4 Competitive Series in 1st Round of Playoffs
… Thursday start for ‘Play-in’ series’ in Canada West
As the top 4 seeds, Calgary, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and UBC rest-up, heal, and prepare, there is no slow-down for the 8 teams heading into the ‘Play-in’ series this weekend. Games start at Manitoba and Winnipeg on Thursday night in two of the best of 3 sets, with Brandon and Lethbridge hosting series’ to begin on Friday.
Here are the match-ups –
Keith Omoerah contributes to the Bisons offense in many ways. Photo – J. Miller, UM Sports
#12 Regina Cougars at # 5 Manitoba Bisons – If we look at the past history between these teams, we might be tempted to call this a lock for the Herd. Manitoba has beaten Regina in 15 of the most recent 16 meetings, including a January sweep at Regina (84-75, and 93-81). But the Bisons have not been as convincing over the past month, with a couple of losses at Brandon, then close calls with UNBC, and both nights last weekend against Mt. Royal. Regina comes off a solid weekend at home, where they swept the TRU Wolf Pack.
The Cougars and Bisons are both laden with experience; Regina features guards Alex Igual (14.7 ppg/ 4.6 rebs/ 3.3 assts), Brandon Tull (13.5 ppg/ 4.5 rebs) and rookie, Johneil Johnson (12.2 ppg/ 3.7 rebs). Forwards, Brian Ofori (13 ppg/ 6.3 rebs) and Travis Sylvestre (9 ppg/ 3.6 rebs) have played well of late.
Manitoba have a strong, veteran group, with Justus Alleyn their top scorer at 17.4 ppg/3.6 rebs, and the all-around play of Keith Omoerah (13.2 ppg/ 8.7 rebs). AJ Basi (13.3 ppg) and Ilarion Bonhomme are dangerous back-court threats. James Wagner, a big rookie can give the Bisons a boost inside, along with veteran post, Brett Jewell . The question remains, ‘Which team can pull together and win 2 games this weekend?’ The home court favours Manitoba, and UBC awaits the winner . (Central) 7:30 pm Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (if a 3rd game is necessary)
Winnipeg’s William Sesay will be a key factor vs Fraser Valley.
#10 Fraser Valley Cascades at #7 Winnipeg Wesmen – This is the other Thursday start, and we have two guard – oriented teams facing off after both just had road trip weekends. The Cascades have the quick turnaround from a bus-trip up and back on the icy, snow-packed Coquihalla Highway to Kelowna last weekend. Wash the uniforms, pack the bags, attend a brief 2 days of classes, and off they go to Winnipeg. The Wesmen come off a 2 loss weekend in Victoria, and somehow have to ‘right the ship’ , and win the home series vs a UFV squad that has won 4 straight to finish the season.
5th year Cascades back-court shooters, Manny Dulay and Vijay Dhillon against Winnipeg’s Denzel Lynch-Blair, Sean Tarver, and rookie, Narcisse Ambanza. The much improved Fraser Valley post man, Nav Bains, battling with the Ws’ big Aussie import, Ryan Oirbans. Talented complimentary players like the Wesmen’s William Sesay and Jamar Farley vs Fraser Valley’s Denver Sparks-Guest, Mark Johnson, and Andrew Morris.
The Cascades have won 5 of the past 7 meetings, but the Wesmen have home court. This is looking like a 3 game series. Note the different game times (Central) – Thursday at 7 pm, Friday at 3 pm, and Sat. , if necessary, again at 3 pm. The Saskatchewan Huskies will host the winner in the quarter-finals.
UVic’s Grant Sitton will be a focus for ‘Horns defenders this weekend. photo – UVic Athletics
#11 Victoria Vikes at #6 Lethbridge Pronghorns – Prior to last weekend’s play, the Vikes were literally hanging by a thread, and needing a home sweep of a good Winnipeg team to make the post-season. They got that sweep, and now are in S. Alberta to face the ‘Horns, who own 2 League wins over the Vikes in January at Victoria.
The Pronghorns are the clear favourites with their guard leader, Dejon Burdeaux (17.1 ppg/ 5.4 rebs/ 4,5 asst/ 3.6 steals) , taking the team on his back, and leading them to key wins. 3 of Burdeaux’s main ‘wing men’ are the sharp-shooting British import, Elliott Sentance (17.6 ppg/ 7 rebs/ 40% from 3 pt), Mike Pierzchala (11 ppg/ 6 rebs), a threat to ‘run the table’, and 6-8 Zac Overwater (11.6 ppg/ 4.3 rebs.
The Vikes have leaned very heavily on 6-8 Grant Sitton, who’s surely a Canada West all-star, with his 20 ppg/ 6.8 rebs/ and 1.2 steals. UVic’s only other double digit scorer is rookie import guard Scott Kellum (13.2 ppg), who hits 44% from 3 pt range, and chalks -up 2.4 asst per game. Justin Kinnear is close to 10 ppg at forward, and he will need help from Jake Newman and Hassan Abdullahi on the glass, if the Vikes are to stay with the ‘Horns.
We like Lethbridge as the home team here; Victoria will have to make another jump forward if they hope to get the wins. Game times are (Mountain) 7 pm on both Friday and Saturday, and 3 pm for a Sunday game, if it’s needed. The winner here travels to Edmonton to play the Bears in the quarter-finals.
#9 Thompson Rivers Wolf Pack at #8 Brandon Bobcats – The Bobcats host their 1st play-off series since 2009 in the old gym ( SI Director Matt Packwood tells us). This is the 1st one in their new ‘Healthy Living Centre’. These teams have only played 9 times, ever, with the most recent a BU home win over TRU in January of 2014, so we can’t rely on trends!
We will watch a compelling battle of the big men, as the ‘Pack bring 5th year, 6-7 import, Volodymyr Iegorov, along with 6-5 Luke Morris, and 6-5 Joe Davis, who are all double digit scorers , with Iegorov among the League’s top rebounders at 9.1 rpg. Brandon responds with high-scoring Earl Thompson Jr (16.2 ppg/ 8.6 rebs), 6-5 Chris Stanhope, and a surging giant in 6-11 John Paul from St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean. Brandon’s guards are led by shooter, Tyvon Cooper, while TRU has wing man, Michael Rouault, and import guard, Derek Rhodes.
There will be some new-found excitement surrounding this Bobcats team at home, and, if they can limit their turnovers and continue their improved shooting, they may pull this off. The ‘Pack played in the CW Final last year, and this young team are looking to take another crack at it. Only improved guard play and team defense will get them to the next round. It may take 3 games to sort this out. Winner goes to Calgary to face the Dinos in quarter-finals.
- UBC Coach, Kevin Hanson, with comments about the RPI system, whereby his 19-1 T-Birds finished as the 4th play-off seed, “Overall, it’s frustrating but we have known that it’s been coming for a few weeks,” said Hanson. “It is out of our control and we’re not whining about it. Our players are long over the shock. We are getting prepped to play whomever is put in front of us. (From Howard Tsumura’s ‘Varsity Letters’ blog )
- In that same ‘Varsity Letters’ posting from last weekend, Hanson reports that Conor Morgan has an ankle injury, but is expected to be ‘shooting by the end of the week.’ Guard Phil Jalalpoor is also getting treatment for an ankle injury. UBC has a bye as a top 4 team this week, and will be at home vs the winner of the Manitoba – Regina series Feb . 23-25.