After an exciting finish to the season – final first-round pairings were not determined until late Saturday night – OUA playoffs begin this coming Wednesday night at four venues. Interestingly, only one team in the first round has a regular season record greater than .500 (U of T at 11-8).
Note also that OUA playoff bracket is established prior to the start of the post-season; that is, no re-seeding after the first round. As a result, the four teams with byes (#1 Carleton, #2 Ottawa, #3 Ryerson and #4 Brock) can scout just one game, knowing in advance each team will host the winner of that game. Turnaround is rather quick after Wednesday night, with first-round winners preparing for road games on Saturday.
OUA First Round Preview – all games on Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017:
7 PM ET
#12 Lakehead (6-13) at #5 Toronto (11-8)… This will be the second game between these two teams in Toronto this season and the Varsity Blues have proven to be a much better team at the Goldring Center than away from it, especially their success in making perimeter shots. Witness Toronto’s 10 point win in January at home over Lakehead when Blues shot 47% from 3 (against only 25% for the T-Wolves). While Lakehead dominated the glass that night (47-31), the Blues got 12 points down the stretch of the fourth quarter from 6’5″ Devin Johnson including the go-ahead bucket with just over 7 minutes to play. Johnson finished with 28 points and 10 boards that night. Meanwhile Lakehead struggled shooting the ball which has been the case for much of this season: in the first meeting at Toronto, 6’4″ Alexandre Robichaud and 5’11” Henry Tan combined to shoot just 1 for 21 from the field. Lakehead is a very good defensive team, especially when getting time to prepare however Varsity has weapons across the starting five and plays well at home. It is unknown whether or not Tan, the starter who was an OUA All-Star last season, will return from injury – he missed the final 4 games of the regular season. WINNER TO FACE BROCK SATURDAY AT 2 PM ET IN ST. CATHARINES.
#11 Queen’s (7-12) at #6 Nipissing (9-10)… Lakers have authored by far their most successful season in the history of the program with some key road wins, including a 93-84 win in Kingston agains the Gaels in the only other meeting this season between the two teams. Top to bottom, Nipissing likely has more athletes, led by the experienced 6’8″ Carleton transfer Justin Shaver, who some have described as a coach-on-the-floor. Still, the Lakers have not been in this spot before – anything resembling a very important game they have played in occurred Saturday night when Lakers looked to clinch #5 seed and Nipissing sputtered at Algoma in overtime. This past Friday night, Queen’s broke a long losing streak with an easy tune-up win vs. York and has the experience of last season’s playoff run with a win at home followed by a near-upset, last second loss to Wilson Cup Final 4 participant Ottawa Gee-Gees on the road. Still, Gaels will need superlative efforts from 6’2″ Sukhpreet Singh and 6’7″ Tanner Graham – including better work on the glass – to knock off the talented Lakers in North Bay. WINNER TO FACE RYERSON SATURDAY AT 8 PM ET IN TORONTO.
#9 McMaster (8-11) at #8 Windsor (10-10)… Fact that this is the third consecutive season that these two teams will meet in the playoffs – Windsor won both prior sudden death match-ups on the road at McMaster – has been well documented. What isn’t as noted is that both teams crawled to the finish line of the regular season with Marauders losing 6 of their final 8 to finish below .500 for the first time since 2007-08 while Lancers won just 3 of their past 9 and will be hard-pressed to continue their string of 4 consecutive appearances at the Wilson Cup Final 4. These teams just met a week ago in Windsor and Marauders gave up a late 11 point lead on the heroics of Windsor’s 5’10” Mike Rocca who led a dramatic comeback with a late shot in regulation and then scored 9 straight points in the overtime to clinch the 91-87 Lancer victory. Expect Lancers to work hard to keep 6’7″ Connor Gilmore off the glass, he being the most accomplished paint-area player in the game, especially with Mac’s 6’4″ fifth-year senior Rohan Boney hobbling down the stretch of the season with a bad ankle. Windsor hopes to have 6’7″ Luke Allin back in the lineup after he missed Saturday’s home loss to Brock with a bout of bronchitis. Expect a heated, aggressive affair that again should come down to the final possession or two. WINNER TO FACE CARLETON SATURDAY AT 8 PM ET IN OTTAWA.
8 PM ET
#10 Laurier (9-11) at #7 Laurentian (9-10)… Pupil meets teacher as Laurier’s rookie Head Coach Justin Serresse, in his first-ever playoff game as top man, visits and faces off against his former program and coach in Laurentian and Shawn Swords. More critical is likely to be the match-up between who are generally regarded as the top 2 freshman in the conference (and in the country) in Voyageurs 6’2″ Kadre Gray, the OUA’s leading scorer and Laurier’s 5’10” Tevaun Kokko. Both are explosive scorers who have been provided the confidence from the bench to score. Vees fifth-year athlete 6’5″ Nelson Yengue should work against Laurier’s potentially formidable front line that includes 6’8″ Matt Chesson and 6’7″ Vlad Matovic. These teams met in early December in Waterloo in what was an offensive rebound fest – combined 35 “o” boards – as Kokko had 17 of game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter – breaking a tie with just under 4 minutes to play – and Matovic (19 points, 18 rebounds) dominated the glass. WINNER TO FACE OTTAWA SATURDAY AT 3 PM ET IN OTTAWA.