The stakes for the OUA final four might not seem overly high: No. 1-ranked Carleton, No. 2 and host Ottawa, No. 3 Ryerson and No. 5 Windsor all reconvening at next week's CIS Final 8 in Toronto would seem like a slam dunk.
In reality, it goes a little deeper, since one of the top four Canadian university men's basketball teams still active is going to go 0-2 this weekend and have its fate fall into the hands of the CIS seeding committee. There is a tendency to want the Final 8 field to be balanced nationally. Last season, the at-large berth went to Canada West. Windsor Lancers coach Chris Oliver, whose team draws Ottawa in Friday's early semifinal at Montpetit Hall (6 p.m. ET, OUA.tv), believes his team is in a must-win situation. Windsor was left out of the nationals each of the previous two years after losing the OUA bronze-medal game.
"I have zero per cent confidence," Oliver told OUA Today earlier this week when asked about the possibility of the Lancers getting the Final 8 wild card in the event they lose to Ottawa and in Saturday's OUA bronze-medal game. "Because when it comes down to politics — I know there's a math to it, but when it comes down to politics, who knows what will happen?
"The politics of this is there's four votes basically in the country, and only one of them comes from Ontario," Oliver added. "I think the last few years Ontario teams had every right to be the wild card and it didn't happen. I thought we were good enough to be there last year and the process played out [with the committee selecting Saskatchewan]. You could probably even argue that Ryerson [which was ranked higher but lost in the OUA quarter-final] should have got it ahead of us. They went outside of Ontario. I'm not sure what the answer to that process is, because obviously there has to be some voting body in addition to the math that goes with it.
"We look at this weekend and say, 'we got to win a game somewhere along the line,' and then I'll feel a lot more confident. At the end of the day, too, this whole critieria looks at where we're going to be seeded at nationals as well. In theory, we could go in and if we don't win a game and get the wild card, we could be a 7/8 seed and end up playing an Ontario team. I guess that's what makes it fun for fans at this time of year and maybe not as coaches as much."
Another factor is the "Acadia rule", so-called. The winner of a conference tournament must be seeded at least sixth at the Final 8. So, two teams that were never ranked in the Top 10 all season — the Dalhousie Tigers, which made a great run through the Atlantic Final 6 last weekend, and the Quebec champion — will receive the 5 and 6 seeds. Arguably, it might be beneficial to be in the 3 or 4 slot for the nationals at Ryerson's Mattamy Athletic Centre instead of being 1 or 2.
Measuring stick for Rana's Rams
At least the OUA's move to a four-division format and a RPI-based postseason has yielded the desired outcome of getting the four best teams into the final four. The late semifinal (8 p.m., OUA.tv) pits Ryerson against four-time defending champion Carleton. Coach Roy Rana's Rams are already in the Final 8 as host, but for a team whose veteran nucleus, including point guard Jahmal Jones and shooting guard Aaron Best have only been to one nationals, it's another exposure to Final 8-level competition.
Ryerson's only two regular-season losses were back-to-back in November at Ottawa and Carleton by a combined 47 points. This is a chance for the Rams to see what progress they have made, and perhaps earn a Final 8 seed that improves the chance of the host making it to the weekend.
"It’s not like we’re given a gift,” Rana told North Pole Hoops this week, “And then try to shock people in March.
“We all understand and know that we’re good enough to win it all,” Rana added. “We’re legitimately a contender.”
Carleton, of course, boasts brothers Phil Scrubb and Thomas Scrubb, who are vying to become the fourth and fifth players to win five career national titles. The Ravens have often run with four guards working the baseline and perimeter and Thomas Scrubb (17.2 points, 7.6 rebounds per game) as the lone combo forward. Phil Scrubb has also turned into more of a playmaker, increasing his assists from 2.7 per game in 2013-14 to 4.5. Guard Connor Wood (47.8 per cent from three) has become a solid third option on offence.
The Windsor-Ottawa tilt matches perhaps the country's two most exciting teams. The Lancers' Rotimi Osuntola (20.2 points, 11.5 rebounds) was the OUA's only 20/10 player in the regular season and is complemented by two savvy fifth-years, guard Khalid Abdul-Gabar and power forward Evan Matthews. They also beat Carleton at home in January, vexing the Ravens with a 1-2-2 zone trap. Windsor is also coming off an impressive takedown of No. 4-ranked McMaster in the OUA quarter-final.
Ottawa, of course, boasts Canada's best pure scorer, Johnny Berhanemeskel, who led the OUA at 23.2 per game and was named the conference player of the year on Thursday. The Gee-Gees, with a superb small forward in third-year Caleb Agada, have also become blending a grinding element into their patented high-wire act.
Friday's tilt gives Ottawa an opportunity to show how ready it is for March. And yes, it could yield a likely third showdown of the season against Carleton in the Wilson Cup, although both teams would already have Final 8 tickets punched.
“Any time you get to play at home, it’s particularly great,” Ottawa coach James Derouin told the Ottawa Citizen. “Carleton’s gym is their gym. That would still be in Ottawa, so we would certainly eliminate the travel aspect from it, but we’d certainly rather have it in our own gym and at our own school, with our fans and the rims and lighting and all the advantages in basketball that go with hosting other teams at home.”
There is more potential for the unexpected than usual, though.
Elsewhere, the other three automatic berths will be decided this weekend. The Saskatchewan Huskies host the Canada West Final Four. The winners of Friday's Alberta-UBC and Victoria-Saskatchewan semis quality. The Bishop's Gaiters host the Quebec championship that begins Friday, with Concordia and McGill meeting in the first semifinal while the hosts face Laval.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.