Winning Time – A Look at the Playoffs Around U SPORTS Basketball
It’s the best time of the year in college basketball – the dreary days of trudging through snow and slush are coming to an end, as March and tournament time are just around the corner.
With Canada West already into their semi-final series, OUA playoffs beginning this week and the AUS into the final stretch for postseason seeding, in lieu of your regular top ten column I’ll be taking a look at games across the country this week.
Canada West Semi-Finals
#2 Alberta vs. Lethbridge
The Golden Bears will continue their quest at a second consecutive Canada West title in Edmonton this week, after a drubbing of the UNBC Timberwolves by a combined 74 points over the two games in the quarterfinal round. They will face a Lethbridge team who despite needing OT to complete the sweep, laid a 115-68 beatdown of the Cougars in game one of their quarterfinal series, so expect offensive fireworks in Edmonton.
The Pronghorns are at their best when they get a balanced attack from their big three of Dejon Burdeaux, Kyle Peterson and Zac Overwater – who exploded for 43 points in the the OT win, and can fill it up on his own if need be. Overwater took over the primary scoring role during Burdeaux’s absence due to injury during the last few weeks of the regular season, and it looks like it could pay dividends as the Horns try to pull off what would be a major upset on the road.
As for the Golden Bears, Barnaby Craddock will surely be pushing the guys hard to keep their minds sharp, but having already beat this team twice on the road at the beginning of the month, the Bears know they can handle them, especially on their home floor where they are nearly unbeatable. Look for Alberta to keep working the ball inside-out offensively, pounding it into the paint and getting to the free throw line as they were 34-40 in the two game set against the Timberwolves.
The matchup to watch will be between lockdown swingman Dwan Williams, and whether he guards Overwater or Burdeaux for a majority of the minutes. Also, will Lethbridge look to run them off the three point line and open up driving lanes and space to make plays for the bigs? Or pack the paint to deter Brody Clarke and co. from dominating on the glass while taking their chances with the long distance shooting…this series gets underway on Friday night.
#3 Calgary Dinos vs. #4 UBC Thunderbirds
This series has potential to be fantastic, as both teams come in rolling after quick sweeps of their quarterfinal opponents, and after avoiding an upset at home, the T-Birds get a chance to make a major statement by going into the Dinos house and potentially knocking them out of Final 8 contention with a series win.
Conor Morgan was an absolute force against Manitoba, recording two double-doubles and punctuating the beatdown of the Bison with something called a “windmeal” slam:
In the two games these teams played in the regular season (both 15+ point wins for the Dinos at home), Calgary allowed Morgan to take a ton of shots, but held him to just 19/42 in the series – below his season average from the floor.
The Dinos thrive on the creation from their guard play of David Kapinga creating and playmaking on the offensive end, Jhonny Verrone’s jack of ball trades skillset, and Mambi Diawara as a dominant wing scorer. With UBC being a team heavy on size, the X Factor could very well be how the Calgary bigs of Lars Schlueter and the Foreman’s (Mason and Connor) are able to handle to protect glass, as they were actually out-rebounded by the T-Birds back in November.
UBC’s crux in that November set were turnovers, as they had a whopping 27 in the first game and another 26 on the Saturday, so expect Dan Vanhooren to keep the defensive pressure on all series long.
OUA West 1st Round
Windsor Lancers vs. Waterloo Warriors
We had a preview of this game just last week, as Windsor pulled out a 10 point win at home behind a Herculian effort of a game-high 24 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists and 6 steals by star point guard Mike Rocca. Lucas Orlita also chipped in 18 and Marcus Jones had 14 points of his own, exactly the offensive contribution this Lancer team will need to make a run.
Although Nedim Hodzic recorded a 16 point, 16 rebound double-double, and Simon Petrov had 21-8-6, Windsor held them to a combined 14 field goals on 36 shots, and inefficiency is what derailed the Warriors.
Playing their best ball of the season in Saturday’s upset of CUSN’s #5 Brock Badgers on the strength of another dominant 27 point outing from Rocca and a team-wide 16 made three balls, Waterloo is in for a tough test this week.
Laurier Golden Hawks vs. McMaster Marauders
Patrick Tatham’s McMaster Marauders have arguably been the hottest team in the country over the past few weeks, as a midseason roster shakeup has led to everyone buying in on the defensive end, and channeling that energy into some big nights offensively.
David McCulloch leads the bunch as the senior leader, and with Kareem Collins and Miles Seward packing a punch behind him, the Marauders have a very good chance to pull the upset.
That being said, the Golden Hawks come in on a three game win streak of their own, but haven’t beaten a team with a winning record since January 6th against Windsor, and will need a huge effort out of their All-Star level backcourt.
Similar to Collin Sexton and John Petty at Alabama in the NCAA, Tevaun Kokko and Ali Sow are nearly interchangeable in appearance and ability to play make on offence, as they are the only two Golden Hawks averaging double figures this season.
For Laurier to hold serve at home against the surging Marauders, I believe Kokko and Sow will need to each put up 25+ points.
OUA East 1st Round
Ryerson Rams vs. Queen’s Gaels
The Rams took down the Gaels two weeks ago in Kingston as the supporting cast continued to heat up in the stretch run – something this team desperately needs to take some weight off the shoulders of Moser candidate Manny Diressa.
Queen’s stumbles into this one after a tough trip to Ottawa, where they nearly knocked off the Gee-Gees (Jaz Bains ’01 Allen Iverson impression fell a little flat in the waning seconds) before being shown the door rather quickly by the Ravens.
For Queen’s to pull the upset, Bains needs to look for Tanner Graham and Mike Shoveller before hunting his own shot, as that recipe had the Rams on the ropes in the Gaels first visit to the Mattamy Athletic Centre this season. In the 2nd half of that game, Bains took it upon himself to score a few too many times, and the Rams athleticism and length was able to smother and nullify his passing game, which is one of the best in the OUA.
Laurentian Voyageurs vs. Toronto Varsity Blues
Still battling without Kadre Gray, and in the midst of a disastrous February, something has to give for the Voyageurs back on their home floor this evening.
Although they lost to the Blues at the Goldring Centre last weekend, the Avery should be packed and rocking for the Vees to feed off of and ratchet up the intensity on the defensive end. Nelson Yengue, David Aromolaran and Josis Mikia-Thomas need to stay hot offensively, and in the backcourt force Sage Usher and Reilly Reid into contested mid-range shots, and run them off the three point line.