Hamilton, ON- A lot has changed since my first version of bracketology. As expected, the conference playoffs have provided some clarity on the nationals picture. As of Mar. 21, half of the eight-team field is set: host Queen’s, Canada West champion Saskatchewan, runners up Winnipeg and AUS champion Acadia.
In the past month, two key absences have shifted the nationals picture. Reigning U Sports Player of the Year Jenna Mae Ellsworth has been ruled out for the season due to injury. Her UPEI Panthers went from undefeated to having lost three times, most recently the AUS semis versus Cape Breton. However, the Panthers are still in pole position for the at-large berth (see the criteria shortlist as provided by U Sports Hoops), provided the Rams and Brock Badgers don’t lose in their OUA semis.
That leads us to the Badgers, who are missing their superstar Sam Keltos, who left for Australia due to her professional contract obligations there. She would have played out the season had it not been delayed but now Brock will have to deal with her absence going forward. The good news for them? Even if they lose to Western, they will be the wild card for nationals provided the Rams don’t also lose then.
The Quebec conference still has to be decided meanwhile. Bishop’s and Concordia are the favourites to take the conference crown but a lot can happen in a one-game semi-finals or finals. Meanwhile, in Ontario, Western and Carleton face must-win games in the semis to reach nationals essentially. The seeding is still up in the air as well but here’s how I see it unfolding as of Mar. 21.
1. The Rams (hypothetical OUA champ)
Overall Record: 19-0 (14-0 regular season conference record)
Latest Game: Win versus Queen’s (67-58) in OUA quarter-finals
If the Rams win the OUA, it will be a toss-up between them and Saskatchewan for the first seed. I have them as number one given their undefeated record but a strong case can be made for the Huskies as well. If the Rams lose the OUA semis or finals, they will still be in nationals given that they lead outright in three of the four criteria for the at-large berth and are tied for first in the other category. The only question then is where they would be seeded if they lose. I presume around the 3-5 range.
2. Saskatchewan Huskies (Canada West champ)
Overall Record: 19-4 (14-2)
Latest Game: Win versus Winnipeg (68-59) in Canada West finals
The Huskies captured their fifth Canada West title in the past six seasons with a close win over Winnipeg. Saskatchewan is coming in strong and should be a top two seed. One factor the selection committee might take into account is their quality wins over Winnipeg (three so far this season), Regina and Lethbridge. They have lost to the Rams in the preseason though.
3. Winnipeg Wesmen (Canada West finalist)
Overall Record: 24-3 (14-2)
Latest Game: Loss versus Saskatchewan (68-59) in Canada West finals
The Wesmen are among the top tier of national title contenders given impressive 24-3 overall record and their two wins against Saskatchewan. I could see them being either three or fourth depending how the committee feels about Brock (without Keltos). If Brock loses in the semis, Winnipeg should be the three seed, which could put them on a collision course with Saskatchewan once again in the national semis.
4. Brock Badgers (hypothetical OUA finalist)
Overall Record: 16-2 (12-0)
Latest Game: Win versus McMaster (49-45) in OUA quarterfinals
The Badgers are an intriguing case study. They are currently top of the U Sports rankings and have yet to lose in the OUA regular season. Their only losses came in the preseason to Carleton and the Rams. However, the loss of Keltos does have an impact. Will the committee see it that way? If the Badgers win the OUA, they would be a top two seed. If they lose in the semis, they would still in as a wild card if the Rams don’t also lose at that stage. Their body of work would keep them around the 4-5 range though.
5. Acadia Axewomen (AUS champion)
Overall Record: 18-5 (11-4)
Latest Game: Win versus Cape Breton (71-65) in AUS finals
The Axewomen – a mainstay in the AUS title conversation in recent years – have quietly played their way into nationals once again. Led the AUS MVP Jayda Veinot, Acadia mounted a comeback against a strong Cape Breton side in the AUS title game to punch their ticket to nationals. Given the strength of the teams above them and given the sixth seed will likely be reserved for the RSEQ champion, it seems the Axewomen are slated to be the fourth or fifth seed. This likely means a matchup with the OUA or Canada West runner up, where head coach Len Harvey’s squad have a chance to provide their mettle again.
6. Bishop’s Gaiters (hypothetical RSEQ champion)
Overall Record: 10-8 (8-4)
Latest Game: Win versus UQAM (78-65) in regular season finale
The Gaiters are among the favourites to capture the RSEQ title but their semi-finals versus a consistently strong Laval squad will not be easy. Bishop’s has not reached nationals under head coach Craig Norman yet (in his sixth season) but this year could be the case. They are led by star Argentine point guard Amaiquen Siciliano, a U Sports first-team All-Canadian in 2019-20. Concordia should be a tough test if they meet them in the finals, as they have lost to the Stingers twice already this season. Given the small sample size of games and lack of ranked wins, the Gaiters and any other team that wins the conference will likely slide in as the sixth seed, the lowest a conference champion can be ranked.
7. Queen’s Gaels (Host)
Overall Record: 14-7 (9-5)
Latest Game: Loss versus Rams (67-58) in OUA quarterfinals
The Gaels have had their bright spots this season but their 14-7 record and their OUA quarterfinals exit means they will likely end up as a seventh or eighth seed. Given the history of non-conference first-round matchups, it means Queen’s will likely play Saskatchewan in the quarterfinals. The last host team to play the Huskies at that stage: The 2019-20 Carleton Ravens, who lost 73-59. The Gaels will have their work cut out for them in their first-round matchup.
8. UPEI Panthers (Hypothetical At-Large berth)
Overall Record: 17-3 (11-2)
Latest Game: Loss versus Cape Breton (74-54) in AUS semi-finals
It’s clear the loss of Jenna Mae Ellsworth has had an outsized impact for the Panthers, who went from being in the top tier of national championship contenders to losing three of their last six games. Their saving grace could be their body of work up until Ellsworth’s injury as they are currently in position to receive the at-large berth if Brock or the Rams don’t lose in the OUA semis. UPEI would lead outright in two of the four categories, which would be good enough to see them receive the berth. Their seeding may not be as kind given the calibre of teams above them. Given Queen’s presence as a seventh or eighth seed, it means UPEI would likely be matched up against the OUA champion.
On the Bubble:
Here are a few more teams still in the nationals picture. The at-large berth will go to either the Badgers, Rams or Panthers, which eliminates Regina, Lethbridge, Alberta and the other OUA schools.
Carleton Ravens (hypothetical OUA semi-finalist)
Overall Record: 17-4 (10-4)
Latest Game: Win versus Ottawa (61-58) in OUA quarterfinals
The Ravens have a strong pedigree given their number five U Sports ranking and their solid wins against Queen’s, Brock and Ottawa. However, they’re out of the picture of getting the wild card berth, which means their OUA semi-finals against the Rams is a must-win for them to keep their season alive. They haven’t played the Rams yet this season, which should lead to an interesting matchup. If they do reach the OUA finals or win the Critelli Cup, you could see their seeding be anywhere from 2-5.
Western Mustangs (hypothetical OUA semi-finalist)
Overall Record: 15-5 (12-2)
Latest Game: Win versus Guelph (61-57) in OUA quarterfinals
The Mustangs are in a similar position to the Ravens. Head coach Nate McKibbon’s side has had a strong regular season and now face a must-win semifinals against an opponent they’ve yet to face this season in Brock. Can they capitalize on Keltos’ absence? The Badgers eked out a win versus McMaster while Western had their own nail biter against the Guelph Gryphons in the OUA quarterfinals. If they do reach the OUA finals, it will be interesting to see where they are seeded. They could be seeded from 2-5 but there also lies the possibility that if they lose the OUA finals, Queen’s could jump up into the top five and the Mustangs would slide down to seven.
Concordia Stingers (hypothetical RSEQ finalist)
Overall Record: 11-5 (9-3)
Latest Game: Win versus McGill (100-44) in RSEQ regular season finale
The Stingers finished off the regular season strong as the top seed in RSEQ while scoring 100 points against McGill to cap it off. They are loaded with firepower and experience and are neck-to-neck with Bishop’s as favourites to win their conference playoffs. If they do prevail though, their dearth of quality wins on their resume means they would likely be the sixth seed.
Featured Image: Acadia Athletics