Akiem Hicks with the Regina Rams in 2011 and with the CFL's Chicago Bears in 2016, when he had seven sacks.
There are 27 football-playing universities across our country. There are also, give or take a special teams selection, 27 spots to fill when an all-star team is chosen.

A fun writing exercise — read: it's summer and there's not a lot going on — was hatched from that numerical coincidence. Pick an all-star team drawing from the past 40-some years of the university game while using only one player from each team. No loading the lines with Lavals (any number of CFL all-star linemen), or stacking the team with 'Stangs (do you pick two-time Hec Crighton Trophy winner Tim Tindale who went on to NFL glory with the Buffalo Bills or record-setting receiver Andy Fantuz, who won a receiving title in the CFL?)

Talk about a Sophie's Choice, although this does not purport to be some all-time all-star team. Leaving out defunct programs (or the departed, hey there Simon Fraser) means being unable to select a legit legend such as Tony Proudfoot, since he played at the University of New Brunswick.

Another controlled variable was confining choices to a loosely defined modern era. A hard-line historian type would say the modern era begins in 1965 with the establishment of the Vanier Cup. Or 1967, the centennial year, when the format went from an invitational to a four-team playoff, 47 years before the U.S. finally got one. As a habitual goalpost-mover, I'll slide the start of the modern era to some point around 1971, when the Old Four (Queen's, Western, McGill and University of Toronto) was phased out and the current four-conference alignment began taking shape in earnest.

Canada West has changed its playoff format to give tournament teams more rest before travelling to a Final 8. That's good. 

The RPI-offs are continuing, but with a tweak to the formula. That's bad. 

But instead of a one-game play-in for the Final 8, the semifinals will be best-of-three. That's good.

But the RPI is still in use. That's bad.
Canada West certainly had some imperative to change after UBC went splat in the quarter-finals against Manitoba and the conference subsequently went 0-6 at the women's and men's nationals.

First it was 36 years without a trip to the University Cup; now it has taken some 36 hours for Queen's men's hockey to make it to Fredericton.

(Update: while both stranded teams seem to see the humour in the situation, at this writing, 1:45 a.m. on March 16, Rte. 132 which both teams would take to New Brunswick is closed. U Sports has, according to sources, turned down Queen's appeal to postpone its game against UNB, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. AT/6 p.m. ET on Thursday. So either it will be a very road-weary Queen's team hitting the ice, or no Queen's team at all.)

Due to a major accumulation of snow throughout eastern Canada, both the 5-seed Gaels and 8-seed McGill — who each play Thursday, natch — have been hampered getting to the tournament. Queen's flight out on Tuesday was cancelled due to the weather, so a bus was arranged for the team to make the trip. Then the travelling party met with highway closures. Neither will be there in time for the all-Canadian awards dinner traditionally held on the eve of the tournament.

As if facing UNB and red-hot St. Francis Xavier was not daunting enough.

Ontario University Athletics is throwing out the RPI baby with the bathwater.

It's unofficial, of course, but an informed source has corroborated the CUSN reports from the Final 8 about another realignment being in store for basketball. What was old three years ago is new again. The conference is going back to East and West divisions with cross-over semifinals — but no single-site Final Four.

On the one hand, admitting there were unintended consequences to the 'RPI-offs' and going back to the tried-and-true is understandable. At the same time, it's not hard to read some OUA politics into a decision that would put Carleton, Ottawa and Ryerson in the same division with no mechanism for all three to be in the final four with a chance to go to nationals (as long as there's only one at-large berth, the seeding committee is probably not going to have the stones to pick a Top 5 team which was a quarter-finalist; just ask UBC. But more on that in a bit).

The switch to RPI-offs, regardless of the execution, was supposed to address that imbalance. It was also flexible since it allowed for the possibility, however theoretical, that four schools in Toronto and westward could be the class of the conference. Reverting to two divisions exhumes the inequity that occurred in both 2013 and '14, when Ryerson's men's team was a tournament-worthy team but was left out after losing to Ottawa in the East semifinal.

It is human nature to think there ought to be a way to solve something irksome without thinking of the practicalities of said way. That seems to be the subtext for the suggestion there was some great injustice with decision to award the at-large berth to Canada West bronze medallist Calgary instead of OUA bronze medallist Brock (as predicted).
The spur for doing this has always been to try to be a rational actor and give people an idea of how the Final 8 seeding rules work. Whether those rules are righteous or wrongheaded or whether the system goes too far in trying to quantify signature wins is a parallel conversation. Everyone agreed to play by these rules. You can say have play-in games, a Final 10, a Final 12, a Final 16 and say "what would the NCAA do?!" Given all the challenges U Sports faces both internally and externally, it might be better to play the pragmatist and appreciate that we still get to see eight teams spread out over nearly 6,000 kilometres still convene in Halifax for a national championship.

I say all of that, believe you me, knowing it is not for nothing the Louis CK clip open in another Chrome tab just got to the "you need to go once in a while, 'uh, I'm kind of an asshole' " part. The above paragraph probably comes off that way to a few people, but I am okay with that reaction.

The recency factor is strong with the seeding for the Bronze Baby. Carleton and Saskatchewan, the winners of the two big conferences, are seeded 1-2 whilst the automatic qualifiers from their conferences, third-seeded Queen's and fifth-seeded Regina, are not potential semifinal opponents.

By the way, whoever in the U Sports office did up the graphic might have wanted to display the teams in a way that illustrated the bracket. For a second it looked like Saskatchewan was playing Cape Breton.

A juxtaposition of the sportgeist in Canada in 2017. On Friday in Kingston, 700 people watched the men's team in our national sporting obsession play for a berth in the Canadian championship. On Saturday, there was a turn-away crowd of 1,900-plus to watch the women's basketball team at the same school. Don't worry, surely no one in a position of influence to do anything about the media coverage noticed.

Anyway, the carefully plotted brackets have been reduced to rumble like the protagonist in the second act of a Will Ferrell comedy:
The seeding is a total mess and you ought to love it.

Ryerson completed a capital double, defeating Carleton for the Wilson Cup thanks to Manny Diressa going off for 24 points in the second half and, speaking of dynamic dyads, Adam Voll and Keevon Small combining for nine blocked shots. History does not play the games in the present, of course. Ryerson with floor leaders Diressa, Adika Peter-McNeilly and Juwon Grannum will go into the Final 8 with much more shared experienced with the tournament and what's involved with being a No. 1 seed.

Meantime, Carleton will get a matinee game in the quarter-final for the fourth consecutive year, since Dalhousie is probably in the 4 vs. 5 game and the host Tigers will play in the evening session. Clearly Carleton doesn't mind the extra recovery period. The Ravens have also won the national championship the last five times (2006, '07, '11, '14 and '16) that it was not OUA playoff champion.
The task at hand isn't predictions, though, it's seeding.
Being No. 1 in the country one week and being left out the next, well, that's more than most 21-year-olds can handle. It appears that fate will befall McMaster, who has the best overall record in the country but also had a soft schedule with a non-conference slate that included four Atlantic teams and four-win Mount Royal.

Still, what hath RPI wrought, Chapter Keleven:
  • Laval will back into an at-large berth in spite of losing two of its last three games (and it could have been three of four). Being two wins away from an auto-berth is only one of the four criteria and does not appear to take priority.

    The rules state "If any team is the only team to lead two, three or four of these categories following the conclusion of conference playoffs, it will be awarded the at-large berth." Laval has the highest RPI for non-conference and playoff games (.658) and highest SRS (20.78). They also own the tiebreaker for wins against the Top 12 teams in RPI, having gone 12-3.

    Of course, the cluster effect in RPI meant four of the five Quebec teams ended up in the Top 12. However, Laval went out of province for seven of their 10 non-conference games and will have played potentially five tournament teams: Alberta, Carleton, Queen's, Saint Mary's and (duh) the Concordia-McGill winner.
  • We also know Canada West's RPI-offs also spit back a seeding that put two best women's teams, Regina and Winnipeg, on a collision course to be in the same auto-berth game. The No. 2-ranked Cougars won by double digits, so there's a chance the national title isn't leaving the province. Winnipeg apparently is toast, though.
  • There was a great deal of fluidity among the OUA's four best teams that, now that I think of it, broke down on geographical lines, really. Under RPI, Queen's and Carleton were 1-2 with McMaster and Windsor 3-4. Hypothetically, under a SRS-based format, McMaster would have got the first seed, with Windsor second, Queen's third and Carleton fourth.

    The semifinals were close, but ultimately the teams from the 613 who were either playing at home, or not far from it, are through. 
Laval should stay within the first five to six seeds. The inner cynic also feels like there is a chance that in a Canada West-hosted Final 8, we'll see the two Ontario teams in the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds. Carleton and Queen's is enough of a rivalry that neither team will start thinking about whether it's advantageous to be the No. 3 seed, on the off chance that Laval winds up being shunted to the No. 7 seed.

At this late hour, pending the results of conference finals on Saturday, here is what we have:

  1. Regina (Canada West champion). Managed to defeat Winnipeg with Katie Polischuk, their star, being limited to eight points. That is a deep team.

    Regina's thing is winning the Friday night get-to-nationals game and losing the league final on Saturday. So there will be motivation to get the win.
  2. Queen's (OUA champion). Going on the theory that Queen's depth and defence will win the day against Carleton, which had 20 turnovers during its one-point win against McMaster.
  3. Carleton (OUA auto-berth). Carleton's post player extraordinaire Heather Lindsay went a season-high 34 minutes on Friday, only the second time all season she's had to go into the 30s. To put that in context, though, Queen's also shortened its rotation in order to get by Windsor. One wonders how each team resets. Then again, they might just end up playing again in seven days' time.
  4. Saskatchewan (Canada West auto-berth). Somehow in our sleep deprivation we forgot who won the other Canada West semifinal. Sorry Saskatchewan! Your shade of green is nicer than U of R's anyway.
  5. Saint Mary's (AUS champion). The preliminaries in the AUS Final 6 were fun, but Saint Mary's has business to finish over the next two days.
  6. McGill (RSEQ champion). Split the season series with Concordia, but no one won two in a row and the Stingers won the most recent game. So ipso facto ...
  7. Laval (at large). They are better than Alberta and McMaster over the full run of the season.
  8. Victoria (host). Same as it ever was.
I am at least 83 per cent sure that I read the rules correctly and Laval has the wild card. 
The red door at Jack Simpson Gym got painted Manitoba Bisons brown on Friday. The topper of what has been a riveting soirée of auto-bid games in roundball and rubber-disc alike was definitely Manitoba and Amirjit (A.J.) Basi upending Thomas Cooper and Calgary 74-72 for a Final 8 berth, earning the school's first tournament ticket in 31 seasons.
How long has it been since Manitoba was in the tournament? Let's see. The GPAC was still around. The school's hockey coach that season was Barry Trotz.

All coach Kerby Schepp's Bisons have done was defeat UBC and Calgary in their gyms. No big deal. Judging by Manitoba's 25 turnovers, it must not have been pretty on Friday, but they harried Cooper into a 6-of-24, 17-point night and shot an effective 57.5 per cent (25-of-53, 11 triples) to cancel out 25 turnovers.

If you like close games -- I mean really like -- then this is the stuff for you:
  • Ryerson, by the margin of fifth-year Adika Peter-McNeilly getting a last-second block on Brandon Robinson, defeated Ottawa 76-75 and will go to the tournament for the fourth time in six seasons.
  • Saint Mary's escaped 80-79 against St. Francis Xavier in an AUS quarter-final after league MVP Kevin Bercy missed a free throw with three seconds left.
What this all means? Sadly, for Ottawa, it probably means that that UBC or Calgary (if it wins the Canada West bronze game) is the wild card. Neither team got it done on its home floor, whereas Ottawa, as the No. 2 seed in OUA, had to try to win on a neutral site (yes, it was in the same city, but the Ravens' Nest is never going to be home turf for an Ottawa team).
The wild card might be UBC. It all depends on the definition of "cluster," since Brock, Calgary, Ottawa and Saskatchewan will be in the first cluster of teams that lost an auto-bid/play-in game. The second cluster consists of UBC and UBC alone, but the Thunderbirds grade out first in five out of the nine criteria.
  1. Regular-season conference record: UBC (Ottawa is second).
  2. Strength of schedule (RPI): Ottawa (UBC is fourth).
  3. Games vs. other teams under berth considerations or already qualified: UBC
  4. Record in non-conference games: UBC 
  5. Average Top 10 ranking after Nov. 15: UBC 
  6. Conference game record vs. teams with >.800 winning percentage: Saskatchewan
  7. Conference game record vs. teams with >.650 winning percentage: UBC
  8. Conference game record vs. teams with >.500 winning percentage: Calgary (UBC is second)
  9. Conference game record vs. teams with <.500 winning percentage: UBC and Ottawa (tied)
  10. Playoff performance: Obviously, UBC is last and arguably, the OUA bronze medallist is first.
Another way to present that is to show each team's ranking in each category in chart form, with the lowest total understandably being better. It all depends on how much UBC is dropped for not being a conference semifinalist.

Some of the rankings need to be split. Neither Calgary nor UBC faced an above-.800 team in regular-season play, while Calgary and Saskatchewan each went 3-4 against above-.650 competition.

Reg-sea.SOSTTN-CTop 10A800A650A500B500Playoffs*Total
Brock 424442445437

Saskatchewan defeating Calgary in the Canada West bronze game would bump UBC into first in conference game record against above-.500 teams.

The intention of the criteria is clear: try to find a way to evaluate the body of work and find a way to quantify the concept of signature wins. I suppose Ottawa, should it get left out, can use this as a bittersweet teaching moment. They were 0-4 against Carleton and Ryerson, teams whom they have handled in regular-season and league playoff games. But they could also wonder why their 0-4 is considered inferior to Calgary and UBC each being 0-0.

Similarly, the two OUA aspirants get dinged since the conference had only five of its 19 teams finish in the black. That was somewhat an effect of a top-heavy league, but also an effect of the only slightly unbalanced schedule. Canada West, of course, plays mix-and-match (10 opponents drawn from a pool of 16). Yet the rules instruct the committee to see those as one and the same, apparently?

It's getting quite late back here in the East, so here's a stab at an updated bracket.

  1. Carleton (OUA champion). The Ravens won't lose a Wilson Cup on their home floor. Full disclosure, I cannot even the last time Carleton played for one at home. Might have been in 2010. 
  2. Ryerson (OUA auto-berth). First team since York in 2005-06 to win two OUA games in a season in Ottawa. 
  3. McGill (RSEQ champion). About the only ranked team outside Ontario that is still standing.  
  4. Dalhousie (AUS champion). In through the front door.
  5. Manitoba (Canada West champion). The hottest team in the country, but Alberta has Mamadou Gueye.
  6. Alberta (Canada West auto berth). Alberta against McGill in March and it's in basketball not hockey? Highly irregular, but we'll go along with it. We'll let it ride with Manitoba winning on Saturday based on the convenience sample of their wins against UBC. The Golden Bears lost their two games against UBC by a combined 36 points, but some basic empathy would suggest they just got depleted in the second game. 
  7. UBC (at large). "Results of regional playoffs must be respected." The T-Birds should not be ahead of the other two Canada West teams, then?

    One might as well set them up with a rematch against Ryerson. Sequels aren't as good as originals, though! The Thunderbirds' gauntlet would also include either pesky McGill or a conference opponent who knows them well.

    The distaste for taking a team that lost in the second round in the playoffs is fully acknowledged; the point is that UBC wins most of the categories. If that's a reason to revise the categories, well I'll just trail off and look into space.
  8. UNB (AUS runner-up, de facto host team). Javon Masters against Theon Reefer. And nothing else matters.

    UNB, Alberta and McGill in a tournament in march it's in basketball not hockey? Oh, you heard that one?
Essentially, 10 teams extant in OUA and Canada West, plus Laval and long, long shot McGill are in the at-large berth conversation.

One need not be reminded of Article 4.2.3 -- remember the two weeks we spent at U Sports Playing Regulations Fantasy Camp? -- and knows the four elements that make up the selection criteria for an at-large berth.

After Saturday's games, here's how those 10 teams stack up in each category, sorted by average rank. The third criteria is how many wins a team was short of qualifying, and of course we don't know that yet:


This shows who the eventual third-place team in OUA has to hope like hell doesn't end up third in Canada West and vice-versa. And they have to hope Laval doesn't faceplant in the RSEQ Final 4. The Rouge et Or will go in stress-tested; they lost an overtime game against McGill in their reg-season finale and needed a Claudia Emond triple with 2.2 seconds left to defeat UQAM in their penultimate game.

(Live it, learn it, love it: following university hoops means knowing the seeding criteria for the Final 8.)

Manitoba 79, UBC 75?

Honestly, stating last week "fifth-placed Manitoba is scrappy with A.J. Basi at point guard" was just ass-talking, but ass-talking is a skill its own right. The No. 2-ranked Thunderbirds now have to win three do-or-done games in a row -- two against the Bisons plus the auto-bid game at the Canada West final four -- to go into the Final 8 through the front door.

UBC took seven more shots than Manitoba and had five fewer turnovers, so it's not like they played badly. They just didn't hit enough threes (4-of-18) or sink their free throws (13-of-25).

Just to be prepared, let's imagine the Final 8 if the Thunderbirds faceplant. Which they're not going to do. Or so you would think. The picture changes a little:
  1. Carleton (OUA champion). Everyone else is still playing for the silver at the Final 8.
  2. Ryerson (OUA auto-bid). There is no quantifying, or underestimating, what it meant for the Rams to go up to Ottawa and take a W. It takes away a psychological barrier.
  3. Calgary (Canada West champion). One way to put the UBC loss in perspective is the fact only one of the bye teams in Canada West had a dominant Game 1 at home on Thursday, with Alberta defeating Lethbridge 80-59. Laying out for a week can be detrimental for a team's rhythm and timing. 
  4. Ottawa (at large). Ten of 29 from the free-throw line? The Gee-Gees have been erratic from the stripe all season; they would still be last in OUA even if that performance was stricken from the record. The concern troll going forward is whether that inefficiency will seep into other areas of the game. Even if they had shot their average against Ryerson, that would have turned the six-point defeat into a win.

    The Gee-Gees have kept eight of their last nine opponents to fewer than 75 points. It's hard to see them getting upset by Laurentian on Saturday.
  5. Dalhousie (AUS champion). Have made a quintessentially Rick Plato late regular-season run with seven consecutive wins to clinch first in the regular season early.
  6. McGill (RSEQ champion). Held Laval without a field goal for the final 6½ minutes on Thursday.
  7. Saskatchewan (Canada West auto-bid). Working on the theory that the Huskies got a shaky effort out of their system with a narrow escape against Winnipeg (85-84 after the Wesmen hit a window-dressing triple at the buzzer). They're talented, but 20 turnovers, ugh.
  8. Saint Mary's (host). True, Javon Masters and New Brunswick will have the bye to the AUS semifinal, but do you really want it? Saint Mary's also won by double-digits on UNB's floor on Jan. 27. I got burned pumping the Varsity Reds' tires last season.
If UBC wins out, they should have the No. 2 seed. The second team out of Ontario will be no lower than third, and that would effect a flip of the 7 and 8 seeds to avoid the same-conference quarter-final matchups.
Analogously, Ontario University Athletics men's basketball has been like an Olympic event where it is a priori that one nation will always get the gold, two others will vie  for silver and bronze and everyone else is just hopeful of a personal best.

Carleton crushed it; Ryerson and Ottawa are 2-A and 2-B. It is not the best jumping-off point for showing the limitations of the RPI-offs and advocating for another computation, Simple Ranking System, which layers a team's margin of victory over its strength of its schedule.

(The best primer on SRS was furnished more than a decade ago on pro-football-reference.com.)
... every team's rating is their average point margin, adjusted up or down depending on the strength of their opponents. Thus an average team would have a rating of zero. Suppose a team plays a schedule that is, overall, exactly average. Then the sum of the terms in parentheses would be zero and the team's rating would be its average point margin. If a team played a tougher-than-average schedule, the sum of the terms in parentheses would be positive and so a team's rating would be bigger than its average point margin.  
It would be easy to find the Colts' rating if we knew all their opponents' ratings. But we can't figure those out until we've figured out their opponents' ratings, and we can't figure those out until. . ., you get the idea. Everyone's rating essentially depends on everyone else's rating.
This is pertinent to university hoops for a couple of off-the-top-of-one's-head reasons. The SRS uses point differential rather just the W's and L's. That makes sense in a conference with so much disparity in student populations and resources dedicated to basketball. Plus it can create incentive for a team to "compete like the game is tied," which is probably better for personal and physical development. Putting that another way: SRS addresses the imbalance mentioned off the top; if you play Carleton or another power toe-to-toe for three quarters; there's actually a tangible reward and not just a moral victory.

On Saturday night, Carleton defeated Toronto 100-36. Since RPI does not use margin of victory and uses strength of schedule, adding Carleton to their schedule lifted the Varsity Blues (11-8) into fifth place in the final standings. The only box to check off for U of T on Saturday was to taking the court, essentially.

On the other side of the nation's capital, Ryerson defeated Ottawa to finish ahead them in victories, but it had no effect on the standings. The Rams winning on the Gee-Gees' floor is symbolically huge since they have had issues winning in the nation's capital over the years. Those are glitches to fix.

Here is the playoff field for the men's standings, by RPI:
  1. Carleton .638
  2. Ottawa .600
  3. Ryerson .594
  4. Brock .563
  5. Toronto .519
  6. Nipissing .515
  7. Laurentian .512
  8. Windsor .481
  9. McMaster .479
  10. Laurier .470
  11. Queen's .469
  12. Lakehead .452
In contrast, Simple Ranking System -- admittedly one without a cap on margin of victory to cut down on the impact of blowouts -- evaluates the performance a bit differently.
  1. Carleton 32.5
  2. Ryerson 19.3
  3. Ottawa 15.8
  4. Brock 4.9
  5. Laurentian 0.7
  6. McMaster -0.7
  7. Toronto -1.4
  8. Nipissing -2.5
  9.  Windsor -4.6
  10. Queen's -5.4
  11. Lakehead -5.4
  12. Western -5.9
You see what happened here, besides Julie taking credit for the Big Salad?
  • Ryerson and Ottawa trade places in second and third. The reality is that it might not matter since their play-in game for nationals, the OUA semifinal, is on a neutral floor. Theoretically, though, there's an influence on their first playoff opponent which could make a big difference.
  • Laurentian (seventh seed) and Toronto (fifth seed) trade places. One cherry-picked compare-and-contrast is that while Toronto's score against Carleton resembled the blood-pressure count of a very unhealthy person. The Voyageurs were at least competitive the first time they played the Ravens, losing 88-71 at home on Nov. 26 and even 'winning' a quarter. The margin went from 17 points to 47 in the rematch, which was clearly all the doing of Joe Rocca. All of it, all Rocca. Look at his stat lines. Please? 
  • McMaster goes from ninth place to sixth, which would earn a home playoff game. 
  • Laurier, which had a 9-11 record in the conference but lost by 20 or more points five times, finished with a minus-8.2 SRS, in 15th place. 
The women's league, which is more balanced at the top end, would seem to have got the upper crust more or less right, apart from the fact that 18-1 Queen's is the No. 1 seed ahead of also 18-1 Carleton, which won the teams' head-to-head matchup. The top nine teams by win percentage are also the top nine in RPI.

  1. Queen's .612
  2. Carleton .601
  3. McMaster .592
  4. Windsor .568
  5. Ryerson .550
  6. Ottawa .540
  7. Laurier .532
  8. Brock .482
  9. Lakehead .481
  10. Toronto .477
  11. Western .472
  12. York .450

How do they rank by SRS?

  1. McMaster 19.3
  2. Windsor 16.0
  3. Queen's 15.7
  4. Carleton 14.6
  5. Ryerson 9.7
  6. Laurier 4.9
  7. Ottawa 4.5
  8. Lakehead 2.8
  9. Brock -2.9
  10. Toronto -3.8
  11. Western -4.6
  12. Waterloo -7.7

Wow. So three and four swap with one and two, respectively.

  • McMaster, which had the best raw point differential, finishes first. Their blowout road loss against Carleton and last-second loss to Queen's only slightly detracted from the overall body of work, so the coaches are right after all to rank them No. 2. 
  • Yes, Virginia, Queen's is freaky clutch against tough competition. Their raw point differential (17.0 points) was lower than that of Carleton (17.2), but they had higher-quality opponents. 
  • Lakehead goes from a down-and-back flight to play Brock to getting the game at home and saving a ton of cash.
  • Waterloo makes the playoffs. Whether they would stand a chance against Ryerson is immaterial; they still got deprived status that could help with recruiting.
For all the impugning of RPI, it gets teams into the right range, but doesn't sort them neatly.

To borrow a Bill James analogy, it is akin to how it would be impossible to tell the difference between a batter with a coveted .300 average and one with a decent .275 average -- a difference of one hit every 40 at-bats -- if there were no statistics kept.

The larger point is that as a sport conference, the task is to send the best representative(s) to the national tournament. There is no perfect system and the best team is not always going to win in a "best of one" format. Adding machinations that could trigger a conference's two best teams being seeded first and fourth (talking about Canada West) defeats that purpose, though.

A two-division format also works against sending the best teams. That's a step back; it probably hurt the exposure of the OUA when Ryerson got roadblocked by Ottawa in 2013 and '14, which led to there being a final four without the host school.

Switching to SRS would be more of a way to go.
Last weekend's results, namely Carleton earning an eight-point victory on Queen's court, hastens re-extrapolating. Carleton has run the table in league play since that inexplicable road defeat against Algoma in November. Somehow, the one-loss teams in Ontario are respectively Nos. 4 and 5 in the coaches' poll while the Marauders remain No. 2, even though they were defeated soundly by one team and lost at home to the other. Is there strategic voting happening? Quite possibly.

In Canada West, No. 9 Saskatchewan is top seed for the RPI-offs, with the 2-3-4 slots filled by Regina (ranked No. 3 nationally), Winnipeg (No. 7) and unranked Alberta. Based on the consensus of the cognoscenti, then, the conference's two best teams are on course to play for an auto-bid.

(Live it, learn it, love it: following university hoops means knowing the seeding criteria for the Final 8. Warning: there is more RPI talk and no one will be put off if you just scroll to the bottom for the bracket.)

The brass tacks of Canada West's RPI-based seeding is that its two best teams have a harder road toward the auto-bids, the more advantageous seeding and the greater chance of distinguishing the conference on national TV.

The top four of Calgary, Alberta, Saskatchewan and UBC means that if the form holds, UBC and Calgary will meet in a play-in game at the Canada West Final Four on the Dinos' floor. A loss there would not kill UBC's Final 8 chances, but it would likely take the currently No. 6-ranked Dinos out of the at-large conversation and deprive the Sportsnet audience of seeing Thomas Cooper. For shame!

This was a more interesting one than anticipated. Ryerson is woke since walking into the (River) Lions' den down in St. Catharines when it lost to Brock. This weekend's Ottawa/Carleton double-dip might not alter the RPI, but it will be a good simulation of what Roy Rana's charges could expect in an OUA Final Four.

With that in mind, there's been some shuffling. How does Dalhousie and Ottawa meeting in a rematch grab everyone?
The "top six rule," so-called, is a point of contention each season come Final 8 seeding time.

Long story short, at the 2012 men's nationals, Acadia's reward for winning the AUS Final 6 was being seeded No. 8 and put up against Carleton. Conference runner-up St. Francis Xavier drew in the No. 6 seed and a matchup against Concordia, which it won before going to capture a bronze medal.

That hastened a rule that conference champions must never be seeded lower than sixth and the addition of wording that ("results of regional playoffs must be respected"). The consequence is that the two deeper conferences' second or third entry gets shunted to No. 7. But based on a decade's worth of quarter-final results since the re-introduction of an eight-team championship, it might actually be better to end up No. 7.

(Live it, learn it, love it: following university hoops means knowing the seeding criteria for the Final 8. Warning: there is more RPI talk and no one will be put off if you just scroll to the bottom for the bracket.)

A dozen years ago the Saskatchewan Huskies football team had a beastly back named David Stevens and now, judging from their record, the men's hoop concern has a phantom sixth man named Even Stevens.

Two thoughts popped up the What-If tool for Canada West, which shows 19-1 UBC finishing third in RPI: thank goodness no one out at UBC begrudges Canada West letting in a bunch of CCAA schools. The sober second thought was that perhaps Saskatchewan being rewarded for holding their own against a tough schedule is a proof of the system's efficacy. (If they get blown out in the playoffs, though, that sentence never happened.)

If everything breaks as it should, UBC could end up with the costliest first-game-of-the-new-year loss in convenient, selective memory. On Jan. 6, Saskatchewan's Alex Unruh and Jaylan Morgan combined to shoot 9-of-13 on three-pointers, combining for 39 points (and an eFG% of 86.1 per cent!) to pace the Huskies to a 95-78 win. If the form holds, 14-6 Saskatchewan will be seeded ahead of 19-1 UBC (conference records only).

The reality here is that a budget league in a country where travel costs can border on the usurious should use a mathematical formula to seed the playoffs, especially when the teams have a "sampler" package of 10 opponents per season. That is what is right and good about the forward thinking that led to the decision and all the due diligence in computing it each week. There's also a health and wellness benefit to student-athletes that they stay in the same city for two days. One also has to be sensitive for the amount of work the awesome Martin Timmerman puts in on this, since there would be no rant fodder without him!

It seems like Saskatchewan might end up ahead of UBC by virtue of winning their first of their two games in Bridge City on the first full weekend of the year. Is that really fair? It could be argued, "Well, Saskatchewan proved it can play with the best in the country." By that same convenience sampling, Regina proved it can play with the best in the country when it defeated Saskatchewan.

What happened was the Huskies got a tough draw and have gone a solid, right in the meat party of curve 7-5 against the top half of the Canada West class. They broke even against all of the teams they played in the top six. It's doubtful there was some conscious "we only gotta get one here boys" mindset afoot, but seems like quite an anomaly that Saskatchewan was able to beat everybody and also lose to everybody.

Barring a major disaster against 13th-ranked UNBC, Saskatchewan will hop over UBC, who's playing 16th-ranked Trinity Western.

If you go down the line, though, showing all of Saskatchewan and UBC's opponents and wins against them in order of RPI ranking, you'll see all of the common opponents turn up higher in the UBC columns.

Huskies (currently 2nd)Thunderbirds (currently 3rd)
Opp'tRPI WinsOpp'tRPI Wins
Lethbridge7th2Brandon 9th2
Brandon9th2Mount Royal11th2
Mount Royal11th2UNBC13th2

To reiterate, be glad no one at UBC still begrudes Canada West for waving former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell's legacy projects into the conference.

There is a better formula-based system out there, and we'll get it eventually. On to the fake bracket:

  1. Carleton (OUA representative): Easy pick, again.
  2. UBC (Canada West champion): Despite it all, UBC's body of work suggests they are capable of winning a play-in game on a neutral floor.
  3. Ottawa (OUA rep): Only plausible scenario where they are not the No. 2 seed in OUA would involve Ryerson winning on Carleton's floor on Feb. 17. 
  4. Dalhousie (AUS champion): The Tigers are a combined 1-4 against Saint Mary's and UNB and 18-3 against the rest of U Sports. The team with the best pace-setting point guard has a huge edge in single-elimination tournaments and well, Dal has Ritchie Kanza Mata
  5. Alberta (Canada West rep): The top seed for the playoffs has the most opportunity of making the tournament. 
  6. McGill (RSEQ champion): Play out the regular-season string with single games against the rest of the RSEQ. They have a plus-52 point differential in three head-to-head games against Concordia, so losing top spot on a tiebreaker is not too much of a worry.   
  7. Ryerson (at large): The imagined scenario is they revenge hard on Brock in the OUA third-place game.

    Brock has kept seven consecutive opponents to fewer than 70 points. The Badgers aren't deep or overly efficient on offense, but like Dalhousie down east, they somehow hang around.
  8. Saint Mary's (host): The race for second in AUS, with the Huskies and UNB Varsity Reds even at 10-6 (tiebreaker held by SMU), is very tight.

    Saint Mary's still has one game left with Dalhousie. Three of UNB's last four are against very competitive St. FX.
Please feel free to disagree. There will be several more tries to get this right. Here's the seeding criteria:

Fun one to do this week, with a Top 5 tilt in eastern Ontario and the split series in Canada West last weekend (Winnipeg at Regina and Saskatchewan at Alberta).

The debate over the at-large berth ... the large conferences each seem to have a fairly definitive Big 3 (Queen's, Carleton, McMaster in Ontario and Regina, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan) in Canada West. The at-large likely goes to one of the third-place teams. Of course, if Laval gets upset in the RSEQ final, both are SOL.
Three teams, well, schools,giving us a smile and taking one's mind off of the fact that life is one long series of disappointments until you just wish Tom Brady was dead.

  • Concordia Stingers men's hockey, ranked No. 7. The season that national rookie of the year candidate Anthony DeLuca has had with the Stingers illustrates the upside of university puck. (I have no idea how one would handicap the field for those awards, but the 21-year-old frosh is leading OUA with 23 goals and 41 points across 27 games, which seems tough to surpass.)

    DeLuca, a smaller-stature skilled winger, was prolific in the developmental leagues in Quebec, playing in the world under-17 challenge when Canada still sent regional squads, and blossoming into a 44-goal, 91-point scorer on a league-champion Rimouski Océanic team as a 19-year-old. He went the pro route in the Coast league last season before opting to sign on with the Stingers and second-year coach Marc-André Element. In OUA East, the 5-foot-10 DeLuca has become a star who's received an extension on making a case to play for a paycheque, or play for one again. Another endearing part of Concordia's team is that their lineup includes Philippe Sanche, who was a kind of QMJHL latter-day Theo Fleury when he played for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.

    Of course, any Armada reference justifies posting a Kids In The Hall link:

    Concordia leads OUA with 40 special-teams goals and its power play is a semi-halfway lethal 24.8 per cent, thanks in large part to DeLuca having 13 man-up markers. With one game left, a trip west to face Queen's in a second-place showdown on Friday, the Stingers (18-7-2) have matched their combined regular-season win total from the previous two seasons.

    When a team turns it around like that, credit should travel all the way from the athletes to everyone working to create conditions for success. With Patrick Boivin having left the director position to be president of the foundering Montreal Alouettes, the chain of command is presumably in flux at Con U, and it seems very unfair that people who have worked hard have that occupation stress on the front burner when they should be looking forward to preparing for some playoff games at Ed Meagher Arena (a great university barn, by the way).
  • Nipissing Lakers women's hockey, ranked No. 9. Let's honour NU sports communications clerk Robb Fenton with the inaugural Michael Grobe Memorial Award For Honesty In Sports Information. The preseason preview stated, "Don't expect the Lakers to blow opponents out of the water" -- word play! -- and sure enough, they don't have a top-15 scorer. Yet here they are holding down second place with two weeks to go. Tendy Jackie Rochefort is third in OUA with a 1.38 average. Their top three scorers Bronwyn Bolduc, Kaley Tienhaara and Samantha Strassburger are each from northern Ontario, so 705 represent! 
  • Brandon Bobcats, both basketball teams. Under the heading of "by gar it's been a while," both of the Westman roundball concerns are playoff-bound. Canada West takes in 14 of 17 teams (as opposed to 12 of 17 in Ontario) for playoffs, so it might seem like the bar is not too high.

    Please consider that the men's basketball Bobcats had one conference win last season, then imagine how much despair and transference into gallows humour there very well might have been as the losses mounted. The Bobcats (9-11 in  Canada West) will have at least one more weekend after assembling around fifth-year wing Earl Thompson Jr. for a playoff push, winning 6-of-10 games since the break. Thompson had a fine Senior Night last Saturday, going for 27 points on a 54.2 eFG% during a decisive win against Manitoba.

    The Brandon women's team will play in the post-season for the first time this century, since their last appearance was in 1999. The main cogs are Keisha Cox (Canada West's No. 3 scroer) and Mikaela Stanton out of Oceanside, California. Six contributors are in-province, with the off-the-bench efficient energy coming from rookie Adrianna Proulx (who judging from the stat sheet, never turns the ball over) and third-year forward Lauren Anderson (9.4 points in 19.3 minutes). Nice job by coach Novell Thomas' team.
The women's hoops hierarchy in Canada West will be clearer after this weekend, since resurgent Winnipeg is hosting No. 2-ranked Regina for a two-game series. Defending national champion Saskatchewan has Alberta in for a double-dip.

At first glance, Laval stands a goodly chance of sailing through the RSEQ and getting the No. 1 seed, as it tries to end a record 0-for-17 history at nationals. Ontario, which has three weeks left in its regular season and Canada West, which has two to go, each have about a half-dozen teams capable of going to nationals.

Those advancing get to begin March break in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. It's a hard-knock life.
The framing of the bracket depends on how far Victoria (eighth in RPI in Canada West, sixth with an 11-5 conference record) goes in the playoffs.
The release each week of the Top Ten rankings brings out so many emotions: joy ... excitement ... scanning a screen. The exercise of publicizing a list of 10 opinion polls during the winter sports season is very anodyne. And the slow death of salaried media also means there is precious little for the university sports-lovin' mind to read. Starting this week, there will be an effort to shout out the teams whose effort and striving is bringing a little light into the university sports world.

Three up for this week:
Live it, learn it, love it: following university hoops means knowing the seeding criteria for the Final 8.

Over the next six weeks, the goal will be to keep up on the chalk picks for the men's basketball nationals, which are March 9-12 at the arena formerly known as the Halifax Metro Centre. Carleton, of course, is 7-of-8 at winning nationals held in the East Coast, with the only loss coming in their first trip in 2001, when they lost in the quarter-final against McMaster by the margin of a buzzer shot after a disputed out-of-bounds call.

There is a lot of basketball to be played before it becomes evident, once again, that the field is playing for U Sports silver and bronze medals. Out west, did you see what UBC did on the weekend?
The early challenges with seeding appear to be:
  • who ends up as the 2 seed, the OUA runner-up or Canada West champion? That also determines the matchups for Canada West's other representative and the OUA third-place team, assuming it receives the wild card berth. The rules will dictate that RSEQ's winner will be the 6 seed. 
  • how high to seed Dalhousie if the Tigers go in through the front door as AUS champion. Their win against Ryerson was on the road (good for the Tigers), but it was on the first weekend of October (bad for the Tigers).

At this writing (Jan. 30), here's a back-of-the-Starbucks napkin cogitation:
  1. Carleton (OUA representative): Easy pick. Interestingly, since OUA adopted the single-site Final Four in 2010-11, the Ravens have never hosted. 
  2. UBC (Canada West champion): 127 points?! The estimable Howard Tsumura, on his final weekend at The Province, summed up just how in the azure hell the T-Birds did that against Brandon last Friday. Hint: they took 78 shots and sealed Brandon off from the O-boards.
  3. Ottawa (OUA rep): The Gee-Gees could conceivably finish second in RPI even if they lose against Carleton and Ryerson to finish with a 16-3 conference record, while the Rams finish 17-2.

    Those points could come from having two games with the Ravens, plus two games with two other teams which each had two games with the Ravens. That was what I was trying to say late last week.
  4. Dalhousie (AUS champion): The Tigers are a combined 1-4 against Saint Mary's and UNB and 18-3 against the rest of U Sports. The team with the best pace-setting point guard has a huge edge in single-elimination tournaments and well, Dal has Ritchie Kanza Mata
  5. Calgary / Alberta (Canada West rep): Too soon to say, and Saskatchewan is also in the mix.  
  6. McGill (RSEQ champion): The Redmen are the default pick to come out of Quebec due to defense; they haven't let anyone break 80 all season, including NCAA teams in exhibitions. Concordia is intriguing; 1-2 against McGill and held its own against mid-level OUA competition in October.
  7. Brock (at large): Consider this the spoils of Brock defeating Ryerson last Friday, prevailing 74-65 in front of 3,000-plus in St. Catharines, not a statement of who's better. Most of the RPI scenarios point to the Badgers nestling into the No. 4 spot in the OUA bracket. The team which has to play Carleton on Friday could end up being fresher for a bronze-medal game against the vanquished from a Ryerson-Ottawa semifinal.

    Ryerson was just off in that game (7-for-37 on triples as they played from behind), and that happens. Their Carleton/Ottawa trip on Feb. 17-18 could be really good preparation for the postseason.
  8. Saint Mary's (host): The half of the bracket with Dal also gets the other AUS team for the evening draw on the first night of the tournament.
Please feel free to disagree. There will be several more tries to get this right. Here's the seeding criteria:

Tethering can create its own set of problems. For instance, I recently moved to Toronto, which entails sharing a place where to put it diplomatically, the shared wi-fi connection is not strong. That means tethering to the phone to watch a video and consequently, my cell phone bill will be about $50 higher this month.

Ontario University Athletics, of course, tweaked the basketball RPI-offs, so- called, to make all games count in the standings. That could be read as a response to what happened on the men's side last season. The RPI only included games among playoff teams, remember. Ryerson grabbed first place since its loss to Guelph did not count because those Gryphons, with nine wins in the conference, were on the sideline whilst Laurentian (6-13, third in the North behind Ottawa and Carleton) and Toronto (5-14, third in the East led by Ryerson) participated. Unintended consequences come in threes: the bracket had to be revised York, which had initially qualified, forfeited games for using an ineligible player.

The logic of the change sounds like, make all games matter again. Another complaint that was addressed was that coaches wanted a better idea about potential playoff opponents, so the one-through-17 table became a season-long reference point. It is admirable that this is a level of sport that sees the playoff format as a living document that can be updated quickly and promptly.

While it's an at-large playoff format (rather than divisional), using RPI tethers to the lodestar(s) in its division. Who knows, perhaps Nipissing and Laurentian should get a few bonus percentage points as a trade-off for being tag-teamed twice a year by Carleton and Ottawa.

Winnipeg's Antoinette Miller leads the conference in assists and is fourth in scoring and steals. (Kelly Morton photo)
The release each week of the Top Ten rankings brings out so many emotions: joy ... excitement ... scanning a screen. The exercise of publicizing a list of 10 opinion polls during the winter sports season is very anodyne. And the slow death of salaried media also means there is precious little for the university sports-lovin' mind to read. Starting this week, there will be an effort to shout out the teams whose effort and striving is bringing a little light into the university sports world.
  • Winnipeg Wesmen women's basketball, ranked No. 8. Given what happened to the original incarnation of the Jets it is just that a point guard from Phoenix, fourth-year Antoinette Miller, has come north to lead the Wesmen's rise from the ashes. Is that Nantzed enough? A team which missed the playoffs last season is now 20-2 overall, with a nation's-best .909 winning percentage. With Miller, two Europeans and nine locals, several of whom played for coach Tanya McKay on provincial teams, the Wesmen embody the Canada West model of roster building.

    Back in the '90s, Winnipeg was a very famous women's basketball team. There was the 88-win streak that tied UCLA's North American all-divisions record(and since surprassed by the Connecticut Huskies of Kia Nurse fame), along with a national title three-peat from 1993-95. After taking over in 1996, McKay kept the winning times extant with a run of bronze, silver, bronze and silver at the nationals from 2001 to '04. The recent years have been something of a tranquil period, with zero playoff victories since 2009.
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