’t going to get any easier as teams become more familiar with each other and gain players as they finish their seasons abroad. Ottawa will have to show the necessary improvements, or they could end up being left behind the rest of the field.

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