The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens couldn’t have scripted it any better.
The two rival schools enter this weekend’s CIS men’s basketball championship in Ottawa as the top two seeds.
While the Ravens were ranked number one all season, they lost top billing after the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees handed them their first league loss in the Ontario University Association final last weekend.
The Gee-Gees, who were ranked second all season, defeated the Ravens 78-77 in the Ontario University Association final and head to the national championship as the top seed for the first time in the program’s history.
The Gee-Gees finished the season with a 34-2 overall record against CIS competition, with both losses coming at the hands of the Ravens. Ottawa heads into the tournament with the top-ranked offence, averaging 96.4 points-per-game.
“We’re not going in thinking we’re the favourite,” said Ottawa coach James Derouin. “I think until Carleton gets beat at the national championships they’re still the favourite. We still have to prove we can get to a final.”
Ottawa will open the tournament against the number eight ranked Saskatchewan Huskies Friday night.
The Huskies, who finished with a 15-7 league record, return to the Final 8 for the first time since 2011.
Experience, or lack thereof, could play a factor in this game.
The Gee-Gees are coming off a bronze-medal finish in last year’s tournament with 11 returning players. Meanwhile, not a single member of the Huskies has had the opportunity to play in the Final 8.
Last year’s loss to Lakehead in the semifinal was extremely disappointing for the Gee-Gees and Derouin says the team is determined not to make the same mistakes.
“A loss like that sits in your gut for a long time and we have ten of 12 guys back who want to see a different outcome,” said Derouin. “Our guys are excited to get another crack at it.”
As for the Huskies, who advanced to the tournament as the wild card seed, they view the tournament as a great opportunity for its young squad.
While the Gee-Gees may have top billing, the reigning three-time champion Ravens are still considered the team to beat having won nine of the past 11 championship banners.
Carleton will be looking for a record tenth title when it begins play Friday against the seventh-ranked McMaster Marauders.
Once again the Ravens will be led by Philip Scrubb — who won his third straight CIS Player of the Year award earlier this week — Thomas Scrubb and veteran Tyson Hinz.
Carleton head coach Dave Smart said coming in as the number one or number two seed is of no importance to him.
“For me it’s 15 years of this so it’s kind of all the same,” said Smart. “I don’t find these games, personally, a lot more pressure filled than a regular season game.”
Smart knows many believe his is the team to beat, but he doesn’t allow his players to look further ahead than the first game.
“McMaster is very, very dangerous,” said Smart. “They can beat us easily if we don’t play well.”
While the Marauders know they will be in tough against the defending champions, head coach Amos Connolly says playing Carleton was his preference.
“This is probably the most comfortable match-up for us in the first round,” said Connolly. “Realistically we were going to be six or seven so it was going to be Ottawa, Alberta or Carleton so I’d rather it be a team we know.”
The Marauders lost handily to the Gee-Gees, 101-68, in the OUA semifinal and says it wouldn’t have been his choice to face them again so soon.
“I think our guys are 100 per cent fine with this match-up,” said Connolly. “From a preparation standpoint our guys know what they do and it’s somewhat similar to what we do.”
The Alberta Golden Bears, ranked third, come into the tournament with a 31-3 record against CIS competition, including a perfect 7-0 mark against Final 8 foes.
“We have some depth and the ability for a different player to step up on different nights, which will help in a tournament format,” said coach Barnaby Craddock. “Qualifying for the CIS championship is a tough task and a privilege. We look forward to the tough competition that it will provide.”
The Victoria Vikes fell to the Golden Bears 82-77 in the Canada West Final, but are making their second consecutive appearance in the Final 8.
Last year’s performance was disappointing after losing 83-46 to the Ravens in the opening round, but it was an opportunity for growth as a program.
The Vikes will be looking for its first McGee Trophy since 1997. A win in the tournament final Sunday would give the Vikes their ninth national title and tie the Ravens for the most championships.
Victoria will face the fifth-ranked McGill Redmen Friday in what is expected to be a low-scoring match-up.
The Vikes allowed a CIS-low 60.2 points-per-game in league play, while the Redmen boasts the third-best defence in the country allowing 62.3 points-per-game.
“Luckily we were able to play against McGill last year at nationals so we do have some experience against them,” said Victoria forward Chris McLaughlin. “But you have to prepare for every team. Our coaches have done a phenomenal job getting us ready for all the teams.”
McGill is making its second straight appearance in the tournament under head coach Dave DeAveiro, former head coach of the University of Ottawa.
The sixth ranked Saint Mary’s Huskies return to the national stage for the first time in six years. Head coach Jonah Taussig, a former all-Canadian, is in his second year and has seen his team grow stronger with every game.
The Huskies defeated UPEI by 16 in the Atlantic semifinal and beat St. FX 81-72 in the final.