Before we get started with this year's teams, let's take a quick look at last year. Did those teams end up improving after all?
- UFV, men's basketball: Expected to go from 4-8 (10th) to 10-14 or 11-13 (8th). Actual final record: 10-14 (7th).
- Acadia, men's basketball: Expected to go from 6 points (tied for 4th) to 27 (4th alone). Actual final record: 22 points (4th).
They did worse we expected in the regular season, but ironically made the Final 8 anyway.
- McMaster, men's basketball: Expected to go from 3-5 (t-7th) to 10-12 (6th). Actual final record: 11-11 (4th).
Also not bad. The OUA West after the top three teams was a little screwy last year with everyone at 11-11 or 9-13.
- Guelph, men's hockey: Expected to go from 18 points (t-6th) to 31 (5th). Actual final record: 33 points (4th).
An up-and-down 2011, but the Gryphs nonetheless finished about where we expected.
- Nipissing, men's hockey: Expected to go from 19 points (t-5th) to 31 (4th). Actual final record: 37 points (4th).
They certainly improved, even if I didn't have them winning every second-half game but two.
- RMC, women's volleyball: Expected to go from 2-5 (t-5th) to 7-12 or 8-11 (4th). Actual final record: 7-12 (4th).
This one made me look smart.
So that's six teams, four of which finished within a game of their predicted records. I'll take that.
And now, this year's teams, in men's and women's basketball and men's hockey and volleyball, who might surprise in the second half. (That is, they would surprise you if you didn't read this first...)
Now: 3-7, 9th place in Canada West
Expected: 8-12, 7th place
Swing games: Jan. 13/14 at Brandon, Feb. 3/4 at Saskatchewan, Feb. 10/11 vs. Thompson Rivers (last games of season)
Seventh isn't high, but it's high enough to make the playoffs in Canada West (7 of 11 qualify, with the No. 1 seed receiving a bye to the Final Four) and the Heat might just get there. They've played the toughest schedule in all of CIS so far, and while they haven't had the success of an Alberta (2nd-toughest schedule, 13-7 overall) or Manitoba (third-toughest, 17-3), their 7-15 record is somewhat deceptive.
Now, of course, the problem is that they've won merely one of their last 22 sets. But, again, those games were against the top seeds — Manitoba, TWU, Calgary, UBC, and so on. And while Alberta and Brandon remain on their schedule, so do 4-8 Regina, 2-10 TRU, and 1-9 Saskatchewan.
They have ten games left, and at least four are very winnable.
Now: 8-5-3 (19 points), 7th in OUA East
Expected: 13-7-8 (34 points), 4th or 5th
Swing games: Jan. 8 at Ottawa, Feb. 4 at Nipissing, any game vs. Ryerson
The Blues are this year's team who'll benefit from a second-half schedule loaded with RMC. (Last year it was Nipissing.)
They're just a point behind each of Carleton and Concordia, with two games in hand over the Stingers, so moving up to fifth isn't a problem. Overtaking Ottawa might be more difficult, but maybe it won't be: the Blues have a cupcake schedule (10 games against RMC, Queen's, and Ryerson) whereas the Gee-Gees do not (zero games against those teams).
Ultimately, it won't matter much, since both U of T and Ottawa will make the playoffs anyway, and they might even play each other.
Now: 2-6, tied for 8th
Expected: 7-13, 5th
Swing games: Jan. 12 at Brandon, Jan. 27/28 at Regina, Feb. 10/11 at Calgary
This isn't the first time we've been somewhat high on the Wesmen ... hopefully this time we're more accurate in our optimism.
David Larkins (of The Feed and the Winnipeg Sun) was not high on this team in his season preview and we've asked him via e-mail for his thoughts on whether they can make a run at a playoff spot.
"Winnipeg's depth is better this year but I would have figured they'd struggle to get to .500 coming into this season.
"To me the biggest thing needed in a turnaround is a better defensive presence, more physicality on that end and in rebounding, and a PG to help get easier shots. I don't personally see that happening, but that's the ideal situation."
Andrew Cunningham, out of Toronto's Eastern Commerce by way of Oklahoma's Redlands Community College and sidelined so far with a broken foot, was supposed to help out with "depth and scoring ability", per Larkins, but the injury made that impossible in the first half.
"Cunningham's return is critical because the Wesmen are completely exposed at the PG," he continued. "Craig Sharpe is a battler and a good kid, but he's not a weapon on either end. Teams lay off him when he's on the perimeter, he's turnover-prone and he's defensively suspect.
"The Wesmen knew they'd have to have a strong defensive team this season and I just don't think it's happened. They struggle to score (again Cunningham will assist this greatly), and that's put an even greater pressure on their defence."
Even if it's unlikely that the Wesmen qualify for the playoffs, it's worth pointing out that UBC's not in a great position: they're two losses behind UVic and are ahead of UFV only on percentage points. They play the same teams as UVic, plus two against TRU, so they can certainly make up that deficit. But UFV doesn't have a game left against a team currently above .500.
Now: 5-3, tied for 5th
Expected: 13-9, 4th
Swing games: Jan. 4 vs. McMaster, Jan. 27/28 vs. Lakehead, Feb. 4 at Guelph
A 5-2 record against the non-Carleton OUA East teams is not perfect, obviously, but it's not the end of the season either.
In his OUA West first-half review, our Greg Colgan mentioned that he might have been too generous calling a third-place finish for the Lancers, but maybe it's not so optimistic. He still expects them to improve, riding Enrico Di Loreto, Josh Collins, and Lien Phillip "as far as they can take them."
Including Windsor here also gives us an excuse to run another edition of This Week In Chris Oliver: "A big step in life is when you realize other people can help you do a better job than you would do alone."
Now: 2-3, 4 points, 6th place
Expected: 28 or 30 points, 4th place
Swing games: Jan. 11 at CBU, Jan. 21 vs. CBU, Jan. 29 at Dalhousie, Feb. 15 at CBU, Feb. 18/19 at Memorial, Feb. 25 vs. Saint Mary's (last game of season)
The Capers are themselves another team who could improve, and obviously with three games left against each other, they and the X-Women will be battling more than these natural rivals usually do.
For X, though, it's one of those things that seems like it could go either way. They're 2-3 in AUS play and 6-5 overall against a slightly weak schedule, so 28 points* could be a little too optimistic. We'll see.
* I suppose I could tell you what 28 points translates to in wins and losses, but given the points system in the AUS, that would pretty much require me to run the extended Euclidean algorithm, something I told myself I would never do again.
Now: 4-3, 4th place
Expected: 14-6, 2nd place
Swing game: Jan. 7 at UBC
10-3 is quite the second-half record. But "4-3" is misleading, as this Huskies team is 10-4 overall. So 10-3 is certainly doable.
Manitoba and Brandon will likely help them with four of those wins, not to mention TRU and UBC-O and Winnipeg. But they're favoured in so many games, by at least a 70:30 margin, that there's really only one swing game we will mention here — their second game back, in Vancouver.
Finishing second rather than fourth means a home playoff series, but their opponent in either case will likely be from the UFV/UVic/UBC set, each of which is top 15 in RPI nationwide. Of course, those B.C. teams will probably have to play someone in the top 6 (Regina/Saskatchewan/Alberta), so either way you look at it, it's a tough order.