March Madness comes a month early in Canada.
But the method is still the same as in university playoff basketball south of the border. It’s one-game, single-loss elimination as the Regina Cougars play the University of Victoria Vikes at 6 p.m. in first-round Canada West women’s post-season play and the Brandon Bobcats meet the Vikes at 8 p.m. in men’s action on Ken and Kathy Shields Court at CARSA gym.
In the university basketball post-season, it’s always Game 7. Everything hangs in the balance in one game, so don’t look for an exchange of hearts tonight as the Prairie teams come to the Island on Valentines Day.
“It’s just like the NCAA tournament. It’s do-or-die . . . win or go home . . . put up or shut-up. All in one game,” said UVic men’s head coach Craig Beaucamp.
It’s the lower-seed visitors who will be looking to be the bracket busters tonight.
The UVic men’s team (15-5 in the regular season) is the fifth seed and Brandon is the 12th seed. The UVic women’s team (12-8) is seeded seventh and hosts the 10th-seed Cougars (8-12).
The hosts, however, can ill-afford to take anything for granted. On the men’s side, the Bobcats came into CARSA in the regular season and gave the Vikes a good run, despite being swept, and down to a roster of only seven players due to injuries.
Brandon comes in hot, having had to string together a late-season winning streak of five games in order to snap up the final playoff berth. Then Bobcats split the final regular-season set against the fourth-seed and arch-rival University of Manitoba Bisons.
“The Bobcats are a much different team than the one we saw in mid-November,” said Beaucamp.
“They have won down the stretch. It is going to be a hard-fought battle. They are an explosive team, so we have to take care of the ball.”
As for injured forwards Matthew Ellis, Dominick Oliveri and Jason Scully, Beaucamp guardedly replied: “We plan to have everybody on deck.”
In other words, that’s for the Bobcats to discover at tip-off.
Not that it’s any secret to what has led to UVic having the kind of regular season that secured its first playoff game in CARSA gym since the facility opened in 2015-16.
“It’s defence and rebounding that wins games for us,” said Beaucamp.
That is supplemented by an opportunistic offence that takes what is given.
“We find ways to score in different fashions on any given night,” said Beaucamp.
The match-up has a bit of an old-school, retro feel to it. It might be time to dust off the Duran Duran CDs and pastel-coloured clothes with shoulder pads. UVic and Brandon between them won all 10 national men’s titles in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, the Regina Cougars have been a national women’s powerhouse the past few years before a bit of a dip this season. But the roster is still dotted with players with deep post-season experience.
“They have players who know what this time of year means and what it takes,” said UVic head coach Dani Sinclair. “It’s a fun match-up. And an even one.”
The single-game format makes things more reactive, said Sinclair.
“You go to a shorter bench and have to make quick adjustments because there’s not a lot of time to review once the game starts,” she said.
“There is no second or third night like in a best-of-three. It’s about finding the hot hand. And finding the right match-ups and exploiting them. Whatever team executes, will win over one game.”
The Vikes and Cougars did not meet this regular season, but are old post-season foes. This is the sixth time in 10 years the teams have met in the playoffs.
“This is a familiar playoff rivalry for both of us,” said Sinclair.
But one that has been lopsided. The Cougars have won 10 consecutive playoff games against UVic dating to 2011 (some series used to be best-of-three in previous Canada West playoffs). Only one of those 10 games, however, was played in Victoria.
The top 12 teams in Canada West made the 2019-20 playoffs on both the men’s and women’s sides with the top four receiving first-round byes. The other teams are playing single-game playoffs this weekend with No. 12 at No. 5, No. 11 at No. 6, No. 10 at No. 7 and No. 9 at No. 8.
The winners of the Canada West men’s and women’s first-round games will advance to the conference quarter-finals next Friday. The semifinals for both men and women are Feb 23. They are all one-game affairs, with the top-two seeds hosting four teams each.
The Canada West men’s and women’s championship games are Feb. 29 at the highest remaining seeds.
The conference champions advance to the U Sports national championship tournament March 5-8 at TD Place in Ottawa, where the men’s and women’s championships are being held concurrently for the first time.