A confident basketball team is a dangerous basketball team. And that's what the Western Mustangs are right now.
With two straight wins against the Ryerson Rams and the Windsor Lancers, the Mustangs are feeling themselves, sitting at 3–2 on the season.
There hasn't been this sense of momentum for the program for the better part of two years.
The two victories came in entirely different fashions. The Mustangs beat the Rams in a slugfest last weekend, playing stifling defence while winning despite a mediocre offensive effort.
The win over Windsor was something else entirely as the Mustangs played with pace and spread the floor, allowing for open threes and penetration in the paint en route to a comfortable 93–78 victory. It was also a win over a division rival, making a statement that this Mustangs team might be developing ahead of schedule.
"It's an important win when you're playing a traditional rival of ours and any [Ontario University Athletics] West Division opponent; it's almost worth double the points," said Mustangs head coach Brad Campbell. "So, it was a big interdivisional win, especially against such a well-coached team and a good team like Windsor. We'll take it."
Why wouldn't he take it? These were two games that the Mustangs would have lost last year in a rebuilding 2016–17 campaign that saw Western miss the playoffs.
It's been easy to criticize the lack of go-to scorers for the Mustangs in the last season and a quarter, but on Friday night against Windsor, they didn't need one guy to put the team on his shoulders.
They had Henry Tan, with 17 points and seven assists. They had Omar Shiddo and Marko Kovac, who both struggled to find their shots but combined for 29 points, six steals and seven rebounds regardless. They had Jedson Tavernier, who showed flashes of his OUA All-Rookie season three years ago with a 5-of-7 shooting performance off the bench that produced 13 points. Eriq Jenkins was 4-of-7 with 12 points.
Maybe, just maybe, Campbell and his staff have a squad here. The Mustangs are at their best when they play fast, struggling in the first half against Windsor when they slowed it down and pulling away in the third quarter when the Western guards pushed the ball.
"Our pace was a little slow in the first half, and I think that focus and ball-movement helps with the trust in each other," said Campbell. "We're playing a matchup-oriented game, and the ball's got to move. In the first half we didn't make shots, but they fell in the second, and it made our guys feel pretty good about ourselves offensively."
If coveted recruit and short-tenured Mustang Jordan Henry had decided to stick around, this team could be a top five team in the OUA, but Campbell is working with what he has. What he has might be a playoff team and is certainly a matchup headache for opponents.
Next weekend the Mustangs will be run through the gauntlet, facing off against the perennial powerhouses from our nation's capital. A Nov. 17 date with the Ottawa Gee-Gees could be a defining game for the Mustangs, while a meeting with the Carleton Ravens the next day will essentially be a write-off barring an astronomical upset.
A win over the 3–1 Gee-Gees, however, changes the expectations for this team entirely. The rebuild is ahead of schedule, if you can even call it a rebuild anymore.