This week's fresh edition of the CIS men's volleyball Top 10 looks eerily similar to the list issued last week. Voters evidently placed about as much faith in Queen's upset win as I did, while Canada West series splits cancelled themselves out. The result is no official movement, but I will find some room to play devil's advocate.
The official CIS rankings can be found here. SRS and RPI rankings (and the numbers behind them) are listed here.
With no movers whatsoever to speak of this week, we'll dive straight into the match up you should be watching this weekend if you're drunk enough to stomach amateur commentary and campus-grade ad campaigns.
One to Watch:
UBCO Heat vs. Thompson Rivers WolfPack - Friday, Feb. 10 and Saturday, Feb. 11 (8:00 p.m. PST)
I'm tempted to go with the upcoming series between Alberta and Brandon in this spot, as I think the two matches in Manitoba will provide an intriguing measurement of the Bobcats' progress this season. But instead, I'll go with the one match up that has very real playoff implications: the weekend doubleheader between the Thompson Rivers WolfPack and the UBCO Heat. I should say that I have a bit of a vested interest in this one, as I picked the Heat as my sleeper team at the beginning of the season, and would love to see them squeak into the postseason for the sake of my own bloated ego.
The task is simple but surely not easy: beat the WolfPack on consecutive nights at home to leapfrog Winnipeg and take the final playoff spot in the Canada West shark tank. While the young Thompson Rivers outfit is currently dead last in conference standings with a paltry record of 3-15, there is one sure-fire truism in CIS men's volleyball: there is no easy match to be had West of Ontario. Add to that the fact that the WolfPack will undoubtedly be desperate to dig themselves out of the cellar on the final weekend of the schedule, and we're almost guaranteed to see some fireworks between the two teams in Kelowna.
The Absolutely Unofficial Caldwellian Rankings (CR)
#1 Trinity Western Spartans (17-1) (CIS:1 SRS:1 RPI:1)
Trinity Western has been so dominant this year that all four ranking systems (scientific, biased, and just downright voodoo) elevate the Spartans to the top of the pack. There's really no argument to be made otherwise. After dropping their only match of the year to Manitoba a week and a half ago, the Spartans knuckled down and swept in turn. Two matches against the Thunderbirds conclude TWU's season this weekend, and despite UBC being a good team I see no reason for them to claim more than a set in Langley.
#2 Manitoba Bisons (16-2) (CIS:2 SRS:2 RPI:3)
The Bisons continue to roll toward the finish line and face a relatively easy final task this upcoming weekend at home against the Saskatchewan Huskies. Manitoba's chemistry, offensive balance, and staunch backcourt defence (the Bisons are second in the CIS in team digs with 836) are serving them well at the moment. Another date with Trinity Western seems highly likely - this time in one-off knockout format.
#3 Laval Rouge et Or (17-0) (CIS:3 SRS:4 RPI:2)
I always twitch a little bit when I rank Laval this highly, because the Rouge et Or seem to play out the exact same narrative every year: dominate the conference, make a mockery of the playoffs, and subsequently fall to a seasoned Canada West outfit at the business end of the CIS Championships. The first of these steps has been accomplished already, with the second soon to follow. Whether the third act will play out according to the script remains to be seen. My cynical inclination is to believe so.
#4 Alberta Golden Bears (14-4) (CIS:4 SRS:3 RPI:4)
The Golden Bears have been able to seemingly flourish regardless of whatever situation has been thrown at them. Earlier in the year, attacking jack-of-all-trades Jay Olmstead went down with a minor injury. Alberta kept winning. This past weekend, it was Mitch Irvine's turn to ride the pine. And Alberta kept winning. Brandon will provide an interesting test, but I would put my money on the Golden Bears to - you guessed it - keep winning.
#5 Western Mustangs (16-2) (CIS:5 SRS:7 RPI:5)
I was pleasantly surprised today to find that CIS voters did not penalize the Mustangs for their Saturday loss to Queen's. It was a loose match from a team with nothing to lose and not much to gain, hardly representative of a rollback in form from Western. With their conference schedule completed, the Mustangs spend the next few weeks polishing the floor and cleaning out the bleachers at Alumni Hall, where the OUA Final Four will make a second consecutive appearance.
#6 Brandon Bobcats (10-8) (CIS:8 SRS:6 RPI:13)
This is where I chose to take my somewhat bold departure from the national rankings as decided by the coaches. Let me be clear: Brandon and UBC are practically inseparable at this point, as I detailed in yesterday's recap post. However, as the team on the hot streak and the one that snatched 4 of a possible 6 sets from the Thunderbirds in Vancouver, I'll pick Brandon at six this week. The Bobcats have won 8 of their last 9 matches and appear to be playing the best volleyball of their season. This run of form could (and probably will) come to a screeching halt this coming weekend when the Manitoban team plays host to Alberta. But at this very moment, Brandon is the hotter team.
#7 UBC Thunderbirds (10-8) (CIS:6 SRS:5 RPI:12)
UBC remains within the upper echelon in Canada West, but are enduring somewhat of a cold patch having lost 5 of their last 7 matches while dropping points to the likes of Thompson Rivers, Winnipeg, and Brandon. That slump of sorts isn't likely to improve this weekend, as the Thunderbirds visit Langley to take on the mighty Spartans. Expect UBC to finish with a .500 record.
#8 Calgary Dinos (9-9) (CIS:7 SRS:8 RPI:10)
This ranking is likely a bit harsh for a team that could very well find itself finishing fourth in the Canada West standings by the end of this weekend. But quite frankly, I don't like the way the Dinos have been playing and I don't trust their lineup against much other than cardboard opposition. Unable to feed the ball to their best player (Graham Vigrass) on a consistent basis, Calgary has turned to an inconsistent stable of outside hitters, and an import middle who - while freakishly tall - is not much more than a decoration offensively. I could be wrong, but I don't see Calgary - my favourite from last season - making it out of the conference this time around.
#9 McMaster Marauders (13-3) (CIS:9 SRS:9 RPI:6)
Right now, the Marauders are simply bent on staying the course, as their path to the OUA Final Four appears to be a fairly simple one. Toronto and York loom this weekend, but neither should pose a serious test unless the Maroon and Grey are mentally vacationing in the style of the Mustangs. Then it's off to a softball of a quarterfinal, and the anxious wait for another shot at the Mustangs begins in earnest.
#10 Winnipeg Wesmen (7-13) (CIS:10 SRS:10 RPI: 16)
The Wesmen have the unenviable task of scoreboard watching this weekend, as their playoff future rests on the results of the UBCO-TRU matches. A series split will see the Wesmen go through thanks to a superior set win-loss differential, but should UBCO win both matches, the first-year member of the CIS will see playoff action. Even if Winnipeg manages to scrape into the postseason, the Wesmen would almost certainly exit at the hands of their crosstown rival Bisons in the quarterfinals.