Sunday, 9 March 2008

Wild Card & Weekend Thoughts

Thoughts on the wild card & rankings... Here are the seedings with overall season records in brackets:

1. Carleton 31-0
2. UBC 26-6
3. Saint Mary's 28-9
4. Laval 21-9
5. Acadia 25-6
6. Western 22-13
7. Brock 23-13
8. Alberta 24-11

First the wild card: By all accounts, the four person committee made up of UNB's Thom Gillespe (AUS), Bishop's Eddie Pomykala (Quebec), McMaster's Joe Raso (Ontario) and Lethbridge's Mike Connolly (Canada West) plus facilitator and NABCC President James Hillis (Regina), did an extremely thorough job assessing the 7 schools considered for the wild card (which were not made public but if I had to guess, the schools would be Acadia, St. FX, Brandon, Calgary, Windsor, Toronto and Ottawa). There were 11 criteria used to assess each team and the committee went through each of the 11 criteria for each of the 7 teams in detail: almost 2 hours worth of discussion ! I was not privy to the detail but again by all accounts it stood out that Acadia is the logical choice for the wild card. (More on criteria and how the Top 10 rankings fit into these hopefully in a later post). Acadia appears to be the most logical choice for the wild card and congratulations to them.

Comments on the Seeding: The most controversial seed/ranking no doubt is Saint Mary's at #3 after being not ranked in many weeks prior to tonight. Several people I spoke with earlier this evening not directly associated with the seeding call pointed to the Huskies at #3 as very questionable. In their defence, the committee did have their hands full with at least 5 of the 8 spots in the seeds. Allow me to try to think along with the committee on how the final seedings were arrived at as a means of trying to explain how Saint Mary's was chosen at #3 (and the rest of the seeds). The top two seeds were straight forward in my opinion with #1 Carleton and #2 UBC. The T-Birds won 6 consecutive playoff games including their most important game on the road in a hostile environment at Calgary and then won again the following night to capture Canada West - in light of what happened with all the other seeds and their body of work, UBC deserves to be #2. At the other end of the seedings, #7 Brock, as the third entrant from Ontario with 13 losses and a somewhat-decisive loss at home in the OUA West division championship game plus not having spent any consistent time in the Top 10, is properly placed at either #7 or #8. The other team that I believe the committee rightfully dropped down was #8 Alberta, which lost 4 of their 7 "playoff"/post-season games but still qualified for the Nationals by beating a team on a neutral floor in Brandon that had just lost themselves at home in a playoff game to a .500 team (more on that below). They did get the job done but Alberta in my opinion is fortunate to even be in Ottawa given that they lost 5 of 6 games, 4 of them decisively, to Calgary, a team which is not at the Nationals because of one bad weekend. I agree with Alberta and Brock being ranked at #7 or #8 and to ensure Ontario and Canada West teams don't meet head-to-head in the first round, Alberta went to #8 and Brock to #7. I have no problem with any of these thus far. This leaves 4 teams (Saint Mary's, Acadia, Laval and Western) to rank. #3 Saint Mary's deserves to be ranked ahead of Acadia after winning the conference tournament head-to-head on a neutral floor. Further, Saint Mary's was 3-2 vs. Acadia overall this season including winning 3 of the last 4 games in the series after losing in early October in the opening game of the season on a neutral floor in Moncton. As well, Saint Mary's defeated both Laval and Western head-to-head in the pre-season on neutral courts. Only one of Saint Mary's nine losses was to a non-conference opponent (Ottawa in the first game of the Shoveller tournament at Dal at Christmas; other losses: X 4 times which they avenged when it mattered beating them in the AUS tournament semi-final, Acadia twice which they also avenged and then Cape Breton twice on the road before Christmas). The more I look into this, the less controversial this selection is: it validates the importance of winning the AUS tournament, rewards head-to-head matchups and non-conference record. Saint Mary's at #3 is the proper seeding in my mind in light of all the factors. #6 Western, with 13 losses, and at 12-10 by far the worst conference record of any of the teams at the Nationals but deserving to be ahead of Brock by virtue of their win in a big spot in the OUA West championship at Brock, is fine at #6. Which leaves #4 Laval and #5 Acadia, which can flip-flop at #4 and #5 either way. Putting Laval at #4 rewards them for winning their conference ahead of Acadia, which lost in their conference championship game. There may be other opinions out there but the more I look at it, the more these rankings are as close to proper as can be in my opinion. Tremendous job by the committee for completing a very thorough analysis and determine a very fair wild card and seeding....

MORE THOUGHTS: A second consecutive late season surge by the Saint Mary's Huskies has again put them into the National tournament and the nation will again get to see one of Canada's top guard tandems in 6'3" Mark McLaughlin, who reads and uses screens as well as any scoring wing in the nation, and steady, intelligent point guard 6'0" Mark Ross, who, as we've said many times here, is the underlying glue to the Huskies. As was the case during the AUS tournament and CIS nationals last season, neither came off the floor for virtually every game and when a big play on a big possession was needed, it usually is Ross and McLaughlin involved. Certainly 6'5" Aaron Duncan, 6'1" Shane Morrison and 6'5" Ike Uchegbu also play leading roles but McLaughlin, AUS tournament MVP and Ross are the quiet orchestrators. It also goes without saying that Saint Mary's skipper Ross Quackenbush did another fine job this season in the face of roster churn, injuries and a early 2008 slump that saw the Huskies pull out of the Top 10. The beauty of Quackenbush's coaching style is his simplistic approach, not only in how he prepares and adjusts to game and opponent situations but in how he deals with players and others. Simple and effective. Always very approachable, he has a somewhat-self-depricating sense of humour and is typically very calm and realistic in his assessment of situations without making things too complicated. Quackenbush is a pleasure to watch as a coach and deal with because although he is very competitive and well prepared, he never takes things over seriously or panicks when things don't go right. I believe this calm and simplistic approach filters down to his team, especially late in games and in big spots, during which the Huskies have thrived over the past two years at a minimum. Congratulations to Ross and his Huskies for qualifying for the Nationals again. Their first round opponent will be Western, a team they had a miraculous comeback win against at the UNB tournament in October. The win over the Mustangs was a key reason why the Huskies got pushed up to the #3 ranking... My respect for the great career of Alberta coach Don Horwood and the tremendous program he has built in Edmonton should not be questioned. Horwood, with 3 national championships and counting, is a Hall-of-Fame coach (if CIS basketball had a Hall-of-Fame... hey, not a bad idea!). However, consider the Bears fortunate this season for qualifying for the Nationals in the perplexing Canada West playoff system that, in the absence of proper explanation on its objectives, rewards a team that went 3-4 in the PLAYOFFS including losing 3 of their final 4 PLAYOFF GAMES. Speculative reasons for having Best-of-3's in the division playoffs include an objective of ensuring the "best" teams gets to Nationals. Which is fine. But that objective in my opinion is inconsistent with then having a one-game sudden death Final Four with the two semi-final winners automatically getting a berth at the Nationals. And this notion of having a loss in a Best-of-3 not count as Brandon's loss at home to Regina was supposed to be considered is also questionable in my mind. Brandon loses at home against a .500 team that they have already played 4 times with two weeks to prepare but gets a second chance with two more games on their home floor while Calgary loses one game at home to one of Canada's top teams in UBC and they don't get a second chance to win their way in? In Quebec, the opposite philosophy holds: because teams have already played each other 4 times, what is to be gained by playing another Best-of-3 series, so they have gone to one-game, sudden-death playoffs which ensures teams have to be ready to play immediately and not have any crutches to fall back on - this is what post-season basketball should be all about. Hopefully during the Nationals I can get more clarity on what I feel is a Canada West playoff structure filled with conflicting objectives and paradoxes... Congratulations to the Brock Badgers who got the job done this afternoon at home, extending the careers of 5'10" Brad Rootes, 6'0" Scott Murray, 6'7" Dusty Bianchin and 6'3" Rohan Steen. The Badgers under Coach Ken Murray have been perennial contenders in the OUA West with, for the most part, players from the Niagara Region, dating back to when they won their only National championship in 1992 with six of their top seven players from the "Region" led by 6'8" Brian Bleich (St. Catharines), 6'3" Al MacDougall (Niagara Falls), 6'1" Dave Picton (Welland), 6'8" Gord Wood (Paris, ON; basically in the Region), 6'3" Mike Pullar (St. Catharines) and 6'1" Pat Sullivan (St. Catharines), with their glue guy that season 6'2" Rob Demott hailing from nearby Burlington. Murray will now be able to prepare for one more week to coach a team with his son on it and although the Badgers may lack the depth needed to make a long run into the three day tournament, with their array of lethal shooters and the strong effort they got out of their big guys today, they will be a tough out. This afternoon, they, like Saint Mary's, kept things fairly simple, turning to an old favorite of Coach Murray's, a 3-2 zone, when Ottawa threatened to run away with the game off the start, and making big shots when needed to record the OUA Bronze medal win. Brock's "d" held down Gee-Gees big scorers 6'9" Dax Dessureault and 6'3" Sean Peter to a combine 5 for 25 effort and got another strong defensive effort from 6'2" Mike Kemp on 6'4" Josh Gibson-Bascombe, winning despite getting only 1 hoop all afternoon from Rootes. This will be the 3rd Nationals appearance in the five-season careers of Rootes and Murray who have played together since grade school. Brock last appeared at the Nationals in 2004-05 when they made it to the Final 4 losing to Concordia.

Good luck to all teams and I'm certain it will be well worth the trip to Ottawa for anyone considering attending the Nationals.


Anonymous said...

While I can understand the comments about the CW playoff system, I don't understand why the same "disdain" is not put on Brock who lost but got a second chance in a "bronze" match. They don't "deserve" to be there either but both Alberta and Brock won by the rules that were clear to all teams at the beginning of the season. I think the bias for the East is showing !!Just kidding, but there appears to be a lot of hype about the East versus West.

Jayme said...

I really do not agree with how brock/alberta got in.BUt that the rules.