Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The first round(s) of playoffs have come and gone, but not without their share of drama -- big, shocking, Melissa-Leo-drops-the-first-ever-recorded-f-bomb-in-an-Oscars-speech drama -- including, but surely not limited to: UFV's sweep of previously-ninth-ranked Winnipeg in the CW quarter finals; Windsor's come-from-behind-at-the-end OUA West championship win; and -- perhaps most importantly -- Laurier's remarkable (and also come-from-behind) upset of Western in the OUA quarterfinals, which forced Western to a last-chance effort at fifth place to secure a regional spot (which they will have to complete this weekend, against (OUA East 3rd-place) Ottawa.

As for my predictions? 12-12 UFV over 20-4 Winnipeg? I can't say I called that one. OUA 3rd-place Laurier over OUA 2nd-place Western? Seems like a closer match, but rankings don't accurately indicate the disparity: Western has taken down CIS giant Windsor once before, and the strength of their starting five is, in all honesty, not accurately shown by their 19-3 record. And as for Laurier -- who, a mere night before fought like dogs for a 2-point berth over the Mustangs - grabbing a one-point lead over the Lancers with mere minutes to spare, then (despite not pulling off the W) ending with a mere 6-point differential (65-59)? No, I really didn't see that one coming either. And yet, there it was: it happened. And so, all I can really do is shake my head and say, wow... that sure was a heck of a playoff weekend.

The most interesting thing about Laurier's upset of Western is, really, in the statistics -- you would think that (as past history has shown), a powerhouse team needs to have a particularly "off" game in order to get upset at a given time. And yet, not so in this case: post dynamo Matteke Hutzler paced her team with a huge 23 points (while three others added double-digit scores to the total), and the Mustangs actually beat the Golden Hawks in rebounds in that game, 33-31.

In fact, the stats overall appear eerily similar between the two teams: both shot sub-par totals from beyond the arc (3-16 for Western and 4-15 for Laurier); both were in the 70-percents shooting from the free throw line; both shot 48% from the floor; and Western only managed two blocks, while Laurier could only tack up one.

So what was the true cause, then? How did Laurier come back from a 14-point three quarter deficit and manage to pop in those final 2? Honestly, the game -- at least from a viewer/statistician's perspective -- could have gone either way, and this appears to be just another one of those moments of right-shot-at-the-right-time-ish-ness. That's the nature of playoffs, though -- actually, the nature of sport period -- but I will bet you good money that after a close loss like that (and after Windsor nearly falling fate to the same circumstance), neither OUA West juggernaut plans to let someone get that close to their throats again.

What it really comes down to, though, is at this time of year, predictions become increasingly hard to make: teams add new plays and defenses, underdogs come out snarling, and favourites get hotheaded, or overconfident, or just accidentally have an off game, and suddenly Ws are being handed out to teams -- and against teams -- that you would never imagine to get them. "Now is the winter of our discontent," as they say; or, in basketball-speak, "Now is the March of our Madness." Nothing is really for certain at this point (though, really, was there ever a point it was?) and so, as far as predictions go, I will keep them both short and sweet and small in number (although, lost bets be damned, I am still going to stick my neck out and make them no matter what anyone tells me).

Concordia-UQAM March 2nd (semi-final RSEQ 2): despite Concordia's lower ranking, I see them taking the win off UQAM. Jean-Phillipe and Barrett will make big things happen, but don't expect a three-point contest.

UFV-Saskatchewan March 4th (Canada West semifinal 1): Saskatchewan without a doubt. UFV had more than luck on their side when they swept Winnipeg -- the team earned both those wins, without a doubt -- but they just won't be able to keep up with the fearsome combo of the Huskies' fast break, outside shooting, and powerful inside guns.

And finally, Ottawa-Western March 5th (OUA 5th place): Western, Western, Western. Like I said, Hutzler is near-unstoppable, and she's got the backup to go with it. Besides, no good team will let a single upset affect the rest of their playoff hopes -- and Western is a darn good team, who I expect to not only see at nationals, but depending on placement, make a crack at top 4 (or even top 2) as well.

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