If I recall the Canada West playoff schedule correctly, a total of 10 teams across the two divisions qualify for post-season play. The top 7 teams in the 11 team Pioneer Division qualify, with 3 of those teams participating in a 4 team “play-in” first round 2-out-of-3 sets. The top 3 finishers in the Explorer Division also qualify, with the 3rd place team in that division part of the “play-in” sets.
Given recent results, this season could see the emergence of new blood closer to the top of the Pioneer with two historically-championship-favorite programs: Alberta and Saskatchewan, currently out of post-season berths. Mike Hansen‘s Lethbridge Pronghorns, who missed the playoffs last year, took a significant step toward finalizing a spot in the post-season this year with a decisive win over visiting Manitoba. Horns (7-4) led by as many as 26 on the strength of a season-high 30 points from senior guard Rob Olsen and also got 27 from Aussie Brandon Brine in the 96-74 win. Manitoba (8-5) continues to control their own playoff destiny and is trying to erase the pain of several late January, early February swoons. Bisons, who faced a lot of zone last night as Manitoba’s bigs struggled mightily, did finish 7th last season before bowing out in two straight games at Calgary in the play-in round. Presently in 5th place, Bisons would need to move higher to avoid another season in the play-in round.
Lethbridge is tied with 7-4 Regina, losers by 21 at UBC. With the easy portion of their schedule already complete, after tonight’s game against the T-Birds, Cougars finish with a pair of sets at Manitoba, home to 7-6 UVic, at first place Calgary (11-2) and then home to 4-8 Saskatchewan.
Of course, the way the Huskies – idle this week – are playing, those two games scheduled for the final weekend of the Canada West regular season between Regina and Sask may not mean much. Saskatchewan, the defending Canada West regular season champions, sit in 9th place and may have to be without impact freshman 6’2″ Jauquin Bennett-Boire who is rumored to no longer be with the team. Sask returns to action at Winnipeg next weekend and their remaining schedule is favorable after that: home to winless Brandon, home to 6-6 Alberta and then at Regina. Last season, a 9-11 record was good enough for 7th place in the Pioneer and the final playoff spot. Sask needs to go just 5-3 in their final 8 to achieve that record; writing off such a successful program would be folly.
Canada West Pioneer Division Standings to date
Trinity Western 0-11.
In the Explorer, Thompson Rivers at 11-2 and Fraser Valley at 9-4 are in control of the top 2 spots – both top 2 finishers in that division get automatic berths in the CW Quarter-Finals, avoiding the “play-in” round. The third spot in that division is up for grabs with all 4 remaining teams still in contention.