Tuesday, 5 February 2008

OUA West Typically Tight down the stretch

Always among the most competitive conferences in the CIS, this year's battle for playoff spots in the OUA West is no different as, although first, eighth and probably second can be penciled in, the rest of the conference is reasonably wide-open. The biggest change in this season's standings is the possibility that McMaster Marauders may miss the playoffs for the first time in 32 seasons. The last time the Marauders missed the OUA West playoffs was 1975-76 season when they went 1-11 and finished last in the seven team league (four teams made the playoffs). The Marauders, a Top 10 team through the entire 1990's and early-to-mid part of this decade, have been playoff participants every season since (although starting in 1979-80 when the OUA West had only 7 teams until 1988-89 when Lakehead joined the OUA from GPAC, all 7 teams in the West made the playoffs with the first place team getting a bye). Mac, alone in 7th place at 7-10 with 4 of their last 5 games on the road, needs a somewhat-dramatic turnaround to keep the 32 year streak in tact. Realistically, the Marauders need to win 4 of their final 5, beginning tomorrow night at Waterloo. Mac has already lost the tiebreaker with both teams immediately ahead of them in the standings, losing twice to 8-9 Laurier and splitting a pair of games but losing on head-to-head point differential against 8-10 Lakehead. Mac's remaining games after Wednesday are home to Guelph on Saturday and then 3 road games: at Windsor, at Western and at Brock, three very tough places to play. Mac could get away with going 3-2 but then would need Lakehead to go 1-3 (at Brock twice then home to Guelph twice) or Laurier to go 1-4 (host Western, Windsor, Brock and then at Waterloo and at Windsor). It is not an impossible task, but the Marauders must get back to playing to the level of consistency they showed in late November and earlier in January when they won 5 of 7 league games. As has been stated here several times, teams with experienced veterans, especially in the back court, tend to play deeper into March. While the Marauders have a pair of possible future stars in 6'1" Jermaine DeCosta and 6'2" Tyrell Vernon, most of the rest of the teams in OUA West have fourth-and-fifth year leaders running the point. Up front, it has taken some time for 6'9" Terry Licorish to get back into game shape and get his timing back and other forwards, with the exception of 6'6" veteran Andrew Losier who has stepped up in the last 2 weeks, are getting their first real taste of OUA West down-the-stretch basketball. Having said all that, veteran Mac Coach Joe Raso is one of the best in the business with his ability to prepare, motivate and game coach. Expect Raso to have his troops ready to play hard and together down the stretch to make every effort to put the talk of missing the playoffs to rest... At the top of the division, Windsor took a stranglehold on first place and home court advantage throughout the OUA West playoffs by dumping Brock in front of 2,700 fans at the St. Denis Center on Saturday to sweep the season series. With a two game lead, the tie-breaker and only 5 games left, Windsor needs only 2 wins in their last 5 to officially clinch first. Fifth-year 6'1" Ryan Steer, who came in as an unheralded recruit, has worked his way into becoming what multiple observers believe to be the best overall guard in the West. The Lancers visit Guelph on Wednesday looking to avenge their only home loss of the regular season and still have a home-and-home with Laurier, a road game at last place Waterloo and Mac at home on the slate... Brock is comfortably in second place as, although Guelph is just one game back, the Badgers swept the Gryphs this season so Brock owns the tie-breaker. Western is two games back and has already defeated Brock at home so their matchup in St. Catharines next week may have some importance depending upon the next 2 games. The Badgers host Lakehead for a pair of games while Western is at Laurier and at Waterloo. Although the Badgers have a fine set of veteran wings including 6'2" Mike Kemp and 6'0" Scott Murray, Brock's fortunes continue to ride with 5'10" Brad Rootes, who, for the second time this season, is battling ankle problems. Rootes, a mentally tough warrior who proved his meddle during last season's OUA West semi-final while playing with broken ribs, has played major minutes for virtually his entire career and has already led Brock to the Nationals twice in his fine career. A semi-final home playoff game would bring the Badgers that much closer to making it 3 Nationals in 5 seasons during the Rootes era... An inconsistent 4-5 mark after the holidays, including an inability to win at home, has dropped Guelph off many observer's radar but that could be dangerous. 6'3" Nick Pankerichan had a statement game this past Saturday and the Gryphs always seem to stiffen up their defense down the stretch of the season. Remember, the Gryphs led by 5 late in the OUA West semi-final at Windsor last season and had every opportunity to win that game. The Gryphs play their final 4 games of the season on the road including a pair at Lakehead and then finish at Western which will likely decide third place... With 5 games remaining, Western will likely have to win out and hope the Badgers lose to them and another game along the way (Brock also has Mac at home and are at Laurier). The Mustangs, in the midst of a 5 game road trip, finish with two games at home against Mac and Guelph. Western is a team loaded with talent which got their first taste of playoff action last season, giving up a lead and losing at Guelph in the first round of the playoffs. Consistency has been an issue with Western but look for the Mustangs, with veteran 6'1" point guard Matt Curtis at the helm and 6'6" Brad Smith finishing, at a minimum to build on last season's playoff run... The team with the most manuverability is Laurier but the schedule, outside of a rivalry game at Waterloo next Wednesday is brutal: two games against Windsor and home to Western and Brock. The Hawks are starting to get veteran leadership down the stretch from 6'5" Matt Walker and 6'2" Jesse MacDonald and have the OUA West Freshman-of-the-Year in smooth shooting 6'5" Kale Harrison. The Hawks have pulled off playoff upsets on the road over the past few years and are capable of doing the same this season... With McMaster struggling, Lakehead Coach Scott Morrison has a chance to lead his team into the playoffs after a last place, 1-21 finish last season. If the T-Wolves, who are starting to get consistently strong complementary performances out of 6'3" Matthew Powell, a mid-season addition to add to their high-scoring pair of 6'4" Kiraan Posey and 6'6" Warren Thomas, can win 3 of their final 4 games (at Brock twice, then home to Guelph twice), the playoffs are a virtual certainty. Anything less and the T-Wolves will have to rely on other teams to beat Mac and/or Laurier to make it in... The unfortunate truth is that unless a miracle happens 4-14 Waterloo will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season. The good news is that the Warriors play their final four games - all must-wins - at home, beginning with tomorrow night's match against McMaster, the team closest to them in the standings. Waterloo finishes their schedule against Western, Laurier (cross-town rivalry game) and Windsor, needing 3 wins in their final 4 games to match last season's 7-15 record.

Windsor 13-4 (at Guelph, at Laurier, MAC, at Waterloo, LAURIER)
Brock 11-6 (LAKEHEAD twice, WESTERN, at Laurier, MAC)
Guelph 10-7 (WINDSOR, at Mac, at Lakehead twice, at Western)
Western 9-8 (at Laurier, at Waterloo, at Brock, MAC, GUELPH)
Laurier 8-9 (WESTERN, WINDSOR, at Waterloo, BROCK, at Windsor)
Lakehead 8-10 (at Brock twice, GUELPH twice)
McMaster 7-10 (at Waterloo, GUELPH, at Windsor, at Western, at Brock)

Wednesday's Games:
Windsor at Guelph
Western at Laurier
McMaster at Waterloo


Lancer Nation said...

Marek, fine work as usual. One correction. The Gryphon's did indeed lead the Lancers by 5 in the OUA West semi last year. However, the Gryphs built that lead very early in the second half. It didn't last long and the Lancers went on the build a 13 point lead before some late 3's closed the gap to 8. The Gryphs played a very competitive game for sure, but Windsor was in control the last 15 minutes of that game.

Anonymous said...

Actually the gryphs took a one point lead with 8 minutes left, then Milne took a Technical and the lancers went on their run.