Just as sports reveal character, February sorts out the two types of people who work on a sports desk — the ones who understand the Page Playoff format in curling and the ones who need a refresher comes Scotties and Brier time. There is no literal connection between that and the lead-up to the women's basketball Final 8 — face it Sags, there isn't any connection — but one of the play-in games this week is effectively like a Page Playoff.

Carleton at McMaster, namely, is the most fraught game this week. McMaster is the first-place team in a 1 vs. 2 game with two lives, since Theresa Burns' Marauders grade out highly across the board in the criteria for the at-large berth. For Carleton, which turned over four starters from the 2018 national championship squad and stayed in the rankings, it's like a 3 vs. 4 game — win or go home. If

The projection is the same as last week, with a hunch play on Regina to win on the road in Canada West. The home team has won the Canada West final three years in a row, so a flip is due.
The first teams slotted into the OUA / RSEQ seeds are, obvious hacky reference alert, like seat-fillers at the Oscars. No one expects they will be there very long.

Ontario's remake of the Road Warrior (booooooooooooooo), starring Queen's Jared Bethune, Guelph's Scott Simmonds and Western's Luke Peressini, hastened some revising. It is not clear what should be read into the away teams going 11-1 during the second round, beyond the obvious point that the talent gets distributed very fairly across the vast majority of the conference. That makes the league basically like every division of the 1980s NHL that did not feature the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. The regular season doesn't really matter.

At this writing, Alberta and Saskatchewan, shocker, have qualified out of Canada West to join host Lethbridge. New Brunswick and Saint Mary's could qualify within 24 hours, while Ontario has a two-stage process to decide its division champions and the third-place team.

Now Alberta is cheering for chalk.

Sometimes the big picture that seems so self-evident is too fuzzy and vague to become focal, so the small thinking becomes the big picture. In the long run, where the aim is to have more Canadian university basketball teams become a viable alternative for talents that might otherwise end up at a D-1 low major or some slack D-2 diploma mill, it probably is good that Laurier, with a .760 win percentage in all OUA games, is going to host, Ryerson, which has played .917 ball, in a play-in game this week.

The Rams need someone to take up the cause of them being hosed about as much as Bradley Cooper does. The Laurier Golden Hawks getting a decent crowd out for its first home semifinal game would do more to spread word-of-mouth about the strength of university basketball than it does at Ryerson, where they would be playing in front of the converted. So there is that, if you can ignore the Rams having the better record which also includes beating Laurier by 45 points in November. 

However, that segues into into the contrast between the formats of the country's two largest leagues. Canada West's unbalanced, undivided setup has contributed to the best of all possible outcomes. Calgary is undefeated in the conference and has the best case to be the No. 1 seed in two weeks' time. The series that Alberta and UBC, with the Thunderbirds ultimately prevailing in Game 3 on Sunday night played was competitive and taut and like sealed the emotional and empirical arguments for Canada West getting the wild card, if the form holds this week.

Alberta are ahead of both Laurier and the Brock Badgers in the all-important selection criteria for an at-large berth. So really, no sugarcoating, those OUA semis on Wednesday are surely do-or-done games for the two OUA West schools. It might be a jump to conclusions to call that a creation of the two-division format. It is more likely that the OUA's growing parity has worked against having an obvious third Final 8 team.

There are some changes since that first attempt two weeks ago. Calgary, on paper, deserves the top seed, while Quebec once again seems to be an enigma.
Well that is nice — New Brunswick won a playoff round in its first season back.
Whatever fate awaits those Varsity Reds, being this competitive under coach Sarah Hilworth and an obviously rookie-filled roster is national coach-of-the-year material. It likely speaks to more than just a wrong being remedied through the courts, but also to the investment in female hockey across Western Canada, where 13 V-Reds hail from, including AUS save percentage leader Kendra Holland and team scoring leader Tamina Kehler.

The result leaves nationals host UPEI with a 24-day layoff before hosting the March 14-17 tournament.

The need-to-know is that the four conference winners get the top four seeds in order of national ranking. The four assigned berth/host teams are arranged in a way that eliminates the possibility of a same-conference semifinal matchup.

So what chaotic outcome should one root for?

Heather Lindsay left a legacy at Carleton; one, leading the Ravens to the program's first national title and two, speaking truth about the media gatekeepers at that time when a winner is more likely to be really heard, even though we all could learn to listen at all times: "There were years where we would win a game and the whole story would be about the men’s team losing — just stuff like that where it’s just not fair at all." (Ottawa magazine, Sept. 10, 2018.)

No further mansplanation necessary. 

For purpose of this exercise, Carleton and Lindsay made this easy; they were the No. 1 seed for the women's basketball Final 8 two seasons in a row.  Another bonus for the dim-bulb prognosticator is there was a reasonable equilibrium between all four sport conferences that validated the "top 6" seeding rule.

Lindsay is playing in Germany, but at least the competitive balance is mostly still there. There is schism between Elo and the eye test, a.k.a. the coaches' poll, over whether Canada West or Ontario is the deeper conference. The Atlantic cannot get anywhere in the human poll, but UPEI is getting some love from the computer rankings. So, for the dim-bulm prognosticator, this ought to be fun.

The University Cup is not so much seeded, as it is slotted.

The something-for-everyone regionalism that defines (and confines) Canada comes into play. For review, conference champions are seeded 1-2-3. The Ontario runner-up draws into the No. 4 seed. Five and six fall to finalists from down east and out west. The OUA has a third assigned berth that is part of the deal for taking in three Quebec schools. 

So be it. The reality is that the seeding is based more on your conference than how your team actually does that hockey. It might look like this:
Lethbridge (host)
The only limb to go slightly out on is whether the seeding committee would really care about Lethbridge playing the Canada West champion in the quarterfinal. After all, they're not really in the same league with Alberta or Saskatchewan.

It is quite the conundrum. At this stage of the game, Calgary has completed an undefeated regular season, but as a collective the coaches have been consistently ranking the Dinos lower than the Carleton Ravens and Ryerson Rams.

And history is wink-wink, nudge-nudged us that Carleton might be have gamed the seeding process, holding back a little in the Wilson Cup after an auto-berth is secured, so it can go into the nationals as the No. 2 seed.

Whether that demands a correction is a matter of opinion, but cynically, this is U Sports and it would take a decade to strike a committee to look into the matter, so I am not going to hold my breath. Long before load management entered the basketball lexicon, Carleton had clued into a line of thinking that a 2 seed is better than 1 seed. The latter is given the short straw from a rest-and-recovery standpoint, especially with the reversion to the 3-in-3 Friday/Saturday/Sunday schedule.

There is no hard proof of such, other than a point-form list of the Ravens' seedings across the last 12 years and their results. The Ravens have won the last six times that they have been a 2 or 3 seed, and their three non-championship appearances have all come as the 1 seed.
Next PostNewer Posts Previous PostOlder Posts Home