Women's Basketball: One Week Left, Top 10 Essentially Finalized

Now, "finalized" is usually an ill-advised term to use -- especially when the season hasn't truly reached completion yet -- but in this case, I think I'm more than justified in doing so. Not only has the cluster of 5 top teams not changed for a fourth consecutive week (albeit there were a few shifts amongst the five, but since no one actually moved to 6th or below, it doesn't count in my books), but there aren't even any league games left in the Canada West, OUA East, or OUA West Divisions.

In fact, of the last 11 games left in the season, 3 are RSEQ games (Laval, UQAM, McGill, Bishop's and Concordia) while the other 8 are AUS (UNB, StFX, Cape Breton, Memorial, Dalhousie, UPEI , Saint Mary's, and Acadia -- CIS league schedule and scores available here). And, since only two non-OUA-or-CanWest teams are in the top 10 coaches poll (UNB and Cape Breton at 8th and 7th place, respectively), it can only be assumed that these spots won't change much. That is, at least Cape Breton's won't: they play last place (0 and 14) UPEI, then match up against their top ten spot mate UNB for one last go. As for the Varsity Reds? Although a loss to Cape Breton won't change anything, a loss to StFX might (and history shows that these two teams have not had easy games against each other in the past).

Ultimately, though, very little looks likely to shift -- and so, twisted fates be damned, I'm putting my foot down and saying: guess what, folks? Things are pretty close to being set in stone.

Granted, we're only talking rankings here, and the playoffs are a whole different kettle of fish. And by whole different, I mean everything is shaken up: the whole structure has been flipped around, and now everything is shaken up. Who's going where? Who knows! The whole world seems changed from back when I played, in that ancient and prehistoric time known merely as "the year they called twenty-ten".

Okay, so I'm exaggerating. It just seems like every time I happen to glance in the direction of a CIS court, there are familiar faces (mixed in with a whole lot of people I don't know anymore) and I feel more distanced from the process than ever. If I were still putting on a jersey today, would my reaction to the top 10 be any different? I don't know. I don't think so -- but I don't know. Everything is just that little bit different when you're looking through the glass of the fishbowl instead of swimming around inside it with everybody else.

And that's why, with a rapidly solidifying mass of playoff competitors, I'm most interested to see how the oldest battle of all holds true: the Herculean clash of East versus West. It was something we always looked forward to (or perhaps dreaded -- I'm old now, it's hard to remember these things) when we played: matching up against a whole bunch of ridiculously strong and talented girls that we had either never played before, or played once in a random tournament at a strange and off-kilter time of the year.

Now, while I have never been one to espouse stereotyping, there are a few things to be aware of when determining el este from el oeste -- it comes down to, in the most basic sense, a difference in playing styles. Granted, I am an old fogey -- I've been retired, what, 11 months now? -- but I'm going to just go on my instincts and say that, for the most part, these differences still exist.

  • Physicality. Western teams tend to be a lot more push-and-shove, knock you around in the paint, cross-arm you through the key on a cut kind of people. Western teams, for some reason (I always said it was a farm thing, since it's especially true in the prairies) are almost always bigger teams, both height and size-wise, and they use this to their advantage. This is a tactic that can work to a team's benefit or detriment, depending on a number of factors that include the refs, the location, and how well they hide their hits and/or manage to keep them within the rules of legal contact.

  • Pressing. Eastern teams, as a general rule, are good at large, spaced-out man or fluid zone presses that get them tons of stolen passes and generally slow things down. You need to get an eight second call? Leave it to an Eastern team. You want the offense to chuck up a rushed shot at the last minute? Ask Windsor how to do it. And you want to see a really scary zone press? Try playing Laval, or Cape Breton -- for some reason, these girls have been trained in this skill from childhood and have honed it to a fine science.

    Western teams, on the other hand, are more inclined to run and jump, run and gun kinds of man presses. That's not to say Western players won't drop into a locked-down zone, but it usually tends to happen post-press: they push you into a corner, switch checks on you, and try to steal off of the dribble; if that doesn't work, they'll sink into a 3-2 zone and keep up the pressure all the way around the three point line.

  • Which brings me to my final point: half court defense. Honestly, it's hard to call on this one because across the board, teams have versatility: zone, man, trick D, you name it -- there's a reason these girls play varsity ball, and there's a reason they're good at it. If I had to really, blatantly stereotype? While most teams seem to prefer man, there is a microscopically higher chance that you will keep seeing man out West than you will out East. And as for style, well, like I said: Western teams will bump you -- hard -- from sideline to sideline, while a team coming out of Ontario is probably more often than not going to jump high on your off-ball screen and block the cut, and make your life hell without even having to touch you.

You want a peroration to this blog, you say? A conclusion of some sort? Well, tonight, I'm not too sure that I can give it to you. Honestly, looking back at what I've wrote, all this does for me is reaffirm that -- despite my continued faith that the top 10 rankings will likely NOT change going into playoffs -- that they will have little bearing, other than placement, on the results in the upcoming playoffs. Keep tuned to your local teams, people, because it's about to hit the fan here. (And hopefully, by the time it does, I'll have figured out something to say that actually has a point.)
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