For the third consecutive season, the location of the RSEQ Final 4 was pre-determined as now four-time defending regular season champions McGill Redmen take their turn at hosting the Final 4. Redmen have captured 1 of the past 2 tournament championships – both played away from Love Competition Hall despite McGill finishing first in each of those seasons. Prior to last season’s tight loss at Bishop’s in the “Q” final, McGill won the title at Laval (defeating the hosts by 13 in the semi-final before burying the Gaiters by 26 in the final). Redmen also captured the “Q” championship in 2012-13, the last time the playoff format rewarded the higher seeded team with a home game as McGill scraped by Bishop’s by 3 in the final. Over the past 3 seasons, McGill is 5-1 in RSEQ playoff play, finished first this season with a 12-4 record and gets the playoffs at home. So why would anyone believe Laval has a shot on Friday night ?
A closer look reveals that Rouge et Or, despite winning just 1 of the 4 games between the two teams this season, could easily have won all 4 games. Before Christmas, Laval had every opportunity to win at McGill, losing by 2 as star wings 6’6″ Alexandre Leclerc and 6’5″ Thibaud Dezutter shot a combined 7 for 13 from downtown. While McGill won the second game – also in Montreal – by 11, it was a tie game with 8 minutes left and a 1 point game with 6 left before Redmen pulled away. Just a week later at Laval, Rouge et Or thoroughly dominated the game, hammering the Redmen by 21 in a score that flattered McGill – Laval had led by as many as 33 in a old time beat-down blow out. Once again, Leclerc was the story with 23 points including 4 of 10 from 3. The latest meeting featured a shocking McGill comeback – Laval led by as many as 23 with 3 minutes left in the third, again completely dominating the apparently-defeated Redmen before 6’8″ reserve forward Noah Daoust rescued McGill with a 15 point fourth-quarter for the unlikely win in Ste. Foy.
Leclerc averaged 17.5 ppg in the 4 games against McGill and generally had his way off the dribble and knocking down 3’s (14 for 31 = 45% across the 4 games) while Dezutter (7 of 14 from beyond the arc) was also a tough check. Laval simply matches up very well with McGill at most positions – Redmen scored only 65 ppg against the stingy Laval “d”. Point guard Karl Demers-Belanger‘s strength and aggressive “d” present perimeter problems for McGill and the post-Christmas additions of 6’1″ lefty point guard Vladimir Thomas and 6’5″ Franston Demosthene help neutralize McGill’s perceived superior quality depth. Laval is probably as deep or deeper and as athletic or even more athletic than the Redmen at most positions. McGill struggled from the perimeter for most of the second-half of the season and Laval Coach Jacques Paiement Jr. packed it in defensively, protecting the rim and challenging the Redmen to make shots – a very productive scheme for much of the time these teams played. Those expecting a typical #1 vs. #4 affair with #1 having home court advantage may be in for a surprise.
In the other game, Concordia hopes to have 6’4″ RSEQ 1st Team All-Star Ken Beaulieu back in the lineup against UQAM Citadins, led by 6’1″ RSEQ MVP Kewyn Blain. Beaulieu is arguably the most creative, athletic offensive talent in the conference from the wing spot and he is recovering from a nasty head shot sustained in a collision with Bishop’s freshman Nick Harvey a couple of weeks ago. Teams began keying almost exclusively on Beaulieu when scheming to stop the Stingers, who remain arguably the top defensive team in the RSEQ. Blain should make life miserable for the Stinger back court however while 6’5″ Michael Fosu, a cagey post veteran, protects the paint.
Concordia swept all 4 games against the Citadins this season including a meaningless affair last weekend – all playoff seedings had been decided. In the 3 games that matter, Stingers held UQAM to just 13 of 51 shooting from 3 (25%) and kept sharp-shooting 6’0″ Charles Miller in relative check (10 ppg). Blain averaged 21 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in the series and Stingers will have to account for the one player on either team who can potentially win the game single-handidly. One thing is very likely: both teams want to get to the rim offensively, in the 3 games that really mattered, the clubs combined to shoot 28 for 111 from downtown.
Laval and McGill meet at 6 PM ET on Friday followed by Concordia/UQAM in the nightcap at Love Competition Hall on the campus of McGill University in downtown Montreal.