TORONTO — Carleton-Ottawa III won't be for high stakes, but it will stoke the debate.
There is a belief that in the absence of a serious threat from down East or out West, the No. 3 Ottawa Gee-Gees might be the only team capable of preventing the No. 1 Carleton Ravens from winning a record ninth Canadian university men's basketball title next week. The matchup in the OUA Final Four championship game on Saturday under the dome roof of the former Maple Leaf Gardens will only be for seeding purposes. ("This is the big one, the automatic bid," Gee-Gees coach James Derouin said after Ottawa beat Windsor 78-58 in the late game.) It does help pad out the story.
Saturday's bronze-medal game between Lakehead and Windsor (4 p.m., The Score) is an elimination game. But Carleton-Ottawa (6 p.m., The Score), will be a good lead-in to the CIS Final 8 at Scotiabank Place. Dave Smart's Ravens boast two all-Canadian floor leaders, forward Tyson Hinz and guard Phil Scrubb, but have not reached the level their exacting coach expects. Yet they still have not lost since November. And still have a week to peak.
Ottawa knows who it is. The Gee-Gees, led by small forward Warren Ward's 26-point, eight-rebound six-assist brilliance and a 21-point night from Johnny Berhanemeskel, never betrayed a moment of worry Friday. The Lancers were in a shambles without point guard Josh Collins (ankle injury) and Ottawa owned the perimeter, taking control with a 14-2 run to close the first half.
"We don’t want to stay content, we don’t want to rest on our laurels, we still haven’t done anything," said Berhanemeskel, who iced the win with consecutive three-pointers in the fourth quarter that stretched Ottawa's lead to 15. "We don’t have a championship or a ring around our finger.
"Something that we've stuck to all year is we try to put the chip on our shoulder every practice, every game," the shooting guard added.
"We have a lot of guys who might have been underrecruited, but have a lot of good skills. Every guy has brought a little something and we've come together. It's great to share this opportunity to go to nationals with our rookies — I never got to do that in my first year [in 2010-11, when Ottawa lost the OUA semifinal on a buzzer-beater against Lakehead]."
With Lakehead's leading scorer, Ryan Thomson, out with injury, Carleton rolled 72-51 in the early semifinal. The Thunderwolves went 9½ minutes without a basket in the first half and shot just 14-of-57 (24.5 per cent). The Ravens had five double-digit scorers. Since it is Carleton and since their past teams only grow in reputation with each passing year, it's easy to believe the Ravens aren't where Smart wants them to be.
"We’ve got some things to clean up," said Scrubb, the reigning national player of the year. "Offensively, we didn’t play very confident. Toward the end we got some good shots and our defence was not bad for 90 per cent of the game.
"We don’t want to have games like that," the Richmond, B.C., native added. "I don’t think we overall got better today with stuff we’re trying to do. We have to have a bit more energy."
Carleton is craving the matchup.
"When you’re going into nationals, it will be good to have one of those games against a top team to know what we’re going to face," said the Ravens' defensive stopper, Thomas Scrubb, Phil's older brother.
Two weeks ago, Carleton outlasted Ottawa 111-107 in a breathless triple-overtime finale to the OUA regular season. The teams verified that they are incapable of playing a nothing game — they also needed OT in a similar situation at the end of the 2008-09 regular season. Let's face it, though, there was nothing to lose.
Saturday is just for argument's sake, but it should be played to the bone. Could Ottawa do it with the pressure ramped up?
"Just like the triple overtime game, it's two loose teams [on Saturday]," Derouin said. "Part of the challenge of playing Carleton is playing loose. Everyone gets tight when they play Carleton normally."
The Final 8 seeding committee will announce the field on Sunday all four conference championships are completed. Carleton will surely be the No. 1 seed. Ottawa fits in somewhere between second and fourth. In both 2007 and '09, the Gee-Gees were placed in the same half as the bracket as the Ravens, preventing the possibility of an all-Ottawa national final. That could happen again, but semifinal games often provide the most drama at the Final 8.
"We’ve definitely come down the stretch playing our best basketball," Berhanemeskel said. "It will definitely be worthy of debate when they do the seedings, whether they might give us a second or third. Regardless, anything’s possible and we believe we can beat whoever we play."
"We've had a five-point loss to them and a four-point loss to them," Ward said, referring to the Ravens. "We've shown what can we do all season."
Anticipating what's to come beats what was an anticlimactic night at the Mattamy Athletic Centre. Lakehead losing Thomson and Collins going down for Windsor was a bummer.
"Two all-stars being out is really too bad," Derouin said. "It really affected both games."
The two OUA West teams have to regroup for a season-defining game. Meantime, Carleton and Ottawa will be hard-pressed to top their last matchup.
"There’s no way – unless it goes into four overtimes," Berhanemeskel said.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.