U Sports MBB Final 8 Bracketology Version 2.0: Canada West Rules

Hamilton, ON- The picture has shifted since my first edition of bracketology. With the Canada West and AUS playoffs wrapped up and the OUA playoffs underway, there is notable movement in the potential seeding for nationals in Edmonton in early April.  

One of the biggest storylines is the strength of the Canada West conference, which has the chance to land four teams at nationals. The Victoria Vikes Canada West championship victory over the Alberta Golden Bears has shifted the paradigm at the top. It will be interesting to see which teams receives the higher seed. I would lean towards Victoria given their championship victory and the fact both teams have only one loss this season. 

Meanwhile, in the OUA playoffs, Carleton has essentially clinched their spot at nationals as they are the leaders in almost the at-large berth criteria. Ditto for the Brock Badgers should they fall to a pesky McMaster Marauders squad in their semis, given that Carleton doesn’t also lose at that stage. Queen’s and McMaster have a chance to win their way into nationals automatically. For Mac, reaching the OUA finals would be their only way in. Out in the RSEQ, undefeated regular season champs McGill are the favourite but other teams will have a chance to win their way in. 

The real question comes down to at-large berth (see U Sports Hoops’ at-large berth selection criteria tracker). What’s interesting about is that the two teams that would be leaders in many of the categories (given Carleton and Brock qualify automatically) fall under what the selection committee deem as “Tier 2” playoff teams. 

UBC and Ottawa fell in their conference quarterfinals while Regina and Queen’s have reached the semi-finals, making them “Tier 1” playoff teams. Are Regina and Queen’s given priority for the at-large berth despite being behind UBC and Ottawa.  We’ll see how that unfolds but don’t be surprised to see half the nationals field being compromised of Canada West teams.  

Carleton’s Grant Shephard (Photo: Valerie Wutti/Carleton Athletics)

1. Carleton Ravens (hypothetical OUA champion)

Overall Record: 21-1 (14-0 regular season conference record)

Latest Game: Win versus Rams (87-68) in OUA quarterfinals 

The Ravens had difficulties against the Rams, who made the game close at times. However, Taffe Charles’ squad pulled out the victory and have clinched their spot at nationals. If they win the Wilson Cup, they would likely be the number one seed given the Golden Bear’s loss to Victoria. Before then, they face a tough Queen’s team in the OUA semis before an OUA finals against fellow ranked teams Brock or McMaster. 

2. Victoria Vikes (Canada West champion)

Overall Record: 23-1 (17-1)

Latest Game: Win versus Alberta (70-64) in Canada West finals 

Could the Canada West title over Alberta be a program defining moment? It marks the program’s first conference title since 2015 as the Vikes are arguably the hottest team heading into Edmonton. The real question is whether they or Alberta will be the number two seed. I have Victoria slotted here as second but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alberta second as well. Regardless, the Vikes won’t be any lower than third. 

3. Alberta Golden Bears (Canada West finalist + host)

Overall Record: 24-1 (16-0)

Latest Game: Loss versus Victoria (70-64) in Canada West finals 

The Golden Bears lost the chance to capture the Canada West crown, an undefeated season and a chance to get the number one seed. However, their body of work suggests they will be among the national title favourites, especially playing at home. I don’t see them falling past number three but that could change if Brock beats Carleton in the OUA finals for example. Alberta will have a strong seed and a chance to avenge their Canada West finals defeat.

4. Brock Badgers (hypothetical OUA finalist)

Overall Record: 20-1 (14-1)

Latest Game: Win versus Laurier (82-58) in OUA quarterfinals

This seeding for the Badgers in based on the hypothetical scenario that they lose in the OUA finals. If they win the OUA, they could move up to a top three seed. One could also make the case for flipping them and Dalhousie between 4 or 5. It wouldn’t really matter since they would play each in the quarterfinals anyway. Before that happens, the Badgers will have to get past a Marauders team that handed them their only loss of the season. 

Dalhousie’s Shamar Burrows (Photo: Greg Mason/Dalhousie Athletics)

5. Dalhousie Tigers (AUS champion)

Overall Record: 22-4 (20-4)

Latest Game: Win versus UPEI (84-78) in AUS finals

Just went it looked like the mighty Dalhousie Tigers were down and out in the AUS semis and finals – trailing Memorial and UPEI by double digits in the second half – back they came to win yet another conference crown and clinch their spot at nationals. With veteran coach Rick Plato and AUS MVP Keevan Veinot, the Tigers will be a dangerous team at nationals. Given their lack of quality wins though, it means they are likely destined for the fourth or fifth seed at nationas, where they will likely face off against the OUA finalist. 

6. McGill Redbirds (hypothetical RSEQ champion)

Overall Record: 13-3 (12-0)

Latest Game: Win versus Concordia (67-63) in RSEQ regular season finale 

The Redbirds finished off the regular season undefeated and have a chance to get into nationals automatically by winning the RSEQ. Like with Dalhousie though, their lack of quality wins (they’ve only beaten RSEQ opponents) means they will most likely come in as the number six seed – the lowest a conference champion can be seeded. McGill will likely face either Alberta or Victoria in the first round, which would be their toughest test since losing to Carleton in the preseason. 

Saskatchewan’s Marquavian Stephens (Photo: GetMyPhoto.ca/Huskie Athletics)

7. Saskatchewan Huskies (Canada West bronze medalist + auto berth)

Overall Record: 19-7 (11-5)

Latest Game: Win versus Regina (97-93 in OT) in Canada West bronze medal game

It’s been a wild past two weeks for the normally consistently excellent Huskies. Their long-time head coach Barry Rawlyk resigned amid an investigation into a situation involving allegations of inappropriate music played during a practice. Interim head coach and long-time lead assistant Chad Jacobson has stepped in well to steer the Huskies to a Canada West bronze medal victory and a spot at nationals. Given their third-place finish, the Huskies should be either in the seventh or eighth seed. That would mean a potential matchup against Alberta or Victoria or a meeting with the OUA champion. 

8. Regina Cougars (Hypothetical At-Large berth)

Overall Record: 17-9 (12-4)

Latest Game: Loss versus Saskatchewan (97-93 in OT) in Canada West bronze medal game

This is where things get a bit confusing. The Cougars have a solid resume – including a preseason win against Carleton – but missed out on the chance to clinch their spot at nationals in an overtime loss to Saskatchewan. Now, they must rely on the at-large berth. The good news is they are in the first tier of playoff performance, same as potentially Queen’s (if they lose in the semis). They are ahead of the Gaels on two of the categories but behind them on two of them while both being tied in the playoff tier (one win away from automatically qualifying). It will be up to the selection committee to decide their nationals fate. 

On the Bubble:

Here are a few more teams that could still end up at nationals – either by auto berth (Queen’s) or with the at-large spot (Queen’s, UBC, Ottawa). 

Queen’s Gaels (hypothetical OUA semi-finalist)

Overall Record: 15-5 (9-5)

Latest Game: Win versus Ottawa (59-55) in OUA quarterfinals

Head coach Steph Barrie’s team did well to finally beat the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the OUA quarterfinals after losing to them twice in the regular season. Now the Gaels face a taller task: snapping their losing streak against Carleton that stretches back to 1998. Even if they don’t beat the Ravens, they will be in the thick of the wild card conversation. As an at-large berth team though, they would likely be seeded seventh and play either Victoria and Alberta. 

UBC Thunderbirds (Canada West quarterfinalist)

Overall Record: 19-5 (16-2)

Latest Game: Loss versus Saskatchewan (88-87) in Canada West quarterfinals

The Thunderbirds enjoyed a strong campaign but fell to Saskatchewan in a close Canada West quarterfinal tilt. That loss could prove costly as UBC is ahead of Regina and Queen’s in multiple criteria categories but could be held back by being a “Tier 2” playoff team. Their only hope would have to start with Brock and Carleton advancing to the OUA finals but even that might not be enough to see them back at the national championships. 

Ottawa Gee-Gees (OUA quarterfinalist)

Overall Record: 19-4 (13-3)

Latest Game: Loss versus Queen’s (59-55) in OUA quarterfinals

The Gee-Gees are in the same situation as UBC: a strong regular season as they were nationally ranked all year but couldn’t pull off the win when it mattered most in the playoffs. Having played their cross town rival Ravens close earlier this year, they could have fancied their chances knocking off Carleton but alas, that is no longer possible. They fare well against the other teams when it comes to the selection criteria but are limited by their “Tier 2” status. 

Featured Image: Brad Hamilton/Victoria Athletics

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