Nothing guarantees defied odds and busted predictions quite like a playoff bracket. With CIS volleyball entering its knockout stages, we set ourselves up for said embarrassment.
Below, we take a conference-by-conference approach to the CIS playoff picture. Each match up is analyzed and statistically crunched with the sort of depth and precision you would expect from entirely unpaid denizens of the blogosphere. Probabilities courtesy of our resident stats guru Rob Pettapiece. Syrupy narration provided by yours truly.
UNB Varsity Reds (13% to win) vs. Dalhousie Tigers (87% to win)
Game 1 @ UNB - Friday, Feb. 18
Game 2 @ Dalhousie - Sunday, Feb. 20
Game 3 (if necessary) @ UNB - Saturday, Feb. 26
Analysis: Depending on which trends and statistics one prioritizes, this match up becomes radically different. Love to bank on the best players? Then Dalhousie is your bet, because Sander Ratsep is the best pure hitter on the East Coast. Trust in the traditional powerhouse and the value of playoff experience? Dalhousie took the conference title last season and went to the Big Dance in Kamloops. Continuity stands firmly in the favour of the Tigers.
However, this is the match up in which I see the most likely upset. The two squads played four matches against one another, with the Tigers taking the first two in Halifax and the Varsity Reds sweeping their opponents aside with ease in six consecutive sets in Fredericton to end the season. While it would be easy to chalk such results up to simple home court advantage, UNB was benefiting from a crucial lineup upgrade in the second series. Middle hitter Jacob Kilpatrick, who was named as the conference MVP today despite missing a considerable chunk of the season, stands as the most efficient blocker in the AUS. That talent came in particular use against Dalhousie this past weekend, as Kilpatrick played a pivotal role in blunting the offensive force of Ratsep. Add to this the fact that UNB enjoys much more attacking variety, with legitimate scorers Julio Fernandez, Tyler Veenhuis, Matt Sweet, and Kilpatrick all inside the top six in conference point average.
Prediction: The Varsity Reds ride home court advantage to a 2-1 series win and a trip to Langley.
#1 Laval Rouge et Or vs. Sherbrooke Vert et Or
Game 1 @ Laval - Friday, Feb. 18
Game 2 @ Sherbrooke - Sunday, Feb. 20
Game 3 (if necessary) @ Laval - Friday, Feb. 25
Analysis: With both squads already having punched their tickets to Langley by simple virtue of reaching this round, the championship series is for Quebecois supremacy alone. There is really no need to examine the head-to-head record in this one, as Laval dropped as many matches to Sherbrooke as they did to everyone else this season: none. The Rouge et Or's strengths are myriad and well-documented, and the fearsome All-Canadian duo of Fredric Desbiens and Karl de Grandpre show no sign of letting up their assault on the score sheet. After the disappointment of their CIS semi-final exit last season, and with Desbiens in his final year of eligibility, expect the Rouge et Or to enter the playoffs with no shortage of motivation. Sherbrooke simply lacks the weaponry to cause Laval any real concern.
Prediction: Laval will ease through this early test and cement their perfect RSEQ season with a 2-0 series win. Let the foot tapping begin as the Rouge et Or wait for their charter to BC.
#9 (2) McMaster Marauders (82% to win) vs. (7) Laurier Golden Hawks (18% to win)
Saturday, Feb. 19.
Analysis: This contest is a case in which the regular season head-to-head can reveal much. Despite playing far from their best volleyball in both matches with Laurier this season, McMaster came away with two fairly routine four-set decisions. Even when struggling for form, the Marauders simply had too much talent dispersed throughout their lineup for the over-matched Golden Hawks to deal with on a consistent basis. Laurier on the other hand, relies heavily on the production of their star right side Cameron Wheelan. While Wheelan sits second in the OUA in total points, he is also tellingly third in total hitting attempts. Such reliance on one player is a definite weakness against a multi-faceted squad such as that at the Marauders' disposal. Add to that the presence of one of the conference's most effective blockers in Tyler Santoni, and Saturday should be a long night for Wheelan and his Golden Hawks.
Prediction: The Marauders should have little trouble dismissing the visitors this weekend. A 3-1 win for Mac to send them to London for the Final Four.
#10 (3) Queen's Gaels (86% to win) vs. (6) Waterloo Warriors (14% to win)
Saturday, Feb. 19.
Analysis: Waterloo has been an intriguing team to watch this season, showing both incredible peaks in performance and horrible lows in the same campaign. After beginning their season in dire form, the Warriors went on a tear to follow the Christmas Break, winning five straight and claiming the high-profile scalps of McMaster and Queen's in the process. But just as they looked poised to pose a late season challenge to the established top four in Ontario, Waterloo's form dropped once again. The Warriors lost three of their final four games, including a humbling straight-sets decision to the York Lions in their final match at home. Which of these Waterloo teams emerges in Kingston on Saturday will have a huge bearing on the outcome. However, I'm willing to bet that neither version of the Warriors will have the skill to knock off the Gaels on their home turf in a one-off situation.
Prediction: I don't like the late season tailspin from Waterloo. Straight sets for Queen's to send them coasting into London.
(4) Guelph Gryphons (69% to win) vs. (5) Windsor Lancers (31% to win)
Friday, Feb. 18.
Analysis: Here is another match up in which regular season form is telling. Windsor threw everything they could muster at the Gryphons on home soil in their second match of the season. But despite the effort, and the confidence they were undoubtedly riding after their season-opening clobbering of McMaster, Windsor could not overcome Guelph. Instead, impressive performances from the Gryphons' usual suspects Winston Rosser and James Stamler put them over the top in five sets. A similar match unfolded in Guelph later in the campaign, with the Gryphons managing a win in four on that occasion. I would expect the trend to continue here, with Guelph enjoying the advantage of home court and an energized fanbase.
Prediction: The Gryphons should take this in four, likely razor-thin sets. It should be a repeat of last year's Final Four in the OUA.
#3 (2) Calgary Dinos (84% to win) vs. (7) UBC Thunderbirds (16% to win)
Game 1 @ Calgary - Thursday, Feb. 17.
Game 2 @ Calgary - Friday, Feb. 18.
Game 3 (if necessary) @ Calgary - Saturday, Feb. 19.
Analysis: The Thunderbirds return to Calgary, where they played two against the Dinos in the wake of the Christmas Break. Those contests each stretched to the maximum of five sets, but Calgary eked out both through a similar pattern. Namely, the Dinos absorbed the outside hitting power of UBC's dynamic duo of Ben Chow and Demijan Savija and answered with their patented middle attack. Graham Vigrass put up over 20 points in each of the two matches, and Calgary complemented his efforts with double digit efforts from the likes of Curtis James, Allen Meek, and David Egan. Not only does Calgary possess the single best player in this series, but they have the supporting cast necessary to prevent his total isolation. Beating the Dinos will take more than a two-man show.
Prediction: Calgary should win the series 2-0, albeit not without a measure of sweat and anxiety. The Dinos will progress through the round they had harboured hopes of not having to play a week ago.
#4 (3) Trinity Western Spartans (90% to win) vs. #7 (6) Thompson Rivers WolfPack (10% to win)
Game 1 @ TWU - Thursday, Feb. 17.
Game 2 @ TWU - Friday, Feb. 18.
Game 3 (if necessary) @ TWU - Saturday, Feb. 19.
Analysis: This series could be a real dogfight. The two teams played twice in the same gym at the opening of the season, with the matches splitting and each lasting five sets. In that series, TRU superstar Kevin Tillie was aided by the efficient hitting of his outside partner Ryan Talsma and middle Michael Hammond. Such support for the ever-immense Tillie has been and will be key to the WolfPack's success. For if the Spartans renowned blocking crew, led by Canada's top blocker Lucas van Berkel, can target the Frenchman alone, it will be a short series for the Kamloops squad. I expect that a repeat performance of their early season stand may be a little much to ask of the Wolfpack.
Prediction: It may be an extended series. 2-1 to the Spartans in a true slugfest.
#5 (4) Manitoba Bisons (47% to win) vs. #7 (5) Brandon Bobcats (53% to win)
Game 1 @ Manitoba - Friday, Feb. 18.
Game 2 @ Manitoba - Saturday, Feb. 19.
Game 3 (if necessary) @ Manitoba - Sunday, Feb. 20.
Analysis: This series is undoubtedly the closest on offer throughout the CIS, and the most likely to make me look like a fool. Despite the Bisons' superior record, and the fact that they swept the season series against Brandon, I'm still inclined to favour the Bobcats in this match up. The inspiration for that bold statement comes from the teams' divergent recent form. For their part, the Bobcats have won their last three matches, including a four-set home decision over the Spartans. More impressively, Kevin Miller has begun to effectively complement the hitting of Paul Sanderson. By comparison, the Bisons lost six straight contests against the best teams in the conference to close their season. Most worrying for Manitoba was the dire results for outside Dane Pischke, who managed only 16 points in two matches against Trinity Western. With teams this closely matched, I'll pick on form.
Prediction: The Bobcats will take this series 2-1 in the closest possible way. Heartbreaker for the Bisons if they do.