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
... 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.
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