Men's basketball bracketology: Western seeded higher than Ottawa; right for the wrong reasons, or vice-versa

Sometimes a bug creates a feature. Some might also joke Western celebrating after cashing in on unearned privilege is very on-brand.

The Mustangs undeniably did the work in dramatic and difficult fashion with a 104-103 instant-classic overtime win against Laurier in their OUA semifinal game on Wednesday. The atmosphere in London, Ont., and the game's finish probably did more for the profile of basketball on those campuses than a pair of decisive Carleton and Ottawa wins would have on Wednesday. It is a net positive for the conference if one believes exciting league playoffs are a goal in a market-driven sport.

But a less visual truth is that the OUA divisional alignment and playoff format set the bar unequally. Western, as the top team in the OUA West, was seeded higher for the playoffs than Ottawa, Ryerson and Laurentian, who all either topped or matched the Mustangs' 16-6 conference record and also beat Western on the floor. One can credit the OUA for embracing the arbitrary chaos of a one-off, single-elimination tournament and also say it needs a tweak. As others have pointed out, imagine the outcry if Ottawa was not the Final 8 host team?

It is also likely to contribute to a scenario where the sixth-best team in Ontario's regular season ends up seeded No. 5 at the Final 8. Before explaining that, though, it is worth pondering how, say, alien visitors would seed five of these six basketball teams an eight-team tournament.

From U Sports Hoops' Rating Report:


One does not envy the seeding committee, clearly. They have a weird situation where the likely at-large and host teams have a better body of work than three berth winners. Does Carleton really deserve to play Calgary instead of Bishop's or UQAM? Does Dalhousie, assuming an AUS title for the Tigers, really deserve to play Ottawa instead of Western?

No and no, but that's where we are.

In another timeline, where regionalism and the Top 6 rule were not things, Calgary-Ottawa would be a tailor-made 4 vs. 5 quarterfinal, while the RSEQ winner would be sentenced to play Carleton. The 2 vs. 7 and 3 vs. 6 half of the draw would shape up nicely with Dalhousie against UBC and Alberta and Western — rematch of the championship game from the last Final 8 that did not include Carleton, y'all!

The Top 6 rule — a conference champion cannot be seeded lower than No. 6 — is what it is; it's not sacrosanct, but it is not going away before Sunday evening. The less-discussed unintended consequence of the rule is its effect on seeding the at-large team and host teams which did not win an automatic berth.

The rule took effect for the 2011-12 season. That was also the last season that an at-large team was seeded higher than a qualifier from its conference. Lakehead, who went 20-2 in the OUA regular season that winter, was seeded No. 4 while Ryerson, 13-9 in the regular season, was seeded No. 7. An at-large team can still crack the top 6 — see No. 3 Ottawa in 2015 and '16, or No. 5 Acadia in 2013 — but they were still lower than the conference's berth winners.

Host Ottawa has created an across-the-board better body of work than Western. But the margin between 2020 Gee-Gees and 2020 Mustangs is not as great it was between 2012 Thunderwolves and 2012 Rams. Based on studying the history, the seeding committee can give Western the higher seeding. They don't have to, though, and that reality is what makes this so darn fun and frustrating.

Based on that, and the potential added bonus of having Carleton and Ottawa separated, I think that gets us back to the following jury-rigged bracket:

  1. Carleton (OUA)
  2. Dalhousie (AUS)
  3. Alberta (CW1)
  4. UBC (CW2)
  5. Western (OUA2)
  6. Quebec champion
  7. Ottawa (host)
  8. Calgary (at large)
At least there is an argument Ottawa rates a higher seed than Calgary.
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