Quest for the Cup: A closer look at the first round matchups hitting the hardwood

Quest for the Cup: A closer look at the first round matchups hitting the hardwood

Burlington, Ont. - Let the quest for the Wilson Cup begin. 12 teams are set to hit the hardwood as part of this year's postseason play - including eight on Wednesday night - but only time will tell who will come out on top once the final buzzer sounds on round one.

No. 6 York Lions (8-15) v. No. 3 Ottawa Gee-Gees (15-8)


Pre-Game | One team has been ranked among the nation’s best for most of the season, while the other had to win their regular season finale just to get into the playoffs. The Ottawa Gee-Gees and York Lions took different routes throughout the regular season, but those roads have led to a head-to-head matchup in the opening round. After splitting the regular season series, both teams will be eyeing continued momentum en route to inching closer to a Wilson Cup title.

Players to Watch | With their win over the Toronto Varsity Blues in the regular season finale getting them into the playoffs, there’s at least one more contest for the seniors at York. Veteran guard Chevon Brown (Toronto, Ont.) has been at the forefront of the Lions’ offence all season long, and he closed the regular season averaging a team-high 14.9 points per contest. Fellow elder statesmen Gianmarco Luciani (Maple, Ont.) and Gene Spagnuolo (Maple, Ont.) will also look to continue their collegiate careers by coming out on top against Ottawa for the second time in the last couple weeks. While most of the attention surrounding York goes to the veterans, the future does seem bright for the Lions with the play of first-year guard DeAndrae Pierre (Brampton, Ont.). Pierre was the biggest pick-up of the offseason for York, and he has panned out to the tune of 13.0 points and 2.5 assists per game (both second on the team). Pierre has shown that he can be a star in the league as a rookie, but he won’t be the only talented freshman hitting the floor in their battle with the Garnet and Grey.

Much like York with Pierre, the Gee-Gees have a young star ready to take the reins in Guillaume Pepin (Montreal, Que.). The transfer from Jean de Brébeuf Dynamiques (CCAA) has been an impact player from day one with the Gee-Gees, as he leads Ottawa in both scoring and rebounding with averages of 15.4 points and 7.5 boards per contest. In total, the Gee-Gees have five players who are averaging double-digit points per game; a group that includes first-year guard Kevin Civil (Montreal, Que.). The former guard of Nomades de Montmorency (CCAA) has come off the bench in all 23 games for Ottawa this season and ranks fifth on the team with 10.1 points on 41.6% shooting. The youngsters have played prominent roles this season amidst the team’s healthy balance of youth and experience, and they will look to help guide the Gee-Gees through the first obstacle on their quest for the Wilson Cup.

Season Series | When you compare the first meeting against the second, it was almost night and day for both teams as they split their two regular-season encounters. In the first matchup at the midway point of January, the Gee-Gees used a 47-point first half to take a 20-point lead into the break and they never looked back, cruising to the 34-point win. In the second meeting, the Lions kept their playoff hopes alive with a 78-67 win over the Gee-Gees. York built on their lead with each passing quarter and held down home court with the 11-point victory.

January 18, 2019 | York 58 Ottawa 92
February 9, 2019 | Ottawa 67 York 78

 

No. 5 Queen’s Gaels (12-11) v. No. 4 Laurentian Voyageurs (13-10)


Pre-Game | If you want a game that’s filled with talent and features two of the best guards in the country, you’ve come to the right place. The Laurentian Voyageurs and Queen’s Gaels finished the regular season just two points apart in the East Division standings, and their two contests in the regular season have their playoff meeting set up as the rubber match. Two of the top-scoring guards in the country are set to go head-to-head one last time with a spot in the quarterfinals awaiting the winner.

Players to Watch | They haven’t been able to reach their full potential this season, but the Queen’s Gaels have talent up and down their roster. The group of Jaz Bains (Brampton, Ont.), Tanner Graham (Kingston, Ont.), and Quinton Gray (Richmond Hill, Ont.) have led the team all season long and have combined to average 48.8 points per game. As a team, the Gaels collect 75.6 points per contest, which has the Bains / Graham / Gray trio accounting for nearly 65% of the team’s offensive production on a nightly basis. Up front, Graham leads the way with an average of 8.1 rebounds per contest, while Bains paces the pack with 4.0 assists per game from the backcourt. There’s a bit of a disparity in terms of offensive production with the Gaels, as the highest total after Gray’s 14.2 points per game average is the 6.3 from Matt Elcock (Waterdown, Ont.), so if Queen’s wants to make a lengthy run this postseason, they’ll need to see some more balanced scoring throughout their roster to help take some pressure off the Big Three.

By now, you’ve become familiar with Kadre Gray (Toronto, Ont.) and what he can do on the basketball court. The reigning OUA Player of the Year and U SPORTS Male Student-Athlete of the Year has his sights on keeping both awards this season and his numbers are more than impressive enough to do just that. Through 20 games, Gray is averaging 31.0 points on 48.8% shooting from the floor and 32.7% from three-point range to go along with 7.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists per contest. Simply put, he continues to stake his claim as one of, if not the best player in the country, and all the opposition can do is hope to contain him as best they can. For Laurentian to make a run in the postseason, the likes of Anthony Iacoe (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.), Josis Mikia-Thomas (Toronto, Ont.), and others will need to maintain their more productive to continue to alleviate some of the pressure from Gray. Certainly, the offence runs through the hands of Toronto native on most possessions, but the surrounding Voyageurs need to find the next gear for Laurentian to find playoff success in 2018-19.

Season Series | Both games between the Gaels and Voyageurs this season have been exciting contests that have seen the road team prevail. In the first game of 2019 for both programs, Queen’s got the best of Laurentian with an 87-80 victory. Graham went for 22 points off the bench to lead four different Gaels with double-digit points. The second meeting saw Gray and Bains go toe-to-toe all night long, but the former helped his Voyageurs ultimately prevail by an 85-72 margin. The backcourt beasts went for 34 points apiece in what was a fantastic offensive showing by both parties. If the first two contests were any indication, the third instalment of the season series on Wednesday will be one to keep an eye on.

January 4, 2019 | Queen’s 87 Laurentian 80
January 26, 2019 | Laurentian 85 Queen’s 72

 

No. 6 Lakehead Thunderwolves (10-14) v. No. 3 Brock Badgers (16-8)


Pre-Game | If you didn’t get enough of Lakehead and Brock over the final weekend of the regular season, you’re in luck, as the two will square off once more in the first round of the postseason. This time, however, the venue switches to the Bob Davis Gymnasium in front of the raucous Badgers crowd. The Thunderwolves are one of the best stories of the season, as their eight-win increase from the year prior helped them jump from the bottom of the barrel to a postseason position in just one year. The Badgers will be looking to find some consistency in the postseason as they as they strive to end Lakehead’s Cinderella story and take another step towards a repeat trip to the national championship.

Players to Watch | In simple terms, Lakehead orchestrated one heck of a turnaround from their two-win 2017-18 campaign to snag the final playoff spot this year. Transfer guard Isaiah Traylor (Tupelo, Miss.) has added a different element to the Thunderwolves’ offence, both with his experience of playing in the NCAA and his overall talent on the court. Traylor led the team with 16.5 points per game during the regular season while shooting 40.8% from the floor. He had his streak of 15 straight games in double-figures snapped in the season finale against Brock, but he will look to get back to his productive ways against the Badgers on Wednesday. When fellow guards Nick Burke (Hamilton, Ont.) and Alston Harris (Ottawa, Ont.), along with forward Lock Lam (Ottawa, Ont.), are added into the mix, the T’Wolves have a talented core group hungry for playoff success on the heels of their strong regular season.

Johneil Simpson (Toronto, Ont.) has been soaring up the scoring charts at Brock down the stretch, and after posting a combined 25 points over the Badgers’ two games against Lakehead on the final weekend of the regular season, Simpson passed Dani Elgadi for second on the all-time list. Simpson ranks fourth in the OUA this season with an average of 20.5 points per game on 44.7% shooting from the floor. Up front, Cassidy Ryan (Mississauga, Ont.) gives the Badgers a punch on both ends of the court. Across his 24 starts, the Badgers big man averaged 18.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest. Despite the loss of Elgadi from last year’s team that finished fifth at nationals, the Badgers have a group that knows what it takes to advance, and that experience could prove invaluable as Brock writes the first chapter of their 2018-19 postseason story.

Season Series | The Thunderwolves and Badgers had to wait until the final weekend of the regular season to meet one another on the hardwood, but it was worth the wait for fans of both programs. Both teams picked up a win in Thunder Bay to split the regular season tilts. Lakehead notched their 10th win of the season with a convincing 20-point win over the Badgers in the first outing, behind 22 points from Traylor and 20 from Burke. The next night, Brock got some late-game heroics from Simpson, as his late three-pointer gave the Badgers a 73-72 win to end the season on a high note. Wednesday night marks the third time in a week that the two will face off against one another; only this time there’s a spot in the quarterfinals on the line.

February 15, 2019 | Brock 74 Lakehead 94
February 16, 2019 | Brock 73 Lakehead 72

 

No. 5 Guelph Gryphons (11-13) v. No. 4 McMaster Marauders (11-13)


Pre-Game | Both the McMaster Marauders and Guelph Gryphons recorded matching 11-13 marks this season, but thanks to the Marauders’ 17-point win over the Gryphons back in January, their first-round meeting will take place in the Steel City. Separated by a mere 46-kilometre drive down Highway 6, bragging rights are also on the line when the Gryphons and Marauders square off on Wednesday night to punch their ticket to the quarterfinals.

Players to Watch | Following the 2017-18 season, Guelph lost their top four scorers from a team that finished 6-18 and missed the playoffs altogether. This year’s group, however, rose the ranks to orchestrate a five-game turnaround and get into the postseason as West Division’s fifth-seed. Leading the way are veterans Banky Alade (Sherwood Park, Alta.) and Tommy Yanchus (Guelph, Ont.), along with young stars in Malcolm Glanville (Toronto, Ont.) and Rasheed Wilkes (Mississauga, Ont.). At the conclusion of the regular season, Alade ranked as the top rebounder across the country, with an average of 11.1 rebounds per game, to go along with 14.5 points. Yanchus (17.4 PPG) and Glanville (17.3 PPG), meanwhile, give the Gryphons a talented one-two punch on the back end to carry the bulk of the offence. While their four-game winning streak came to an end against the Laurier Golden Hawks in their regular season finale, the Gryphons have seemingly hit their stride at the right time, and they’ll shoot to keep the offence rolling against the Marauders.

The return of Connor Gilmore (Etobicoke, Ont.) seemed to rally the Marauders out of the gates in 2018-19. Following three straight wins to open the year, McMaster had the look of a team that could be a surprise contender in the conference this season. What followed, however, was an inconsistent stretch filled with more downs than ups as the team couldn’t maintain its momentum from those first three wins. With that being said, Gilmore finished the regular season leading the Marauders with 16.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest after missing the prior season altogether. First-year guard Jordan Henry (Pickering, Ont.) had himself a strong debut campaign, making 21 starts over 24 appearances and averaging a team-best 4.7 assists to go along with an average of 11.9 points along the way. Rounding out the team’s weapons, meanwhile, is senior guard David McCulloch (Hamilton, Ont.), who is one of the better two-way players in the league. When McCulloch and company are clicking, their pedigree makes them a team that you don’t want to face in a single-elimination game.

Season Series | We didn’t know it at the time, but the first meeting between Guelph and McMaster would ultimately decide who hosted Wednesday’s festivities. The Marauders blitzed the Gryphons on their home court back in January, using a big second quarter to overcome a first frame deficit and pace them to a 17-point win. Heading into their second meeting, the teams were neck-and-neck in the West Division standings, but for Guelph to win the tiebreaker against Mac, they needed to win by 18 points or more. The Gryphons came away victorious, but only by a two-point margin. For the most part, however, both head-to-heads were competitive, which bodes well for Wednesday night’s tilt.

January 11, 2019 | McMaster 97 Guelph 80
February 13, 2019 | Guelph 77 McMaster 75