It's tip-off time.
Tonight in Winnipeg, the UNBC Timberwolves basketball teams will tangle with the University of Manitoba Bisons in their opening games of the 2013-14 Canada West season.
For the T-wolves, this is the start of year number two in Canada West, one of four conferences in Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
So, what to expect from these UNBC teams? Let's break out the crystal ball, hopefully without breaking it into a zillion tiny pieces.
Here goes: the female Timberwolves are in great position to improve upon their 8-14 record of last season and -- wait for it -- even contend for a playoff spot.
And the male T-wolves? They'll probably slide from the 6-16 mark they posted last season. But, with so many different faces in their lineup, they're a Scooby-Doo-sized mystery.
Hey, anybody remember Scooby-Doo Meets the Harlem Globetrotters from 1972?
Zoinks! That was quite the tangent.
Back on track now.
The UNBC women's team will give its opponents some tough nights this season because the squad lost just two players from 2012-13, those being now-graduated forward Kady Dandeneau and point guard Jordyn Rabbitt, who changed schools for academic reasons. Everybody else is back, and in that mix are six players in either their fourth or fifth years of eligibility. Fourth-years are forwards Sarah Robin and Kellie Fluit, while fifth-years are guard/forward Mercedes Van Koughnett, forward Emily Kaehn and guards Jen Bruce and Chelsey Thorne (back in uniform after one year away). Van Koughnett is of huge importance to the T-wolves because she's their all-around leader and was their top rebounder and point-getter last season.
The most significant change with the UNBC women is on the sidelines, where Sergey Shchepotkin has replaced Loralyn Murdoch (who is now athletics director) as head coach. For the players, that might be the only reason for a hiccup because sometimes there can be issues in learning how to play within a new or different system. But really, most of the kinks should have been worked out in a pre-season that saw the T-wolves run to a 5-3 record.
At the conclusion of the 22-game regular season, four of the eight teams in UNBC's division will make the playoffs. Last year, the Timberwolves were an impressive fifth.
Time to jump behind the wheel of the Mystery Machine and talk about the UNBC men.
This is a team that lost four monster individuals to graduation -- guard Jose Araujo, guard/forward Sam Raphael and guards Francis Rowe and Joel Rybachuk. Also gone is key forward Gabe Aubertin, who left UNBC for financial reasons, and rising star Navjot Bains, who is dealing with shoulder problems and decided to stay closer to his hometown doctor. Bains, a six-foot-six forward/post player from Surrey, plans to practice this season with the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades, who are based in Abbotsford.
Other guys from the 2012-13 Timberwolves who are no longer part of the program are guard Josh Raphael, who was little-used and is now playing for Grande Prairie Regional College, and post player Josh Jebose, who barely saw the floor last year.
Clearly, the biggest losses are Araujo, Sam Raphael, Rowe and Rybachuk. Araujo and Raphael were UNBC's top two scorers last season, Rowe was a three-point bomber who also happened to be the best free-throw shooter in Canada West and Rybachuk was the T-wolves' assists leader. Aubertin, meanwhile, started 17 of UNBC's 22 games last season and was always a defensive presence in the paint. The Spokane product blocked more shots than any other UNBC player and finished third in Canada West in that category. Bains, a rookie, was third on the team in rebounding.
With six big minute-munchers gone from his club, head coach Todd Jordan had to do some serious revamping and appears to have recruited well. But, it remains to be seen how some of these new guys adjust to life at the Canada West level.
In the backcourt, where the Timberwolves took the biggest hit to their lineup, they will lean on returning point guard Billy Cheng. Unfortunately, the third-year Richmond product isn't expected to play until at least mid November because he's recovering from a broken foot. That means new recruit Jeff Chu, who helped the Langara College Falcons win a bronze medal at the 2013 college nationals, will be an important puzzle piece for UNBC. Chu, in his fourth year of eligibility, can play either guard spot and will be joined by new point guard Jibreel Stevens, a third-year player from Tacoma.
In the off-season, Jordan also picked up a couple of key forwards in six-foot-seven Franck Olivier Kouagnia and six-foot-four Devin McMurtry. Both will be using their fourth years of eligibility, so their overall experience levels should help them make smooth transitions into Canada West. Kouagnia played previously at Coventry University in England, while McMurtry was a teammate of Chu's at Langara.
Also new in UNBC green this year are guards Marcus MacKay and Reegin Maki -- both from Terrace -- and forward Mitchell Howden, a six-foot-five Abbotsford native. All three of these players are rookies so they'll likely see limited court time.
With so much talent and leadership from last season gone, and so many question marks surrounding the Timberwolves this season, they'll do well to match their Canada West record of 2012-13. However, a slight step backwards wouldn't be a surprise.
For both UNBC teams, some of the unknowns will start to clear up tonight against the Bisons. The T-wolves will remain in Winnipeg for games Saturday against the University of Winnipeg Wesmen. UNBC's home-opening games, meanwhile, are next Friday against the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack.
All done now.
Heading home to watch Scooby, Shaggy and the gang hang with Meadowlark Lemon and the rest of the Globetrotters.
No problem predicting how that ends.