Canada West has changed its playoff format to give tournament teams more rest before travelling to a Final 8. That's good. 

The RPI-offs are continuing, but with a tweak to the formula. That's bad. 

But instead of a one-game play-in for the Final 8, the semifinals will be best-of-three. That's good.

But the RPI is still in use. That's bad.
Canada West certainly had some imperative to change after UBC went splat in the quarter-finals against Manitoba and the conference subsequently went 0-6 at the women's and men's nationals.


First it was 36 years without a trip to the University Cup; now it has taken some 36 hours for Queen's men's hockey to make it to Fredericton.

(Update: while both stranded teams seem to see the humour in the situation, at this writing, 1:45 a.m. on March 16, Rte. 132 which both teams would take to New Brunswick is closed. U Sports has, according to sources, turned down Queen's appeal to postpone its game against UNB, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. AT/6 p.m. ET on Thursday. So either it will be a very road-weary Queen's team hitting the ice, or no Queen's team at all.)

Due to a major accumulation of snow throughout eastern Canada, both the 5-seed Gaels and 8-seed McGill — who each play Thursday, natch — have been hampered getting to the tournament. Queen's flight out on Tuesday was cancelled due to the weather, so a bus was arranged for the team to make the trip. Then the travelling party met with highway closures. Neither will be there in time for the all-Canadian awards dinner traditionally held on the eve of the tournament.

As if facing UNB and red-hot St. Francis Xavier was not daunting enough.

Ontario University Athletics is throwing out the RPI baby with the bathwater.

It's unofficial, of course, but an informed source has corroborated the CUSN reports from the Final 8 about another realignment being in store for basketball. What was old three years ago is new again. The conference is going back to East and West divisions with cross-over semifinals — but no single-site Final Four.

On the one hand, admitting there were unintended consequences to the 'RPI-offs' and going back to the tried-and-true is understandable. At the same time, it's not hard to read some OUA politics into a decision that would put Carleton, Ottawa and Ryerson in the same division with no mechanism for all three to be in the final four with a chance to go to nationals (as long as there's only one at-large berth, the seeding committee is probably not going to have the stones to pick a Top 5 team which was a quarter-finalist; just ask UBC. But more on that in a bit).



The switch to RPI-offs, regardless of the execution, was supposed to address that imbalance. It was also flexible since it allowed for the possibility, however theoretical, that four schools in Toronto and westward could be the class of the conference. Reverting to two divisions exhumes the inequity that occurred in both 2013 and '14, when Ryerson's men's team was a tournament-worthy team but was left out after losing to Ottawa in the East semifinal.


It is human nature to think there ought to be a way to solve something irksome without thinking of the practicalities of said way. That seems to be the subtext for the suggestion there was some great injustice with decision to award the at-large berth to Canada West bronze medallist Calgary instead of OUA bronze medallist Brock (as predicted).
The spur for doing this has always been to try to be a rational actor and give people an idea of how the Final 8 seeding rules work. Whether those rules are righteous or wrongheaded or whether the system goes too far in trying to quantify signature wins is a parallel conversation. Everyone agreed to play by these rules. You can say have play-in games, a Final 10, a Final 12, a Final 16 and say "what would the NCAA do?!" Given all the challenges U Sports faces both internally and externally, it might be better to play the pragmatist and appreciate that we still get to see eight teams spread out over nearly 6,000 kilometres still convene in Halifax for a national championship.

I say all of that, believe you me, knowing it is not for nothing the Louis CK clip open in another Chrome tab just got to the "you need to go once in a while, 'uh, I'm kind of an asshole' " part. The above paragraph probably comes off that way to a few people, but I am okay with that reaction.


The recency factor is strong with the seeding for the Bronze Baby. Carleton and Saskatchewan, the winners of the two big conferences, are seeded 1-2 whilst the automatic qualifiers from their conferences, third-seeded Queen's and fifth-seeded Regina, are not potential semifinal opponents.

By the way, whoever in the U Sports office did up the graphic might have wanted to display the teams in a way that illustrated the bracket. For a second it looked like Saskatchewan was playing Cape Breton.

A juxtaposition of the sportgeist in Canada in 2017. On Friday in Kingston, 700 people watched the men's team in our national sporting obsession play for a berth in the Canadian championship. On Saturday, there was a turn-away crowd of 1,900-plus to watch the women's basketball team at the same school. Don't worry, surely no one in a position of influence to do anything about the media coverage noticed.

Anyway, the carefully plotted brackets have been reduced to rumble like the protagonist in the second act of a Will Ferrell comedy:
The seeding is a total mess and you ought to love it.

Ryerson completed a capital double, defeating Carleton for the Wilson Cup thanks to Manny Diressa going off for 24 points in the second half and, speaking of dynamic dyads, Adam Voll and Keevon Small combining for nine blocked shots. History does not play the games in the present, of course. Ryerson with floor leaders Diressa, Adika Peter-McNeilly and Juwon Grannum will go into the Final 8 with much more shared experienced with the tournament and what's involved with being a No. 1 seed.

Meantime, Carleton will get a matinee game in the quarter-final for the fourth consecutive year, since Dalhousie is probably in the 4 vs. 5 game and the host Tigers will play in the evening session. Clearly Carleton doesn't mind the extra recovery period. The Ravens have also won the national championship the last five times (2006, '07, '11, '14 and '16) that it was not OUA playoff champion.
The task at hand isn't predictions, though, it's seeding.
Being No. 1 in the country one week and being left out the next, well, that's more than most 21-year-olds can handle. It appears that fate will befall McMaster, who has the best overall record in the country but also had a soft schedule with a non-conference slate that included four Atlantic teams and four-win Mount Royal.



Still, what hath RPI wrought, Chapter Keleven:
  • Laval will back into an at-large berth in spite of losing two of its last three games (and it could have been three of four). Being two wins away from an auto-berth is only one of the four criteria and does not appear to take priority.

    The rules state "If any team is the only team to lead two, three or four of these categories following the conclusion of conference playoffs, it will be awarded the at-large berth." Laval has the highest RPI for non-conference and playoff games (.658) and highest SRS (20.78). They also own the tiebreaker for wins against the Top 12 teams in RPI, having gone 12-3.

    Of course, the cluster effect in RPI meant four of the five Quebec teams ended up in the Top 12. However, Laval went out of province for seven of their 10 non-conference games and will have played potentially five tournament teams: Alberta, Carleton, Queen's, Saint Mary's and (duh) the Concordia-McGill winner.
     
  • We also know Canada West's RPI-offs also spit back a seeding that put two best women's teams, Regina and Winnipeg, on a collision course to be in the same auto-berth game. The No. 2-ranked Cougars won by double digits, so there's a chance the national title isn't leaving the province. Winnipeg apparently is toast, though.
  • There was a great deal of fluidity among the OUA's four best teams that, now that I think of it, broke down on geographical lines, really. Under RPI, Queen's and Carleton were 1-2 with McMaster and Windsor 3-4. Hypothetically, under a SRS-based format, McMaster would have got the first seed, with Windsor second, Queen's third and Carleton fourth.

    The semifinals were close, but ultimately the teams from the 613 who were either playing at home, or not far from it, are through. 
Laval should stay within the first five to six seeds. The inner cynic also feels like there is a chance that in a Canada West-hosted Final 8, we'll see the two Ontario teams in the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds. Carleton and Queen's is enough of a rivalry that neither team will start thinking about whether it's advantageous to be the No. 3 seed, on the off chance that Laval winds up being shunted to the No. 7 seed.

At this late hour, pending the results of conference finals on Saturday, here is what we have:


  1. Regina (Canada West champion). Managed to defeat Winnipeg with Katie Polischuk, their star, being limited to eight points. That is a deep team.

    Regina's thing is winning the Friday night get-to-nationals game and losing the league final on Saturday. So there will be motivation to get the win.
  2. Queen's (OUA champion). Going on the theory that Queen's depth and defence will win the day against Carleton, which had 20 turnovers during its one-point win against McMaster.
  3. Carleton (OUA auto-berth). Carleton's post player extraordinaire Heather Lindsay went a season-high 34 minutes on Friday, only the second time all season she's had to go into the 30s. To put that in context, though, Queen's also shortened its rotation in order to get by Windsor. One wonders how each team resets. Then again, they might just end up playing again in seven days' time.
  4. Saskatchewan (Canada West auto-berth). Somehow in our sleep deprivation we forgot who won the other Canada West semifinal. Sorry Saskatchewan! Your shade of green is nicer than U of R's anyway.
  5. Saint Mary's (AUS champion). The preliminaries in the AUS Final 6 were fun, but Saint Mary's has business to finish over the next two days.
  6. McGill (RSEQ champion). Split the season series with Concordia, but no one won two in a row and the Stingers won the most recent game. So ipso facto ...
  7. Laval (at large). They are better than Alberta and McMaster over the full run of the season.
  8. Victoria (host). Same as it ever was.
I am at least 83 per cent sure that I read the rules correctly and Laval has the wild card. 
The red door at Jack Simpson Gym got painted Manitoba Bisons brown on Friday. The topper of what has been a riveting soirée of auto-bid games in roundball and rubber-disc alike was definitely Manitoba and Amirjit (A.J.) Basi upending Thomas Cooper and Calgary 74-72 for a Final 8 berth, earning the school's first tournament ticket in 31 seasons.
How long has it been since Manitoba was in the tournament? Let's see. The GPAC was still around. The school's hockey coach that season was Barry Trotz.

All coach Kerby Schepp's Bisons have done was defeat UBC and Calgary in their gyms. No big deal. Judging by Manitoba's 25 turnovers, it must not have been pretty on Friday, but they harried Cooper into a 6-of-24, 17-point night and shot an effective 57.5 per cent (25-of-53, 11 triples) to cancel out 25 turnovers.

If you like close games -- I mean really like -- then this is the stuff for you:
  • Ryerson, by the margin of fifth-year Adika Peter-McNeilly getting a last-second block on Brandon Robinson, defeated Ottawa 76-75 and will go to the tournament for the fourth time in six seasons.
  • Saint Mary's escaped 80-79 against St. Francis Xavier in an AUS quarter-final after league MVP Kevin Bercy missed a free throw with three seconds left.
What this all means? Sadly, for Ottawa, it probably means that that UBC or Calgary (if it wins the Canada West bronze game) is the wild card. Neither team got it done on its home floor, whereas Ottawa, as the No. 2 seed in OUA, had to try to win on a neutral site (yes, it was in the same city, but the Ravens' Nest is never going to be home turf for an Ottawa team).
The wild card might be UBC. It all depends on the definition of "cluster," since Brock, Calgary, Ottawa and Saskatchewan will be in the first cluster of teams that lost an auto-bid/play-in game. The second cluster consists of UBC and UBC alone, but the Thunderbirds grade out first in five out of the nine criteria.
  1. Regular-season conference record: UBC (Ottawa is second).
  2. Strength of schedule (RPI): Ottawa (UBC is fourth).
  3. Games vs. other teams under berth considerations or already qualified: UBC
  4. Record in non-conference games: UBC 
  5. Average Top 10 ranking after Nov. 15: UBC 
  6. Conference game record vs. teams with >.800 winning percentage: Saskatchewan
  7. Conference game record vs. teams with >.650 winning percentage: UBC
  8. Conference game record vs. teams with >.500 winning percentage: Calgary (UBC is second)
  9. Conference game record vs. teams with <.500 winning percentage: UBC and Ottawa (tied)
  10. Playoff performance: Obviously, UBC is last and arguably, the OUA bronze medallist is first.
Another way to present that is to show each team's ranking in each category in chart form, with the lowest total understandably being better. It all depends on how much UBC is dropped for not being a conference semifinalist.

Some of the rankings need to be split. Neither Calgary nor UBC faced an above-.800 team in regular-season play, while Calgary and Saskatchewan each went 3-4 against above-.650 competition.


Reg-sea.SOSTTN-CTop 10A800A650A500B500Playoffs*Total
UBC141113.5122521.5
Calgary332233.52.513225
Ottawa215325551130
Sask.5535512.534336.5
Brock 424442445437

Saskatchewan defeating Calgary in the Canada West bronze game would bump UBC into first in conference game record against above-.500 teams.

The intention of the criteria is clear: try to find a way to evaluate the body of work and find a way to quantify the concept of signature wins. I suppose Ottawa, should it get left out, can use this as a bittersweet teaching moment. They were 0-4 against Carleton and Ryerson, teams whom they have handled in regular-season and league playoff games. But they could also wonder why their 0-4 is considered inferior to Calgary and UBC each being 0-0.

Similarly, the two OUA aspirants get dinged since the conference had only five of its 19 teams finish in the black. That was somewhat an effect of a top-heavy league, but also an effect of the only slightly unbalanced schedule. Canada West, of course, plays mix-and-match (10 opponents drawn from a pool of 16). Yet the rules instruct the committee to see those as one and the same, apparently?

It's getting quite late back here in the East, so here's a stab at an updated bracket.

  1. Carleton (OUA champion). The Ravens won't lose a Wilson Cup on their home floor. Full disclosure, I cannot even the last time Carleton played for one at home. Might have been in 2010. 
  2. Ryerson (OUA auto-berth). First team since York in 2005-06 to win two OUA games in a season in Ottawa. 
  3. McGill (RSEQ champion). About the only ranked team outside Ontario that is still standing.  
  4. Dalhousie (AUS champion). In through the front door.
  5. Manitoba (Canada West champion). The hottest team in the country, but Alberta has Mamadou Gueye.
  6. Alberta (Canada West auto berth). Alberta against McGill in March and it's in basketball not hockey? Highly irregular, but we'll go along with it. We'll let it ride with Manitoba winning on Saturday based on the convenience sample of their wins against UBC. The Golden Bears lost their two games against UBC by a combined 36 points, but some basic empathy would suggest they just got depleted in the second game. 
  7. UBC (at large). "Results of regional playoffs must be respected." The T-Birds should not be ahead of the other two Canada West teams, then?

    One might as well set them up with a rematch against Ryerson. Sequels aren't as good as originals, though! The Thunderbirds' gauntlet would also include either pesky McGill or a conference opponent who knows them well.

    The distaste for taking a team that lost in the second round in the playoffs is fully acknowledged; the point is that UBC wins most of the categories. If that's a reason to revise the categories, well I'll just trail off and look into space.
  8. UNB (AUS runner-up, de facto host team). Javon Masters against Theon Reefer. And nothing else matters.

    UNB, Alberta and McGill in a tournament in march it's in basketball not hockey? Oh, you heard that one?
Essentially, 10 teams extant in OUA and Canada West, plus Laval and long, long shot McGill are in the at-large berth conversation.

One need not be reminded of Article 4.2.3 -- remember the two weeks we spent at U Sports Playing Regulations Fantasy Camp? -- and knows the four elements that make up the selection criteria for an at-large berth.

After Saturday's games, here's how those 10 teams stack up in each category, sorted by average rank. The third criteria is how many wins a team was short of qualifying, and of course we don't know that yet:


W-LRPIWShSRSAvg. Rank
Laval31n/a11.67
Regina23n/a22.33
McMaster14n/a32.67
Carleton52n/a43.67
Queen's65n/a65.67
Winnipeg49n/a76.67
Windsor78n/a56.67
Sask.97n/a88
McGill106n/a98.33
Alberta810n/a108.67

This shows who the eventual third-place team in OUA has to hope like hell doesn't end up third in Canada West and vice-versa. And they have to hope Laval doesn't faceplant in the RSEQ Final 4. The Rouge et Or will go in stress-tested; they lost an overtime game against McGill in their reg-season finale and needed a Claudia Emond triple with 2.2 seconds left to defeat UQAM in their penultimate game.


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