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March Madness (Canada’s version) is here | CBC Sports



March Madness (Canada’s version) is here | CBC Sports

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The NCAA basketball tournaments are still two weeks away. But Canada’s version of March Madness tips off Thursday with the opening round of the U Sports women’s Final 8 in Edmonton. The men get started Friday in Quebec City.

Yes, the Canadian university championships are dwarfed by their 68-team American counterparts in terms of viewership, broadcast-rights money and office gambling pools. But they’re quality tournaments in their own right, using the same single-elimination bracket format that generates so much excitement in the States.

Here’s more about them:


All signs point to a Saskatchewan-Carleton showdown for the Bronze Baby trophy on Sunday night in Edmonton.

Carleton, the defending national champion, finished the regular season 21-1 to clip Saskatchewan for the top spot in the final rankings last month. The Ravens then took care of business in the Ontario conference playoffs, culminating with their 63-55 win over national No. 3 Queen’s in the Critelli Cup final on Saturday.

But Saskatchewan stole the No. 1 seed for the national championship tournament with a more dominant playoff run. Coming off a 19-1 regular season, the Huskies mowed through their three Canada West foes by an average of 26 points, including a 73-42 smothering of No. 8 Alberta in the conference title game.

Anything can happen in a single-elimination bracket, but it would take a big upset to knock either of these teams out before the final. Saskatchewan has the highest scoring and most efficient offence in the country while also ranking in the top three defensively. Carleton is second in offence and sixth in defence in terms of efficiency, which accounts for the pace at which teams play.

Saskatchewan’s very balanced attack is powered by the veteran triumvirate of forward Carly Ahlstrom and guards Téa DeMong and Gage Grassick — all averaging between 13.0 and 14.3 points per game this season. The Huskies, who are coached by former Canadian national team bench boss Lisa Thomaidis, face a deceptively tough first-round opponent in Calgary. The eighth-seeded Dinos tied Alberta for first in the country in defensive efficiency and also boast a strong offence, but they needed an at-large selection to get into the tournament after Alberta upset them in the Canada West quarterfinals.

Carleton is led by Kali Pocrnic, the MVP of last year’s national championship tournament. The fourth-year guard averaged 15.1 points per game this season before dropping 40 on McMaster in the Ontario quarterfinals and 20 on Queen’s in the final to earn the Critelli Cup MVP award. The No. 2-seeded Ravens take on No. 7 Fraser Valley in the opening round of the national championship tournament.

Here’s the schedule for Thursday’s first round:

(7) UFV vs. (2) Carleton at 2:30 p.m. ET
(6) Queen’s vs. (3) Saint Mary’s at 4:30 p.m. ET
(8) Calgary vs. (1) Saskatchewan at 8 p.m. ET
(4) Laval vs. (5) Alberta at 10 p.m. ET

The semifinals are Saturday at 8 p.m. ET and 10 p.m. ET, and the championship final goes Sunday at 9:30 p.m. ET.

Read more about top-seeded Saskatchewan’s quest for the Bronze Baby in this story by CBC Sports’ Rory Sumner.


Wait, where’s Carleton? The Raven men are Canada’s answer to John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty of the 1960s and ’70s, except even more dominant. Whereas Wooden’s teams won 10 NCAA titles in 12 years, Carleton has captured an incredible 17 of the last 20 national championships, including the past four in a row.

But the Ravens struggled with a young roster this season, going just 13-9 before a one-point loss to Brock in the first round of the Ontario playoffs caused them to miss the national championship tournament for the first time in 22 years.

Brock is the Cinderella story of the tourney. The Badgers barely made the Ontario playoffs at 11-11 before taking out Carleton and then upsetting a pair of nationally ranked teams in No. 3 Ottawa and No. 8 Western to reach the conference final against No. 2 Queen’s last Saturday. Brock nearly went full Hoosiers, keeping the game deadlocked in the dying seconds. But Queen’s guard Cole Syllas banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Gaels their first Wilson Cup since 1957 as delirious fans stormed their home court.

WATCH | Queen’s clinches OUA Wilson Cup at the buzzer:

Queen’s captures OUA Wilson Cup Championship title with last second game-winning buzzer beater

Queen’s Cole Syllas dropped the winning basket as the Golden Gaels defeated Brock Badgers 79-76 to claim the OUA Wilson Cup.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, Brock’s trip to the Ontario final earned it the No. 5 seed for the national championship tournament. The Badgers will face No. 4 Dalhousie, the Atlantic champs. Queen’s got the No. 2 seed and a matchup with No. 7 Winnipeg, the Canada West runner-up. Despite its early playoff loss to Brock, Ottawa was awarded the only at-large berth and the No. 6 seed. The Gee-Gees will play No. 7 UQAM, the Quebec champions.

For the second straight year, Victoria landed the top seed after going 17-3 in the regular season and beating Winnipeg in the West playoff final. More déjà vu: the Vikes once again led the country in both points and offensive efficiency while Diego Maffia was the nation’s top scorer. After averaging nearly 25 points per game last season, the Brazilian-born point guard climbed to 26.7 along with five assists.

Victoria hopes the eerie similarities to last year end there because, after barely avoiding an opening-round upset to UPEI, they got bounced in the second round by St. FX. This time, they shouldn’t have much trouble with host Laval, which went 6-10 in the regular season before being eliminated quickly in the playoffs.

Here’s the schedule for Friday’s first round:

(6) Ottawa vs. (3) UQAM at 1 p.m. ET
(7) Winnipeg vs. (2) Queen’s at 3 p.m. ET
(1) Victoria vs. (8) Laval at 6 p.m. ET
(5) Brock vs. (4) Dalhousie at 8 p.m. ET

The semifinals are Saturday at 6 p.m. ET and 8 p.m. ET, and the championship final goes Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.

How to watch

Every game in the men’s and women’s tournaments, including the consolation rounds and Sunday’s bronze-medal games, will be streamed live on, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.

Games before the finals will also be available on the CBC Sports YouTube channel.

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