Toronto, ON – It might be fair to say that it was predictable that these three teams made it to the national championship, but definitely not in this order, though.
As it is probably common knowledge in U SPORTS now, the Queen’s Gaels defeated the Carleton Ravens 86-80 in their Wilson Cup semifinal match, denying the Ravens a trip to the Wilson Cup Final for the first time since 2006 and setting up an unprecedented Queen’s vs Brock matchup. The consequence for Carleton at the Final 8? The Ravens enter the tournament in an unheard-of position as the seventh seed and face a difficult matchup with the Victoria Vikes in the Quarter-final.
The Badgers and Gaels squared off in the Wilson Cup, with the Badgers taking it 95-75 to win their second Wilson Cup in program history. Brock enters the tournament in the top seed and is set up for a date with the eighth seed Saskatchewan Huskies. Meanwhile, Queen’s lands in fourth and takes on a Dalhousie Tigers squad out for blood after losing the 2020 national final and capturing three consecutive AUS titles.
Let’s break down what we need to know about these teams.
After 20 years of ruling over the OUA, suddenly, the Carleton Ravens’ reign might be in question. Thanks to Cole Syllas decimating a surprisingly slow Ravens defence, Carleton missed out on the Wilson Cup Final for the first time since 2006 and forced them to qualify as the At-Large berth in the seventh seed.
Outside of their misfire in the semi-final, it was business as usual for the Ravens in 2021-2022 despite turnover to their roster. 2020 U SPORTS Rookie of the Year Lloyd Pandi was the Raven to pick up the mantle, leading the roster offensively and earning himself OUA East MVP and First-Team All-Star honours. Biniam Ghebrekidan joined the First-Team, while Alain Louis earned a spot on the second team. Nothing seemed out of place for Carleton; they strolled into the OUA playoffs with a perfect record and took on longtime rivals, the Ryerson Rams, in the quarterfinal. Despite a spirited battle Carleton shutdown Ryerson with a 13-0 run in the final four minutes to close out an 87-68 win. Things looked like they were all going to plan until suddenly they didn’t, and now the Ravens face a new challenge, doubt.
The reality is that in the last 20 years, the Ravens have won the Wilson Cup 12 times and the U SPORTS Championship 15 times. They feel hard to bet against, but this might be the year when the magic that has given Carleton faithful so many victories to celebrate might not be there this time.
The Badgers may not have been Ontario’s “expected” champion, but they still deservedly earned the title. The second-best team in the OUA regular season at 14-1, the Badgers rolled over the OUA West all year, to their first Wilson Cup since 1992 and their first appearance in the U SPORTS Final 8 since 2005.
Swingman Tajinder Lall, who transferred to Brock from Carleton, led the Badgers’ attack throughout the season. His 22.9 points-per-game landed him third in OUA scoring, and he’ll be looked upon heavily the deeper into the weekend the Badgers go as they search for their first U SPORTS Gold Medal since 2008.
Perhaps the one flaw for the Badgers? Perimeter defence. The Badgers posted the worst three-point defence of all the OUA playoffs teams at 15th out of 18. If the Huskies, who shot 5th best from deep in Canada West, can get hot, it might cause some uncomfortable moments, but the Badgers should at least get to the semifinal relatively unscathed.
The position officially belongs to the Ravens, but the Gaels might be better classified as the OUA’s true wildcard at the 2022 National Championship. Coming in with a 9-5 record puts the Gaels at the lowest winning percentage of the eight teams, but no other team can make the claim the Gaels can.
Thanks to a masterful double-double performance from Cole Syllas, who dropped 39 points, including 6-13 from three-point range and ten rebounds, the Gaels took down Carleton on the road at the Raven’s Nest to deny them a trip to the Wilson Cup for the first time since 2006.
Queen’s may have fallen to Brock in the final, but there has to be some “us against the world mentality” level in Gael’s locker room. Their chances will very likely live or die on the back of the Syllas brothers. Cole Syllas’ dominant performance vs Carleton helped him finish third in the OUA playoffs, scoring 23.8 points per game. At the same time, Luka only started two of four playoff games but had some of his best performances of the season down the stretch, including 27 points and 14 rebounds against York on March 4 and 21 points and seven rebounds against Carleton on March 12.
Nothing about the Gaels makes it clear that this team could make a national final, but perhaps that’s what is perfect for them. Underestimating the Gaels has already given them one of the most iconic wins of all-time this postseason; maybe people doubting them is the key they need to succeed.