The seeds are set for the ArcelorMittal Dofasco CIS men’s basketball championship being held at the University of British Columbia from March 17-20 and broadcast on Sportsnet. It’s been a crazy year with lots of upsets and the most parity in recent memory. Who will be cutting down the nets on Sportsnet U? Before you fill out your bracket, buy your tickets and plan your viewing, here is a breakdown of my perspective on the 2016 field.
Ryerson Rams (OUA champions)
Regular season: 17-2 | Playoffs: 3-0
Enrolment – 39,430
Why I like them: They probably are the most talented team in the tournament. After knocking on the door with the big boys the last three years and competing physically, they’ve finally taken the next step psychologically and won close games.
Player to watch: Aaron Best
The 6-foot-4 senior guard from Scarborough, Ont., has crazy hops. Not only does he guard multiple positions, he uses his superior athleticism to get to the rim offensively and help clean the glass defensively.
Biggest win: 73-68 over Carleton
Toughest loss: 67-81 to Windsor
Twitter account: @RyersonRams
Carleton Ravens (OUA finalists)
Regular season: 16-3 | Playoffs 2-1
Enrolment – 26,771
Why I like them: They don’t beat themselves. They take care of the ball offensively and sacrifice their body defensively. In previous years when they’ve lost the Wilson Cup they’ve actually been more dominant at nationals. Even without Dave Smart on the sidelines, there's still a strong intimidation factor when Carleton enters the gym.
Player to watch: Gavin Resch
Resch is the emotional leader of the Ravens. He's filled a variety of roles for the team over his career and now is at the focal point of everything they do. There is a select few players who have won 5 CIS championships. After redshirting in his first year, Resch could become the only man to win 6 national titles if Carleton wins.
Biggest win: 79-73 over Baylor
Toughest loss: 79-61 to Ryerson
Twitter account: @CURavens
Hashtag - #GoRavens
Ottawa Gee-Gees (At-Large berth)
Regular season: 17-2 | Playoffs: 2-1
Enrolment – 42,672
Why I like them: They are the CIS version of the Golden State Warriors. The ball has energy offensively. Players give up a good shot for a great shot. Plus the bench reacts and the general camaraderie the group has is special.
Player to watch: Mike L’Africain
The tournament is won with superior seniors and guard play. L’Africain checks both boxes. The Gee-Gees' point guard is a big shot maker and taker. He played poorly in the Wilson Cup. Law of averages says he explodes in the Final 8.
Biggest win: 81-57 over Murray State
Toughest loss: 87-77 to Laval
Twitter account: @UOttawaGeeGees
Calgary Dinos (CWUAA champions)
Regular season: 17-3 | Playoffs: 4-0
Enrolment – 27,802
Why I like them: They are a team. The Dinos have players from four different countries and four different provinces. Yet it will be tough to find a more connected group in B.C. Their combination of styles and experiences make them an eclectic group but one that is fun to be around and cheer for.
Player to watch: Thomas Cooper
The Can West MVP can flat out score the basketball. He’s got a bit of James Harden to his game as he scores in a variety of ways and gets hot in a hurry. The Chattanooga, Tenn., native took a year off from playing basketball before landing in Calgary and has been patiently waiting for the big stage.
Biggest win: 91-84 over Thompson Rivers
Toughest loss: 84-86 to St. FX
Twitter account: @UCDinos
Hashtag: #GoDinos #WeAreAllDinos
McGill Redmen (RSEQ champions)
Regular season: 12-4 | Playoffs: 2-0
Enrolment – 39,988
Why I like them: They’ve got a tough draw but they’ve got talent. If you said rank the starting fives for every team in the tournament, McGill would fare much higher than their fifth-seed ranking. They’ve also got great leadership, as David DeAveiro is one of the best player development coaches in the country.
Player to watch: Noah Daoust
Not many players lead their team in blocks and three-pointers. Doust is a stretch 5 as the centre keeps McGill versatile on the offensive end. Don’t be surprised if the 6-foot-7 Dorval, Que., native hits some big threes trailing in transition or popping in pick and roll scenarios.
Biggest win: 70-61 over Queen’s
Toughest loss: 57-68 to Concordia
Twitter account: @McGillMBB
Hashtag: #McGillPride #RedNation
Dalhousie Tigers (AUS champions)
Regular season: 13-7 | Playoffs: 2-0
Enrolment – 18,564
Why I like them: The Tigers are making their second straight trip to nationals and are dangerous because they turn people over and get out in transition. If you like a physical team that doesn’t give up real estate easily and plays at a high pace, Dal is your squad. I think they are going to be a tough out in the tournament.
Player to watch: Ritchie Kanza Mata
The fourth-year player is the quintessential point guard. Mata does a great job of running his team. As one of the best guards in his class, Mata was a steal when he went out East from Toronto.
Biggest win: 87-68 over Acadia
Toughest loss: 80-64 to Saint Mary’s
Twitter account: @DalTigers
Thompson Rivers WolfPack (CWUAA finalists)
Regular season: 16-4 | Playoffs: 3-2
City: Kamloops, B.C.
Enrolment – 14,099
Why I like them: They are the CIS Final 8’s version of a Cinderella story. Representing a small school in Kamloops, B.C., their bid enter the tourney is a sign of a program ascending. In 2014-15 TRU had their first ever playoff series win and appearance in the Canada West quarter-finals. Now they’re in the national quarter-finals hoping to keep the dream alive.
Player to watch: Volodymyr Iegorov
He's one of the most dominant big men in the country and he’s still getting used to Canada. Seeking refuge and opportunity, Iegorov fled war-torn Ukraine to come to Canada with few guarantees. The Donetsk native came to B.C. with just two duffle bags hoping to work hard and gain an education. He’s now studying to get a master's degree in business and is a big reason why TRU is on the national stage as well.
Biggest win: 72-69 over UBC
Toughest loss: 62-57 to University of British Columbia Okanagan
Twitter account: @GoTRUWolfPack
Hashtag: #MyTRU #TRUMBB
UBC Thunderbirds (Hosts)
Regular season: 16-4 | Playoffs: 3-1
Enrolment – 58,945
Why I like them: They shoot the lights out. UBC shot 55 per cent from three in the Can West bronze medal game. They come into the game on a high after beating Manitoba by almost 30. Plus the home crowd will be on their side in the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, hoping they can match their football team and win a national title this season.
Player to watch: Conor Morgan
The player with the deepest range in the tournament is Morgan. The Mount Douglas Secondary grad is within shooting range as soon as he dribbles over half court. Don’t be surprised if you see Morgan take a few heat check shots if he sees a couple three-pointers go down.
Biggest win: 101-72 over Manitoba
Toughest loss: 79-83 to Regina
Twitter account: @UBCTBirds