The Western Mustangs men's basketball team will be huge underdogs this weekend in a pair of games against the Ottawa Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens.
The Ravens are the top-ranked team in the nation with a record of 12–0. The Gee-Gees are ranked third in U Sports with an 11–1 record, their only loss coming at the hands of Carleton.
Nobody is giving the 3–9 Mustangs a chance to win. But it's the perfect opportunity for this young Western squad to develop against two of the Goliaths of Ontario University Athletics basketball.
“Our mindset going into the weekend is that we’re gonna compete," said Mustangs head coach Brad Campbell. "Obviously they're two of the top teams in the country so we’re just going to compete on every possession and get a chance to see what two of the top teams in the country look like.”
The Ravens, who have won 12 of the last 14 national championships, have looked formidable all season. On Jan. 17 Carleton chased Ottawa off the court with an 81–40 win over their crosstown rivals.
It was a shocking result in a game that was expected to be an instant classic. But it showed just how dominant the Carleton basketball program has become.
"That was kind of a surprising result, I think, but that’s just how good and deep Carleton is," said Campbell. "Carleton’s bench would probably be one of the top five teams in the country.”
For the Mustangs, a young team that is building for the future with a young core, the slate of games on the weekend will serve as a measuring stick for the team to see what it takes to be top tier contenders.
"It’s great for development and for our guys to see where they kind of fit at this point and where we need to get to in the future," said Campbell. "Hopefully when we start to get older we can be at this level.”
The Ravens are first in the OUA in field goal percentage (49.1), rebounds per game (43.4) and assists per game (18.3), while they're second in the province in points per game (91.6).
The Gee-Gees are third in the OUA in points per game (80.1), second in field goal percentage (47.9) and second in rebound margin per game.
Both teams also rank first and second in points allowed per game in the OUA. While the challenge will be almost insurmountable, the Mustangs still want to come into the game and give themselves a chance to win.
"They’re both very talented teams so we can’t have any mental lapses or they’re capable of running up the score in a hurry," said Mustangs co-captain Eric McDonald. "Most teams beat themselves before these games even start because they don’t truly believe they can win, so as long as were aggressive and confident we’ll be off to a good start."
"We just have to keep playing with confidence and try to influence our style of play on the other team, instead of letting them dictate the pace and how we play," added McDonald.
If the Mustangs can play like they did in their 90–65 win over Windsor on Jan. 14 they should be able to compete this weekend.
But if not, things could get out of hand quickly.