With another exciting round of playoff battles now complete, it’s officially down to the Final Four in Canada West men’s basketball. Manitoba and Calgary are back, and will face off in a rematch of last year’s Final Four semifinal tilt, while former perennial powerhouses Saskatchewan and Alberta make their return after a one and two-year hiatus, respectively. Below is a preview of both semi-final tilts:
(1) Calgary Dinos vs. (5) Manitoba Bisons
How they got here: Neither team has a blemish on their record in the postseason thus far.
The Dinos earned a bye into the Canada West quarter-finals, where they swept the ninth-seeded Thompson Rivers Wolfpack, while Manitoba knocked off #12 Regina in a play-in series, before upsetting the #4 seed and 19-1, UBC Thunderbirds on the road.
Head-to-head: The two squads met in the opening series of the 2016-17 regular season on November 4th and 5th in Calgary, where both picked up a victory.
The Bisons claimed the game one win (85-81), thanks in large part to a 52.6 percent shooting percentage from beyond the arc. All 10 treys came from the combination of guards Justus Alleyn and AJ Basi.
Calgary responded in the rematch, with a 102-77 victory. All five Dinos starters had points in double figures, led by guard David Kapinga, with 21 points. Fellow guard Thomas Cooper also finished with a double-double (18 points and 10 rebounds).
Last playoff meeting: These two teams know each other quite well. They faced off at this exact same stage last season, where the Dinos got the better of the Herd 100-74 at home. Cooper and Kapinga were the difference makers, tallying a combined 50 points on 49 percent shooting from the field.
The Numbers: Much like last season, where the Dinos made it all the way to the U SPORTS (CIS) Final 8, their offence is their lifeblood.
Calgary is ranked second in conference points per game (89.8) and field goal percentage (47.8), and are paced by Cooper’s 22.7 points per game—good for second in the conference. Secondary scoring comes from Kapinga and his 11.5 points per game, along with a conference best three-point percentage of 48.1.
The Bisons were just behind Calgary, averaging 82.8 points per game during the regular season due in large part to Alleyn and Basi’s abilities from the land beyond. Alleyn ranked seventh in the conference with 48 three-balls, while Basi was tenth with 45 of his own.
The Breakdown: The key to this series will be both teams’ depth.
Calgary has two impact guards coming off the bench in fifth-year Jasdeep Gill and fourth-year Jhony Verrone. Both were instrumental in knocking off the Bisons in the QF last year and could be looked at again in this one. Interestingly, the Dinos were 8-0 in the regular season when Verrone played more than 20 minutes, so his presence will be especially critical to keep an eye on.
Manitoba tended to begin games with a smaller lineup during the season, placing spark plug guard Ilarion Bonhomme in the starting five this season, alongside Alleyn and Basi. The combination worked to their favour, with Bonhomme leading the conference in assists per game, at 4.8. Additionally, much like last season’s playoff matchup, veteran swingman Keith Omoerah will be relied upon as a dual-purpose threat in the starting rotation.
The biggest difference for the Bisons in this season’s matchup compared to last, is their depth off the bench. The Dinos had four reserves tally at least five points in their Final Four victory in 2015-16, and Manitoba simply couldn’t match the host’s tempo. This season, however, they have a healthy Joey Nitychoruk as well as Malik Irwin—two forwards that can give them energy off the bench as well as two-way output.
Regardless as to who comes out on top in the rematch, it’s a near guarantee that these two teams will put on a memorable offensive display.
(2) Saskatchewan Huskies vs. (3) Alberta Golden Bears
How they got here: Both teams had a bye into the conference quarter-finals, where the Huskies swept the seventh-ranked Winnipeg Wesmen, while the Golden Bears needed a third game to knock off provincial rival (#6) Lethbridge.
Head-to-head: The two squads met in the second-last conference matchup of the season on February 3rd and 4th in Saskatchewan.
The Golden Bears claimed victory in game one (80-67), as guard Austin Waddoups and swingmen Lyndon Annetts and Mamadou Gueye combined to go 9-of-17 from beyond the arc.
Saskatchewan bounced back in the rematch with a tight, 68-65 win. The Huskies held a plus-nine advantage on the boards and got a double-double (23 points and 11 boards) from forward Shane Osayande, with fellow big men Matt Forbes and Trevor Severinski chipping in 14 and 12 points, respectively.
Last playoff meeting: The last time these two teams met was in the Final Four in 2013-14, where the 20-2 Golden Bears got the better of the 15-7 Huskies, 83-65. Gueye was the Rookie of the Year that season, while Forbes was eighth in the conference in rebounds per game.
The numbers: Saskatchewan was one of the top defensive teams in the conference, allowing the second-fewest amount of points per game at 71.5. Osayande and Forbes anchor the squad, with the former being one of just two players to average a double-double per game (17.4 points and 10.6 rebounds), while the latter was seventh in the conference with 8.3 rebounds per game, while also adding 14.8 points per game.
The Golden Bears had Canada West’s fourth-best scoring offence at 82.5 points per game, and were lethal from beyond the arc, registering a conference-best 206 treys. They had four players that were in the top 12 in three point percentage, led by guards Austin Waddoups and Andre Kelly, who both shot above 44 percent.
The breakdown: This contest is the ultimate battle of competing styles, with the Golden Bears perimeter abilities taking on the Huskies aggressive defence, which held teams to just 32 percent shooting from the land beyond.
Alberta shot just 29.2 percent from deep in their regular season loss to the Huskies, compared to 48.1 percent in their victory.
The Bears will need to play strong on the glass, after getting heavily out rebounded in both late season contests. Sophomore phenom Brody Clarke will be relied upon as the catalyst on the boards for Alberta; he averaged 7.1 rebounds per game in the regular season.
Saskatchewan’s X factor in the series could be veteran guard Alex Unruh, who stepped up for injured starter Jaylan Morgan in game two against Winnipeg, and finished with 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field, and 3-of-4 shooting from the perimeter.