Canada's own March Madness
As most of you likely know, I'm on the CIS beat at The Globe and Mail, and with the national men's basketball championship scheduled this weekend in Halifax, I'm a little more tied up than as per usual.
I'll be covering the event a little bit from Toronto, and the final two games will be broadcast on TSN on Saturday and Sunday. (The remaining games are available on a webcast, for those interested.) My stories will be in the newspaper both Saturday and Monday.
The interesting thing about the CIS Final Eight is that, in terms of television ratings at least, the final traditionally outdraws the NCAA final. Given that level of interest, you wonder why (a) more games aren't televised nationally and (b) we don't hear an awful lot more in this country about the national championship tournament.
Here's a look at the teams taking part in the Final Eight this year:
1. Concordia Stingers, Quebec champs (15-1, 2-0 playoffs)Carleton has to be the early favourite, given they've won the title four times in a row coming in, but I would take a wager on UBC and Ottawa also factoring in.
2. UBC Thunderbirds, West champs (20-3, 6-0 playoffs)
3. Carleton Ravens, Ontario finalists (19-3, 2-1 playoffs)
4. Brandon Bobcats, West finalists (20-2, 3-1 playoffs)
5. Windsor Lancers, Ontario champs (16-6, 3-0 playoffs)
6. Acadia Axemen, Atlantic champs (14-6, 3-0 playoffs)
7. Ottawa Gee-Gees, Ontario wild card (18-4, 1-1 playoffs)
8. Saint Mary's Huskies, Atlantic finalists (11-9, 2-1 playoffs)
I've had a chance to touch base with most of the coaches involved, and a few have understandably been leery of either giving the Ravens too much credit — or not enough.
Lancers second-year head coach Chris Oliver said part of what he had to work on with his team, given they hadn't had any experience with the tournament, was simply preparing them for the bigger scale of the event. Oliver has been a part of the national tournament in the past as a member of the McMaster Marauders' coaching staff.
"The initial process is going to be is education for our guys since they’ve not been there," he said. "It’s a process of educating them about what it’s like, what the experience is, how to manage their time.
"The good thing is from a technical basketball standpoint, our guys are playing really well right now and I think they’ll go in there with some confidence in terms of what we can do as a team, but it’s basically handling the moment in the other sense that’s so important. Obviously there’s a certain level of comfort from having experienced something before."
UBC head coach Kevin Hanson, who was one of the finalists for the national team head coaching position that eventually went to broadcaster Leo Rautins two years ago, said earlier this week that his team couldn't wait to get to Halifax. The Thunderbirds laid an egg at last year's tournament, bowing out in the first game after an undefeated regular season.
"I think the feeling on the team is pretty confident," he said. "The guys are really looking forward to getting there since we’re now on an eight-game winning streak going into the tournament."
Anyway, those are just a few tidbits that aren't going to make it into print. I may have more as the weekend goes along, including some thoughts from Canadian basketball legend Steve Konchalski.
Mark Wacyk, as always, has extensive coverage at CIShoops.ca
Apologies to my hockey-rabid audience for the brief digression.