Manitoba Bisons (22-12, 12-8 in Canada West, 5-1 in playoffs, 5-3 in pre-season including 2-2 vs. non-Canada West teams)… Arguably the hottest team in the tournament with 18 wins in the last 21 games, Bisons earned the right to a Final 8 spot with a dramatic two-game sweep at UBC in the Canada West quarter-final followed by a win at Calgary in the CW sudden death semi-final. At the most important time of the Canada West season, Manitoba went 3-0 on the road against the pre-season forecasted consensus two best teams in the conference over an eight day period. Most impactful during their five-game post-season winning streak was that Bisons have shot the ball from distance – 41.6% from downtown in their first 5 playoff games (all victories) including 11 for 19 in the win at Calgary. Manitoba went 37% as team from beyond the arc in the regular season.
Bison roster is dotted with 4th and 5th year players including the core of their rotation led by 6’5″ Keith Omoerah, Manitoba’s most important player. Maybe the best overall rebounder in the tournament – especially at the defensive end – Omoerah was instrumental in helping to keep Calgary’s 6’5″ Thomas Cooper to just 6 for 24 shooting in the CW semi-final including 0-6 from three. Always long and athletic, Omoerah took that huge step to national prominence this season, increasing his compete level usually guarding opponent’s best player.
Bisons, who have gone 8 deep in the playoffs, typically ride their top four players for major minutes including Omoerah, 6’2″ Justus Alleyn, 5’11” Brandon transfer Ilarion Bonhomme and 5’11” sharpshooter A.J. Basi – all 4 typically have played 35+ minutes ex-foul trouble in Manitoba’s impressive post-season run.
Basi’s smooth stroke has epitomized Manitoba’s hot perimeter shooting – he went 16 for 38 in the 5 playoff wins including the winning three in Game Two at UBC and at least two momentum-changing threes – part of a 4 for 5 night from downtown – in the big win over Calgary. The former walk-on is arguably Bisons offensive catalyst.
Bohhomme runs the point and averaged 14.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5 assists per game in the 5 game post-season winning streak. Alleyn is a 2nd team Canada West all-star selection who defends the perimeter.
Up front, Bisons start 6’7″ Brett Jewell, who usually shares time with 6’7″ Joey Nitychoruk (Lakehead transfer) however prized 6’8″ freshman James Wagner saw his minutes rise vs. UBC and Calgary – the future star of the program played virtually the entire 4th quarter in the win over the Dinos. 6’4″ Malik Irwin is a long, paint-area player who has been getting about 15 mpg in the post-season.
Pre-tournament recap: Bisons, after a treacherous first half schedule that included twin games at Calgary, at UBC and Alberta at home, caught fire at the end of the first half, capturing the championship of the Wesmen Classic at Christmas and then peeled off 11 consecutive wins before a hick-up pair of losses at Brandon in early February. Manitoba struggled in their first home playoff game vs. Regina but came back from a double digit deficit with a blistering second half and did not look back, sweeping the Cougars to start their run through to the Canada West final.
Usual Starters: 5’11” Ilarion Bonhomme (5th Year), 5’11” A.J. Basi (5th Year), 6’2″ Justus Alleyn (4th Year), 6’4″ Keith Omoerah (4th Year), 6’7″ Brett Jewell (5th Year).
Wing forwards off the bench: 6’7″ James Wagner (Freshman), 6’4″ Malik Irwin (4th Year)
First big off bench: 6’7″ Joey Nitychoruk (5th Year).
Head Coach Kirby Schepp has built a program around local products including Omoerah (who originally committed to McMaster several years ago but returned home), Basi, Alleyn, Irwin, Jewell and Nitychoruk (who transferred back home from Lakehead). Bonhomme, a native of Washington, D.C. (Cardoza H.S.) tranferred in from Brandon while 6’5″ Jonathan Alexander, the 9th man who has seen limited action this post-season, is a GTA native.