The points to fixate upon include:
— Carleton and Ottawa going to the matt at Mattamy Athletic Centre in the OUA Wilson Cup semifinal.
— What possibility there is that Calgary, which is nicely ensconced in the No. 3 seed like so much velvet, could lose at home in the Canada West Final Four.
— Whether there is any chance of Dalhousie moving up from the No. 6 seed, the lowest possible for a conference champ. (Answer: probably not.)
Here goes very little:
- Ryerson Rams (OUA champion) — It is about who is healthy and hitting shots, and Ryerson seems fit on each count now that Juwon Grannum is back to fortify their rotation. That crowd at the MAC, where the Rams hosted the 2015 Final 8 but weren't part of competing in the '13 and '14 OUA finals after losing in the quarters, should be something else. There's really no excuse if it isn't. In fact, if there's even a remote possibility of a blah atmosphere, start busing in Brock students.
- Ottawa (OUA runner-up) — Gut feeling is the OUA hierarchy is now Ryerson, Ottawa, Carleton. The Gee-Gees have played in the MAC enough times for it to feel familiar, and shot an effective 52.4% there in January against the fired-up Rams without having Caleb Agada to create matchup problems. They had a bad shooting night (42.9%) in Saturday's near-disastrous narrow escape against Queen's. That can fluctuate positively.
Definitely watch the replay of Ottawa's winning bucket against Queen's. A little more help D and Ottawa is done early.
- Calgary (Canada West champion) — Much will depend on Manitoba-Calgary on Friday night at the Jack Simpson Gym. The Bisons and Dinos split their regular-season series, which was on the U of M's home floor. Calgary is home and ought to be more focused after flirting with getting extended in their series against Alberta. Calgary also shot the three (38.0%) and defended it (27.5%) better than anyone out West.
Now, if Manitoba wins, everything gets cockamamie.
- UBC (host)* — A win against Thompson Rivers on Friday will make everyone breath easier. The 'Birds have the highest SRS of any team outside of Ontario.
- McGill (RSEQ champion) — The Redmen might have lost too many conference games to be considered for anything higher. They have the inside track on the Q title.
- Dalhousie (AUS champion)* — It is official after the Tigers had one-point semifinal and two-point championship-game victories in the AUS Final 6. With 6-foot-5 Sven Stammberger as the lone starter taller than 6-2, Dal is the epitome of scrappy underdog. They slowed and stymied UVic in the 6 vs. 3 quarter-final last March. It would be something to see it history could repeat itself.
- Carleton (wild card) — It would not be the first time that Ottawa and Carleton met at OUAs and again at nationals. Each instance usually happens later. If Carleton is OUA No. 3 and either Manitoba or Thompson Rivers is Canada West No. 3, the Ravens have to be higher.
Carleton would likely be facing an OUA opponent as either a 7 or 8 seed. Understandably, you cannot move a team down to get out of facing a team it saw in the playoffs, and put it up against the higher-seeded team from its conference. That's where we are.
- Manitoba (Canada West auto berth) — It will be Manitoba-Thompson Rivers in a play-in Canada West bronze game if the form holds. The prospective foes are 12th and 13th in the national SRS. The Bisons have a below-average strength of schedule and coach Scott Clark's WolfPack have a really, really bad strength of schedule within CIS competition.
The SRS' value as a predictor is contestable, though. Cases in point: Windsor defeating McMaster, Dal defeating UPEI and Queen's nearly upsetting Ottawa.
For obvious intellectual-honesty reasons, games against non-CIS competition cannot be thrown into the rankings mix; there are too many variables to take the results on face. At the same time, though, it's not as if Thompson Rivers, as a program in Kamloops, B.C., has the budget or the geographical convenience to get the even UBC or UVic on their schedule, let alone major central Canada schools for non-conference games. They have played anyone and everyone: BCCAA, NCAA D2, NAIA.
They have a fifth-year point guard with Reese Pribilisky, and this team from the Interior is solid in the interior with 6-10 Josh Wolfram and 6-7 Volodymyr Iegorov.
Just sayin'. Don't cede that berth to the Bisons just yet. (Actually, now that we've lavished praise on the little-known Explorer Division school, watch them come out flat as the Manitoba prairie on Friday since life is like that.)