Contributed by: Tyler Bennett / College Court Report Canada (@CCR_Canada)
Where has the time gone?
It’s seems like just yesterday we were getting ready for the start of the 2018-19 regular season in the OUA and now the final weekend is upon us. The weeks have come and gone, but with each passing game came the latest piece of the overall puzzle, albeit one that still has one gaping hole ahead of the postseason.
Only one playoff spot remains up for grabs in the league and that sixth spot in the East Division could very well come down to Saturday night’s contest between the Toronto Varsity Blues and the York Lions. Both teams enter the weekend with matching 7-14 records on the year, and depending on how Friday’s results go, the winner on Saturday could punch their ticket to the playoffs. If you want a drama-filled weekend to close out the regular season, you’ve come to the right place.
Even with the other 11 playoff spots secured ahead of this weekend, there are still plenty of intriguing matchups taking place across the province. From potential first round showdowns to rivalry games, the final weekend has something for everyone. Here are some of the games you won’t want to miss this weekend from across Ontario, as we put a bow on the regular season.
Brock Badgers at Lakehead Thunderwolves - Friday, February 15th & Saturday, February 16th
While all six spots in the playoffs for the West Division have been filled, there’s still plenty of movement that could happen over the final weekend of the season. From first through sixth, nothing is guaranteed and that certainly adds an extra dose of excitement to the weekend. One of the best games closing out the season will take place in Thunder Bay, Ont. when the Brock Badgers visit the Lakehead Thunderwolves in what could turn out to be a first round preview.
Last season, the Badgers were among the top teams in Canada all year long. They would eventually advance to the U SPORTS Final 8, where they would ultimately finish fifth, but it was a slightly different story this year. Even though they have taken a slight step backwards, however, they still rank among the top teams in the division and will be a threat for any opponent come playoff time. With 30 points and a 15-7 record to their name, the Badgers currently sit in third place in the West, albeit with a game in hand on the Western Mustangs, who entered the week with 30 points, but picked up a win over the Waterloo Warriors on Wednesday night to move ahead of the Badgers for the time being. With Western holding the tiebreaker between the two squads, Brock will need to sweep away the T'Wolves and hope for a Western loss to McMaster this weekend in order to claim the first-round bye.
Brock enters the final weekend of the season with five wins in their last six games; a stretch that includes a second-half comeback against Waterloo in their previous outing. The Badgers are playing some of their best basketball down the stretch, which should spark a boost in confidence heading into their weekend set with Lakehead. A pair of wins over the weekend would help Brock secure the aforementioned bye to the quarterfinals, but it certainly won’t be easy.
Senior guard Johneil Simpson (Toronto, Ont.) has been racing up the Badgers’ all-time scoring charts in recent weeks, and his 21.3 points per game average is tied for the third-best mark in the OUA this season. Simpson is one of four Brock players to average double-figures this season, a list that includes fellow senior Cassidy Ryan (Mississauga, Ont.). Ryan ranks second on the team with 18.1 points and third with 5.6 rebounds per night out. After coming to Brock from the Canisius Golden Griffins, Ryan has been an impact player on both ends of the court on a nightly basis. He has certainly contributed to the Badgers’ 88 point-per-game average as a team, a mark that makes them a threat to go on a run at any given point in the postseason. With their talent and experience from last season’s run, don’t be shocked if the Badgers end their season on a winning note and carry a little swagger with them to the postseason.
While Brock triumphed a season ago, Lakehead sputtered. The 2018-19 season, however, has been a remarkable one for the Thunderwolves to say the least after winning just two games and finishing in last place in the West Division last year. This season, Lakehead picked up their second win of the year on November 2 against the Nipissing Lakers in just their third game overall to match their total from the year prior. While a lengthy losing streak would follow, the Thunderwolves continued to fight and have seemingly turned things around.
Following their win over Nipissing, the Thunderwolves lost nine straight games; a streak that would carry them into the second weekend of the 2019 calendar year. Since they were swept by the Guelph Gryphons to open the winter semester, Lakehead has been one of the better teams in the OUA over the last 10. The Thunderwolves have posted a 7-3 record since their losses to the Gryphons, and they had a five-game winning streak during that stretch. Now, at 9-13 overall with two games left against the Badgers in the regular season, the Thunderwolves have secured themselves a spot in the playoffs and are looking to improve their seeding ahead of the postseason. Wins over the Badgers, along with some help from the McMaster Marauders, would help the Thunderwolves rise the ranks even more before the season is out.
A big reason for the team’s postseason berth is Isaiah Traylor (Tupelo, Miss.), who transferred to the Thunderwolves this season after playing with the North Alabama Lions. He has added an offensive spark to the rotation this year, averaging a team-high 16.7 points to go along with 6.0 rebounds per game over 21 appearances. Fellow guards Nick Burke (Hamilton, Ont.) and Lock Lam (Ottawa, Ont.) are threats to go off on any given night, adding an element of intrigue and surprise to the Thunderwolves offence, and if their guards find their groove early in games from the floor, Lakehead could shock some opponents with an upset victory in the second season.
Depending how the weekend plays out, the weekend set between Brock and Lakehead could prove to be a first-round preview, so you can bet Lakehead will be looking to give the Badgers a glimpse of what could await them next week.
York Lions at Toronto Varsity Blues - Saturday, February 16th
Both teams have tall orders ahead of them on Friday night in their penultimate games of the 2018-19 regular season and those results could add even more intrigue to a Saturday contest that could ultimately decide who heads to the playoffs and who heads home. The York Lions visit the Toronto Varsity Blues inside the Goldring Centre to determine who will be the sixth and final team to secure a playoff spot in the East Division, and what a game it should be.
The 2018-19 season has been one filled with its share of ups and downs for the York Lions. The team hasn’t been able to maintain any sort of positive momentum throughout the year and haven’t built a winning streak longer than two games. They have just three wins to their name since the calendar flipped to 2019, and they sit in seventh place in the East Division with a 7-14 record. But heading into the final weekend, they have momentum at their backs on the heels of their biggest win of the season.
In their last outing, the Lions stunned the sixth-ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees inside the Tait McKenzie Centre with a 78-67 victory to end their mini two-game slide. After a hefty loss to the Carleton Ravens the night prior, the Lions bounced back in a big way with a gutsy performance against the Gee-Gees to salvage a split for the weekend and give them a positive boost of momentum heading into a crucial set of games this weekend. Chevon Brown (Toronto, Ont.) led the way with 22 points on Seniors Night for the Lions and they had a total of four players reach double-figures to help send the seniors out with one last win on their home floor.
First-year guard DeAndrae Pierre (Brampton, Ont.) has had himself a strong year with the Lions, which bodes well for his future in the OUA. He has averaged 12.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game to this point this season, and the 6’2’’ product of GTA Prep will look to guide the Lions past two in-town rivals to help get his team into the playoffs. York has underachieved this season, but there’s still some time left for them to salvage a strong finish. Going on the road to Ryerson and Toronto won’t be an easy task, but look for the seniors to put the team on their backs to close out the season and try to make a last-ditch effort at advancing to the postseason.
Back on January 18, the Varsity Blues had a record of 7-8 through their first 15 games, and it looked as though they would find their way into the postseason without too much trouble down the stretch. Riding a three-game winning streak into their game with the Laurentian Voyageurs the following day, a win would have got them back to .500 on the year. Instead, a 95-94 loss at home kicked off a six-game losing skid that has put Toronto in a position where they need to fight down to the wire to secure their playoff spot.
The Blues come into the final weekend of the season with a 7-14 record and 14 points overall. They have the same record and number of points as the Lions, but the Varsity Blues hold the tiebreaker by way of their 63-58 win over the Lions back on January 11. In that game, Evan Shadkami (Toronto, Ont.) went for a team-high 15 points and six rebounds to help Toronto kick off their three-game winning streak, and a streak is certainly what they’ll be looking to start this weekend as well.
Toronto won’t blow you away on offence. They have four players averaging double-digit points per game – led by Shadkami’s 16.8 points per contest – but they average just 73.2 points per game as a team. On defence, meanwhile, they allow an average of 85.3; a net difference of -12.1 points per outing. First-year guard Inaki Alvarez (Altafulla, Spain) has shown flashes of strong play over his 14 appearances this season and ranks second on the team with 12.6 points per game on 47.4% shooting from the floor. Factor in Daniel Johansson (Stockholm, Sweden) and Nikola Paradina (Toronto, Ont.) and the Varsity Blues have a roster that has its fair share of experience and talent.
They will need to draw on that experience over the weekend to help get the team into the playoffs.
Keep an eye on Saturday’s contest between the Laurentian Voyageurs and the Carleton Ravens. The Voyageurs head to the city of Ottawa, Ont. for a pair of games against nationally-ranked teams and we all know what happened the last time they faced the top-ranked team in the country. Just days ago, Laurentian topped the Ryerson Rams, 88-82, and now have a chance to knock off the top team in the country for a second week in a row when they face the Ravens inside the Ravens’ Nest.