TORONTO — Until they meet again — whether that's potentially next Saturday or next Sunday.
A Carleton-Ottawa game can never be meaningless, as the national capital rivals showed once again in the No. 1-ranked Ravens' 72-69 win over the No. 3 Gee-Gees in the OUA Wilson Cup on Saturday night. But the game ought to have had a giant question mark at centre court instead of host Ryerson's stylized R, since really, the question is that omnipresent.
Dave Smart's Ravens and James Derouin's Gee-Gees might be as level with each other as they have ever been going into an Ottawa-staged CIS Final 8. Carleton has scrapped through by five, four and three points against Ottawa, while accruing a 30.2-point winning margin against the rest of CIS. All of their other 'within the CIS' wins have been by double digits.
Carleton, which got 17 points from Wilson Cup MVP Thomas Scrubb and 15 apiece from Phil Scrubb and Clinton Springer-Williams, will seeded No. 1 when the draw is announced Sunday night. Ottawa, which got a 27-point, 10-rebound effort from a foul-limited Warren Ward, believes it has a case to be on the other half of the bracket as the 2 or 3 seed. They're 2nd nationwide in The CIS Blog's RPI, and 3rd in SRS through Saturday. The crux of it is that they haven't lost a game by more than five since the New Year while playing in what is now the country's toughest division.
"Unfortunately the seeding is not always a ranking," Derouin said when asked if Ottawa deserves a shot to face Carleton in the final. "Tournament draws and matchups are often taken into consideration. From a ranking standpoint, you'd like to think we held on to our third spot. From a seeding standpoint, I'll make the case right now that I'd love to see a Carleton-Ottawa final in Ottawa. If it lines up that way, from a tournament standpoint, why wouldn't you do that? Sell out the arena. It'd be wild in there.
"But like I said [Friday], the four times Ottawa been to nationals when Carleton's been there, they've put us in the same side of the draw four out of four times. To be honest with you, I'm expecting the same to happen."
The last the tournament was at Scotiabank Place in 2010, Dave Smart presciently called the Showron Glover-led Saskatchewan Huskies "the best team here" following the Friday quarter-finals. It's a national championship, but in the big small town that is Ottawa, the chance both could play on Sunday could take university hoops beyond its normal reach. Especially with Carleton going for a record ninth national title.
"They’re a really tough matchup every time we play them," Smart said. "They pose a lot of problems for us. If we get the opportunity to play them again, it’s going to be tough to beat ’em four times.
"I think it [both Ottawa teams being high seeds] is really going to help the attendance at the tournament, the excitement around the tournament. I think Ottawa’s got to be a team that people consider a top-three team."
The one catch with the Wilson Cup, unlike the championship game in the AUS Final 6, the event Ontario University Athletics has used as a model for its Final Four, is that both teams go in knowing they have another weekend of hoops. The worst fear is that one team comes out disinterested and/or gets blown out, or worse still, the other plays down to that level ("there's always a risk of that when there's nothing on the line except a banner," Derouin said). Despite Ward sitting for 10 minutes in the first half after getting two fouls in the first 3:50, Ottawa stayed in sight of Carleton, entertaining a crowd in the 1,000 range that, judging from the ThunderStix census, was firmly behind the Gee-Gees.
It was like it was ordained from on high that the margin between these two has to keep getting closer every time they play — five points at the Capital Hoops Classic, four in the triple-overtime regular-season finale on Ottawa's floor two weeks ago, three on Saturday. Ottawa wouldn't go away, while Carleton, reminiscent of the three-OT game, felt it didn't manage the endgame well. Smart called timeout to set up the inbound after an Ottawa trey with 4.7 seconds left extended the game, only to have Ottawa force a five-second violation. The Gee-Gees called for Ward to take the final shot, but his deep three over Thomas Scrubb was off to the right.
That affirmed the lesson of the day. Carleton is a long way from being able to relax.
"There's still lots to work on, we’ve got to be at our best for nationals next weekend," forward Tyson Hinz said. "That’s two times we’ve played them where we haven’t executed in the last few minutes, that’s something we have to work on. This game was good because it really points out your flaws when you get that experience in a close game.
"They’re a good team. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them again."
If that doesn't happen, well, c'est la vie. Ottawa has fallen one win short of the Final 8 in three of the past five years and lost handily in the quarter-final in its last trip in 2009, so getting there is a blessing.
"We're going to be in front of family, friends, high school teachers, coaches, we know we can do it," said guard Johnny Berhanemeskel, who noted the prospect of having long-time acquaintances aligned with the Ravens will just be that much more enlivening.
"That's their choice," he said moments after getting a see-you-soon handshake from Smart in the arena hallway. "They're going to be there and that's going to make it more fun."
Carleton controls the boards
The determining factor, as it so often is, was on the boards. Otherwise it was dead even.
"They killed us on the glass, 17 offensive rebounds," said Derouin, whose club was outrebounded 40-28 overall. "Those extra possessions for a team like that, you could give up eight, nine or 10. It's unfortunate. If you look at both games, our field-goal percentage defence against Windsor (which shot an effective 34 per cent Friday) and Carleton (41.9% eFG on Saturday), it's just spectacular. But they keep getting extra possessions. That really stings."
Meantime, in about 18 hours we will know whether the respectful rivalry could be renewed again in the national final. It is a rivalry that suits Ottawa, the city of reasonable accommodation. The city has its two OUA programs with two distinct followings; no big deal if someone's true colours clash with yours.
"We probably just don't talk as much during the week," is how Berhanemeskel describes the anticipation. "But you know they want the best for you."