Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Neate's Take: The Real Problem with the Final 8 Bracket

Neate Sager has been a tireless communicator of CIS sports information via his weekly column in the Ottawa Sun, founding the popular web site "The CIS Blog" and now with his strong work as a member of the Streaming Sports Network (SSN) team. Neate will do colour commentary for this weekend's game along with play-by-play man Mark Masters. Neate has chimed in with his views on the brackets.

Neate's Take: The real problem with the Final 8 bracket
- March 11 2009

Slagging the Final 8 seedings has little to do with regionalism or the hint of backroom politics.

The crux of complaints about having three Ontario teams on the same side of the draw is that goes against the character of the tournament. What makes the Final 8 great, along with the fact it's three days of good basketball, is that it's a rare chance to get answers, maybe not clear and definitive ones mind you, about which part of Canada can really ball.

It doesn't happen enough in collegiate sports in this country, where we have too much geography and not enough history. Americans might take seeing an intersectional matchup such as Duke-UCLA basketball game or Notre Dame-USC in football for granted, but we're differently blessed (thanks for nothing, Air Canada).

Point being, slotting Western and Ottawa into the 4 vs. 5 quarter-final, meaning the winner likely faces a Saturday night semi-final vs. No. 1 Carleton, which it just lost to within the past two weeks, feels like we're being cheated. Like Carleton coach Dave Smart said in the Ottawa Citizen, with respect to the Ottawa-Western matchup and the winner possibly meeting Carleton (which faces St. Francis Xavier in the 1 vs. 8 game), "We basically have just played that tournament the last week."

That is seeing the whole forest or at least that's my conceit. The big hook of watching this tournament is that it's the one time all season we can sort of settle questions about the strength of each conference.

Take last March. Brock's run included wins over teams from each coast, UBC and Acadia, sandwiched around a semi-final win over division rival Western. Acadia beat Laval from Quebec and Carleton from Ontario.

The happy few who prefer Canadian university basketball to being on the outside looking in while following the NCAA look forward to seeing unique matchups. You get to see players and coaches make adjustments on the fly against opponents that might have known nothing about just six days ago ("We have no video tape of them," UBC coach Kevin Hanson said of his crew's Friday matchup vs. Dalhousie).

Some of that gamesmanship has been taken away. I have every confidence that this will all come out in the wash by early Sunday evening. The game is good enough to redeem all.

In the short run, people are right to squawk about three OUA teams being on one side of the draw. It's amusing, after the fact, that following Carleton's 21-point win in the OUA East final last Wednesday, March 4, that Smart said, "I still think they (Ottawa) are the second-best team in Canada and if they beat us in 10 days, they'll be the best team in Canada."

You never, ever take post-game comments literally word for word, but March 4 plus 10 days adds up to March 14, semi-final Saturday, not the day of the championship game.

It seems to best to opt for the high road and not say that it seems like Ottawa and Western are feeling the backlash over Carleton having an automatic bid into the tournament as the host team (when the AUS hosted from 1984-2007, the host-term berth was not designated to a single school).

It could be as simple as the fact this was a hard tournament to seed. UBC losing to Calgary in the Canada West gold-medal game on Feb. 28 threw a wrench into things.

The same went for Dalhousie springing the upset against St. Francis Xavier in the AUS final last Saturday. It is always tough to weigh how a team is playing going into the tournament against how it has played all season. The seeding committee, being composed of coaches, likes to reward teams who are playing well; most of us thought even with its stumble, UBC couldn't slide lower than the No. 3 seed.

Mark Wacyk at was about the only one who had the courage of his convictions to say that UBC should have been dropped to the 4 seed. The Thunderbirds have the second-best RPI in Canada, but lost a playoff game at home and their conference is only 7-15 at nationals since 2002.

Mark's bracket -- Carleton-St. FX, UBC-Western on one half; Calgary-Dalhousie and Ottawa-Concordia on the other half -- would have broken up the logjam of both Ontario and Canada West teams.

Again, it was a tough job, but it seems wrong that the "interleague interest" (Calgary chronicler Wayne Thomas' phrase, not mine) has been downplayed. As it stands, come Saturday night it could be an all-Canada West semi and an all-Ontario semi. It's very easy to imagine people who haven't followed the CIS all season wondering why there isn't some crossover.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

when the AUS hosted from 1984-2007, the host-term berth was not designated to a single school
The host team only came into existence in 2002. From 2004 to 2006 incl, the tournament was 10 teams and the AUS would have had a 2nd team regardless of the location of the tournament.