Weekend Preview: Who is hitting the hardwood this weekend?

Photo by McMaster Marauders
Photo by McMaster Marauders

Contributed by: Tyler Bennett / College Court Report Canada (@CCR_Canada)

Everyone wants to be a part of the playoff picture, including Mother Nature.

This week, a winter storm caused Wednesday’s contest between the Waterloo Warriors and Brock Badgers to be postponed to Sunday. With the Badgers in the thick of things in the race for the OUA West Division title, Mother Nature tried to throw them a curveball to keep them on their toes on their quest for another trip to the U SPORTS Final Eight. With that said, the playoff picture has started to take shape and the weekend ahead has its share of intriguing matchups to keep us entertained.

The top three teams in each division have secured a playoff spot, but seedings are still up for grabs. The top six teams in each division advance to the postseason, but with so many teams in close quarters in the standings, anything could happen over the next two weeks before the regular season wraps up and the playoffs get rolling.

Here are three of the top games to keep an eye on as teams continue jockeying for position in the playoff picture from across the OUA landscape.

Ottawa Gee-Gees at Queens Gaels - Friday, February 8th

The playoffs are just two weeks away, and that puts a premium on the points that are still up for grabs in the regular season. On Friday night, the Ottawa Gee-Gees will visit the Queen’s Gaels in a key East Division battle that could go a long way in helping to determine the playoff seedings when the postseason rolls around.

Coming into the week, the Gee-Gees are one of three teams in the division to have secured themselves a playoff spot. Despite a loss in their last outing to the Carleton Ravens in the Capital Hoops Classic at the Canadian Tire Centre, the Gee-Gees bring a 13-6 record into their contest with the Gaels and sit third in the division standings behind the Ravens and the Ryerson Rams. The Gee-Gees and Gaels met back on January 19 in the nation’s capital, and in that one, it was Ottawa that came away with an 84-68 victory.

The Garnet and Grey will be looking for the season sweep over the Gaels and they’ll have their sights set on replicating their offensive output from their first outing on Friday night in Kingston. The Gee-Gees had five players finish that game with double-digit points, four of which were starters. Kevin Civil (Montreal, Que.) came off the bench to add 17 points in the win, while Calvin Epistola (Toronto, Ont.) went for 24 points and eight rebounds to lead the way for Ottawa on both ends of the court.

The Gee-Gees have seen balanced production for the majority of the 2018-19 season, and several of their first-year players have shown that they have what it takes to lead the program in the OUA for years to come. Civil is averaging 9.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game off the bench through 19 games. First-year forward Guillaume Pepin (Montreal, Que.) leads the Gee-Gees with 15.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Pepin is widely considered one of the top first-year players in the country, let alone the OUA, and he will look to lead Ottawa past the Gaels for the second time in a three-week span to re-start some positive momentum ahead of the playoffs.

After a rocky start to the 2019 calendar year, the Gaels come into Friday’s contest against the Gee-Gees having won two of their last three games to improve their record on the year to 10-9. Currently in fifth place in the division, the Gaels trail the streaking Laurentian Voyageurs by just two points heading into the weekend, while sitting six points behind the Gee-Gees. A win on Friday would go a long way in helping Queen’s secure a home playoff game.

Last time out, the Gaels’ offence found their groove and rolled to the 111-71 win over the York Lions inside Queen’s ARC Gymnasium to improve their home record to 5-4 on the year. Five different players scored in double-figures for the Gaels in what was a much-needed game for the team. The pair of Jaz Bains (Brampton, Ont.) and Tanner Graham (Kingston, Ont.) led the way with 22 points apiece for the home side, but the duo had an impact on the outcome on both ends of the court. In addition to his 22 points, Bains added two rebounds, seven assists, and seven steals, while Graham recorded a double-double with 12 rebounds of his own.

The Gaels are a team many thought could make some noise this season in the OUA, given their talent and experience. Through 19 games, they have yet to reach their full potential, but last week’s offensive outburst could have the team hitting their stride at the right time. With Bains and Graham leading the way, the Gaels will need contributions from their depth players and the rest of the starting five down the stretch if they want to make a surprising run at the Wilson Cup in a few weeks time.

McMaster Marauders at Algoma Thunderbirds - Friday, February 8th & Saturday, February 9th

As is the theme across the conference this time of the year, every game and every point matters in the race for the playoffs. Over the weekend, the Algoma Thunderbirds will play host to the McMaster Marauders in a pair of West Division games that could send ripples through the standings with just two weeks left in the regular season.

It’s been a roller coaster season for McMaster to say the least. They began the season with three straight wins, only to follow that up with three straight losses. Then, the Marauders limped into the Christmas break on a four-game losing streak and they haven’t been above the .500 mark since November 17, when they were 4-3. At 9-11 overall, the Marauders currently rank fourth in the West Division, just two points up on both the Lakehead Thunderwolves and Guelph Gryphons.

For the Marauders, they control their own destiny at this point in the season, and two wins over the Thunderbirds this weekend would go a long way in helping them secure a home playoff game. The Marauders need just one win over the weekend, or a loss by the Windsor Lancers, to secure themselves a playoff spot, but a home game is much more desirable than having to hit the road, so look for the Marauders to bring their A-game to Sault Ste. Marie. On the heels of back-to-back losses against the Brock Badgers and Western Mustangs, the Marauders will be looking to bounce back in a big way and get back to the .500 mark this weekend.

One bright spot this season for McMaster has been the play of first-year guard Jordan Henry (Pickering, Ont.). He ranks third on the team with 12.2 points per game while leading the maroon machine with 4.8 assists per contest. Henry has a six-game streak with double-digit points, and he has two double-doubles with points and assists in that same span. The return of Connor Gilmore (Etobicoke, Ont.) to the court has added another element to the attack on both ends of the court for the Marauders. After missing all of 2017-18, Gilmore leads the team with 16.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game this season, and he is the only player to start each game for the team. The Marauders have the talent to contend with the top teams in the West Division, without question, but they need to string together some positive results down the stretch to bring that contending ability to light in the postseason.

On the outside looking in at the playoff picture, the Thunderbirds need to win their remaining games and get some help from others in their division if they want to turn some heads and sneak into the sixth and final playoff spot. At 5-15 on the year, the Thunderbirds have had more downs than ups in 2018-19, but anything is possible until the season comes to an end. On a weekend where they will honour their graduating players, there will be some extra motivation to end their home playing careers with two big performances against McMaster.

After sweeping the Waterloo Warriors to open the 2019 calendar year on the right foot, the Thunderbirds lost their next six games. Last weekend, the Thunderbirds split their weekend series with the Guelph Gryphons, picking up a 77-63 win on Friday night behind a stat-stuffing performance from Nathan Riley (Kitchener, Ont.) of 23 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and seven steals. An overtime loss on Saturday halted Algoma’s win streak at just a single game, but they will look to begin a new one this weekend against McMaster.

All season long, Riley has been one of the more consistent two-way performers in the OUA. He can impact the game in so many ways on both ends of the floor, and it forces opposing teams to always be aware of his whereabouts on the court. If Algoma wants to make a last-minute run at the playoffs, the likes of Nick Gehlen (Tampa, Fla.), David Bokanga (Montreal, Que.), and Jermaine Lyle (Kitchener, Ont.) need to elevate their games and take things to another level on offence. A balanced attack on both ends of the court could help lead Algoma to a pair of wins over McMaster and better their playoff chances moving forward.

Western Mustangs at Brock Badgers - Saturday, February 9th

All season long, the race for top spot in the OUA West Division has been exciting. Now, with just two weeks to go before the playoffs and the top three teams already punching their postseason tickets, the attention shifts to see who can secure the first-round byes and advance to the quarterfinals. On Saturday night, the third-place Western Mustangs will head on the road for a tilt with the second-place Brock Badgers in what should be a tight contest from start to finish.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Mustangs were the talk of the town in the OUA and across the U SPORTS landscape. Riding a seven-game winning streak, Western had climbed into first-place in the West Division and were ranked 10th in the country. That lasted just one week, unfortunately, as a three-game losing streak saw the Mustangs drop from the rankings and slide down to third place in the division. A win over McMaster to cap off last weekend has the Mustangs back in the winner’s circle, and they’re looking for more this weekend against both Brock and the Windsor Lancers on Sunday.

Western’s contest against the Marauders was a back-and-forth affair. The Mustangs raced out to a 23-11 lead after the first quarter, only to have McMaster cut the deficit down to three points before halftime. In the third frame, the Mustangs extended their lead back to double-digits, only to have the Marauders make things tight down to the final buzzer. In the end, Western escaped with an 88-85 win on the road in what was a huge test for their resolve and ability to overcome adversity. Omar Shiddo (Toronto, Ont.) led the way with 24 points in the win.

Shiddo has emerged as one of the league’s top scorers this season in his third year of eligibility. He is currently tied for fourth in the OUA in scoring with an average of 20.4 points per game, tied with Waterloo’s Nedim Hodzic (Waterloo, Ont.). Also, among the league leaders is second-year forward Julian Walker (Barrie, Ont.), who ranks third in the conference in terms of shooting percentage. The 6’7’’ forward is shooting 60.5% from the field for the year, and he is averaging a team-best 7.5 rebounds per contest. The Mustangs have eight players averaging at least 4.8 points per game this season, and their depth will be key to the team making a run at the OUA Championship later this month.

Coming down the stretch in the packed OUA West Division, the edge should be given to the Badgers based on experience alone. Last season, Brock advanced to the national championship where they finished fifth. While they didn’t bring home a medal to St. Catharines, the Badgers know what it takes to advance to the Final Eight and having that experience in their back pockets could go a long way if things get tough in the postseason.

Having locked up a playoff spot already, the Badgers control their own destiny when it comes to securing a first-round bye. Currently in second place, a win over Western on Saturday would put the Badgers in prime position to stay one step ahead of the Mustangs. If they find themselves in a tie with the Laurier Golden Hawks for top spot, the Badgers do hold the tiebreaker which would give them the division’s No.1 position. The Badgers are riding a four-game winning streak into Saturday’s tilt with Western, and they will look to keep things rolling on both ends of the floor with another strong two-way performance.

Guard Johneil Simpson (Toronto, Ont.) has been climbing the all-time scoring ranks for Brock over the past few games. The 6’5’’ guard now sits third on the school’s scoring list with 2,791 points for his career and is just 29 points behind Dani Elgadi. Simpson, who ranks third in the league with an average of 22.3 points per game, went for 23 points in the Badgers’ win over Windsor last week to continue his climb up the list. Forward Cassidy Ryan (Mississauga, Ont.) has found his groove on the offensive end as well, posting double-digit points in eight straight games to help Brock keep pace atop the division.

The Badgers are one of the more talented teams in the conference this season but haven’t been able to quite live up to the hype thus far. However, with a four-game winning streak under their belts, they may have found their stride at the perfect time to make another run at the league title and more.