Playoff positioning on the line
Bisons hoopsters in battle for top spot, home-court advantage in Canada West
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The Canada West Universities Athletic Association men’s basketball regular season is heading into its final weekend with key playoff matchups and seedings unsettled.
You can count the Manitoba Bisons and Winnipeg Wesmen among the teams with the most at stake.
Manitoba, currently in first place with a 16-2 record, will need to win both of its games against the Thompson Rivers WolfPack, 5-13 and 16th in Canada West, in Kamloops, B.C., and hope for some help to clinch the top seed and the right to host in each round of the playoffs.
Since post-season seedings are determined by Ratings Percentage Index, a strength of schedule metric, the Bisons would fall to the second seed if the second-place UVic Vikes, currently 15-3, sweep a weekend series against their heated provincial rival, the fifth-place UBC Thunderbirds.
The third-place Wesmen, 14-4, have a tough home twin-bill against the sixth-place Trinity Western Spartans on Friday and Saturday. Winnipeg, hoping to preserve a third seed and host a quarter-final game, could conceivably climb into the second spot should the Bisons lose once to the WolfPack with the Wesmen sweeping the Spartans.
Twelve teams will qualify for the playoffs with seeds eight through 12 required to play a play-in game on Feb. 17 before playing a quarter-final on Feb. 18 against one of the top four seeds.
“It becomes a huge advantage if you are able to play at home without a question,” said Wesmen head coach Mike Raimbault Wednesday. “In terms of our approach, we’re really just concentrating on Friday night and getting ready to play a really good Trinity team that has some quality wins on their resume as well this season.
“So we’re expecting to have our hands full.”
The Bisons, who earned a split of a home-and-home series with the Wesmen last week, have altered their approach slightly with the playoffs looming.
Head coach Kirby Schepp has pared down practice time, hoping to avoid injury.
“We’re keeping things high intensity but low volume, right?” said Schepp. “So we’re going for an hour, 15 minutes. And then there’s a lot of video work and a lot of tactical stuff. We want to get after it but we’re not going to go for long duration. We’re just trying to keep everybody fresh.”
Raimbault, noting there’s bound to be wear and tear on all his players, has a similar approach.
“You’ve covered a lot of things and so you can probably get through the same amount of material in a shorter amount of time than say in the first semester just because you’ve already spent time dealing with some of the similar things that teams do,” said Raimbault. “So you can reduce some of your time on court that way.”
The Wesmen have made major strides this season, rising on the national scene with the help of a number of young players. One example is rookie forward Ryan Luke, who has rebounded to earn key minutes off the bench after being sidelined with a severe ankle injury in training camp.
“Luke has been a pretty key contributor for us in the second semester,” said Raimbault of the John Taylor Collegiate grad. “He had a really tough injury in the first semester that saw him miss the entire training camp, so it took him a little while to get sort of acclimatized to the pace of play and get settled into the rhythm of the games at this level. He’s had some big weekends for us.”
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Wednesday, February 8, 2023 7:30 PM CST: Fixes typo in cutline