After representing the RSEQ with a fifth place finish at last year’s CIS Championship, the McGill Redmen established themselves as favourites to return to Ottawa this year.
Last year’s Final 8 appearance was their first since 1979, and nothing indicated they would be back after losing top rotation guys in the off-season. Adrian Hynes-Guery (2012-2013 leading scorer), Te’Jour Riley, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Winn Clark, all starters, were gone. Vincent Dufort and Simon Bibeau were left with one of the youngest – if not the youngest – team in the CIS, as 9 of 15 players on the roster are rookies. NINE!
And we can’t say the level of play in the league significantly dropped. Yes, Concordia lost key players too (Kyle Desmarais and Evans Laroche most notably), but Bishop’s and Laval returned a promising core.
Here we are, two weeks away from the playoffs, and the CIS seventh-ranked Redmen (12-2) just clinched a second straight regular season title with a 69-63 win over the Gaiters on Saturday.
“I got to tell you, I’m surprised”, coach DeAveiro says. “When playing this many young kids, you don’t know what to expect. There’s been some inconsistency in our play, but for the most part, we’ve been 10-deep. Anybody can have a good night.”
The latest example would be Thomas Lacy. The shooting guard came off the bench and erupted for 30 in a 26-point rout of Laval last Thursday, way above his 6.3 scoring average.
McGill found two other “X factors” in freshmen François Bourque and Dele Ogundokun. Bourque, a CCAA all-canadian big man out of Montmorency, ranks second in the RSEQ in rebounding (7.7) and blocks (1.0), while also scoring 8.9 a game. As for Ogundokun, his versatility helped establish himself as an important piece of McGill’s offense. He is second only to Vincent Dufort in the team in scoring (11.5) and minutes played (32.1), while also leading the conference in steals (2.4) and three-point field goal percentage (49%).
Through the Final Four
What lies ahead is still a tough road to get to the Final 8 though.
“If the season ended today, we’d play Laval at Laval, which doesn’t really make sense” DeAveiro says. The thing is the playoffs format was changed to a homemade version of the Final Four this season. Usually, highest-seeded teams received lowest-seeded teams for semi-final and final games during the week. Now, #1 still plays #4, but at a location determined at the beginning of the season. It just so happens that Laval University is the location this year, and that the Rouge et Or might get rewarded with home-court advantage for finishing fourth.
“I like the concept of the Final Four, but I don’t like the playoffs format” continued DeAveiro, who has his Redmen at 12-2 for first in the conference. “There’s no reward for finishing first in our conference, so the season is devalued.We could have only three teams making the playoffs, so first gets a bye.”
The RSEQ already adopted the same format for volleyball, so it’s not impossible, but there are only four teams over there so they have no choice. I say the Final Four is a wonderful idea from a fan perspective, making an event out of the playoffs (or is it because Laval U is 10 minutes away from my place?), but I can’t say I blame coach DeAveiro for thinking that way.
The Rouge et Or, by the way, is one of only two teams to have beaten the Redmen this season, a 78-68 game at Laval on January 10th.
The Final Eight, where Quebec doesn’t happen
And if they do get out of the RSEQ, what’s next will be an even bigger challenge.
The last time a Quebec team won its first round game in the CIS men’s basketball championship was in 2005 when the Concordia Stingers beat the St-Mary’s Huskies (they went on to lose the gold medal game 68-48 against the Carleton Ravens). If you add it up, it’s been eight years since a Quebec team won its first round game at the Final 8.
Is it because teams from “La Belle Province” are bad?
Well, not necessarily.
First, there’s the fact that no Quebec team received a wild card in like forever, based on the strength of competition. “Next to the OUA East, Quebec had the best win-loss results in out of conference play last season,” according to DeAveiro, with Bishop’s and Concordia certainly being national-caliber teams.
Let’s be clear. I’m not complaining about the fact that these two teams didn’t get their ticket, I’m just saying that if they did, they would have had a shot.
Also, as DeAveiro says, “we always go in with a 6-7-8 seed, so first round is really more difficult when you go up against Carleton or Ottawa.” This is what happened last year at the Scotiabank Place where his #7 McGill Redmen lost 82-70 to #2 Ottawa Gee Gees, his former team. He admits being uncomfortable at the time, and vows to be more ready this time around.
“One of our goals was to get back to the CIS Championship. After that, anything can happen”, he says. “It’s gonna be a battle, especially on the defensive end, and we’ll have to count on the leadership of Simon [Bibeau] and Vincent [Dufort].”
The quest begins on March 1st.