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UVic Vikes primed for crowded Canada West basketball playoffs

All you had to do in the regular season was basically show up.
Scott Kellum and the Vikes head to Lethbridge for the postseason. (DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST)

All you had to do in the regular season was basically show up. The Canada West conference has opened the gates to the largest basketball post-season tournament in league history to really put the madness in March with the men’s and women’s teams from all 17 schools qualifying.

Since there was no inter-divisional play due to pandemic travel restrictions during the regular season, there was really no other fair way to do it.

The resultant unwieldiness has the University of Victoria Vikes men cooling their high-tops for a few more days, despite that the playoffs begin today. The Vikes, based on their 17-1 regular season and No. 5 ranking in the U Sports national top-10, will receive byes over the first two rounds of the conference playoffs and join at the quarter-final stage Saturday in Lethbridge.

Receiving the two-round passes are the West Division-champion Vikes, Central Division-champion University of Alberta Golden Bears (16-0) and East Division-champion University of Regina Cougars (12-4).

“It’s unusual but this was an unusual season,” said Vikes head coach Craig Beaucamp.

The playoff format is single-game knockout with the men’s opening three rounds taking place over the next three days in Calgary and Lethbridge.

In UVic’s bracket, the Manitoba Bisons (7-9) play UBC-Okanagan (3-15) in the opening round today with the winner advancing to play the Lethbridge Pronghorns (8-8) in the second round Friday. The winner of that game will meet the Vikes in the quarter-finals Saturday. The quarter-final winners advance to the Canada West semifinals in two weeks at the gym of the highest-remaining seed.

“It’s single-loss knockout, so it’s beneficial to get through as many rounds as you can, any way you can,” said Beaucamp, of the rare two-round bye.

Most teams are going in live-sight unseen and will rely on breaking down video of teams from other divisions.

“Without having seen the teams in the other divisions, it’s hard to evaluate them, or the tournament,” said Beaucamp.

“There’s a lot parity so there potentially could be a lot of games that will appear to be upsets in terms rankings. There is no easy path. Manitoba is solid, and playing Lethbridge in Lethbridge if it comes to that, will be a task.”

With five Canada West men’s teams ranked in the U Sports national top-10 — Alberta No. 2, UVic No. 5, UBC No. 6, Saskatchewan No. 9 and Regina No. 10 — one of them is guaranteed to not make the semifinal round. UBC and Saskatchewan are in the same bracket this week so one of them will not make the conference Final Four.

Meanwhile, the UVic Vikes received an opening-round bye in the Canada West women’s basketball playoffs, which run Friday through Sunday in Calgary. UVic (11-7) will meet the University of Calgary Dinos (7-9), who are also receiving a first-round bye, in the second round on Saturday. The Vikes-Dinos winner will advance to meet the Canada West top-ranked and U Sports national No. 2-ranked University of Saskatchewan Huskies (14-2) in a tough quarter-final match-up Sunday. The Huskies received byes through the first two rounds.

“You only get one opportunity so composure is very important in a single-game knockout tournament,” said UVic head coach Carrie Watts.

“Taking care of the ball is key. You’ve got to keep calm and not get too anxious. We have been stressing that this week. For the seniors, any one of these could be the last game of their careers, so we need them to bring their poise and calmness.”