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2024 OUA men’s playoff preview: First round

The Ontario University Association (OUA) men’s basketball playoffs are heating up as the top 12 teams prepare to battle for the conference championship.

Ontario Tech Ridgebacks guard Keon Baker scoops in a right-handed layup. The upstart Ridgebacks reached the U Sports national rankings for the first time
Ontario Tech Ridgebacks guard Keon Baker scoops in a right-handed layup. The upstart Ridgebacks reached the U Sports national rankings for the first time. - Photo: Ontario Tech Ridgebacks

The Ontario University Association (OUA) men’s basketball playoffs are set to ignite, with the top 12 teams gearing up for a fierce battle to secure the conference championship.

After a demanding 22-game regular season filled with intense matchups, surprising upsets, and relentless competition, the stage is now set for the pursuit of the coveted U Sports men’s basketball championship.

This season marks the second installment of the OUA’s recent realignment, shifting from the transient East and West format to the reintroduction of the Central division.

The OUA’s competitiveness resonated nationally, with an impressive 11 out of the conference’s 18 teams earning spots in the national rankings at various points during the season. Notably, the OUA East division showcased two of the top three teams in the nation for the majority of the season.

2024 OUA playoffs top seeded teams

Division leaders—No.1 Queens Gaels (19-3), No.2 Ottawa Gee-Gees (19-3), No.3 Western Mustangs (16-6), and No.4 Toronto Blues (13-9)—have earned first-round byes and secured seeds 1-4 based on their respective conference winning percentages.

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As the playoffs commence, attention shifts to the four intriguing opening-round matchups, determining which of the remaining four teams will advance to the quarter-finals and join the top four seeds.

Ontario tech ridgebacks point guard zubair seyed embraces head coach deluxshan pathmanathan
Ontario Tech Ridgebacks point guard Zubair Seyed embraces second-year head coach Deluxshan Pathmanathan – Sean McLeod/Ontario Tech Ridgebacks

No. 12 Lakehead Thunderwolves (10-12) vs. No. 5 Ontario Tech Ridgebacks (16-6)

This opening-round clash between the Lakehead Thunderwolves and the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks may be a relatively new rivalry, but it’s already shaping up to be a must-watch event.

The Thunderwolves, sitting at the 12th seed, will be looking to upset the higher-seeded Ridgebacks, who have been the surprise team of the season. With only three previous encounters between these programs, the matchup offers a fresh storyline and the potential for fireworks on the court, as both teams boast offenses that like to push the tempo and score in bunches.

Ontario Tech Ridgebacks – 2023-24 Season: Under the guidance of head coach Deluxshan Pathmanathan in his second season, the Ridgebacks have had an impressive run with a 16-6 record in the regular season. With solid road wins over Carleton and Western, as well as home wins over Queens, they cracked the national rankings for the first time in the five-year history of the program. Their offensive ability is evident, averaging 77.8 points per game. The team, led by key players Keon Baker, Zubair Seyed and Ayub Nurhussien, has shown consistency in their performance, making them a force to be reckoned with.

Lakehead Thunderwolves – 2023-24 Season: Led by Head Coach Ryan Thomson in his sixth season, the Thunderwolves had a challenging regular season, finishing 10-12. However, with a roster featuring standout players like Nathan Bilamu, Harold Santa Cruz, and Chris Sagl, they have the potential to be a formidable opponent. The Thunderwolves will be eager to showcase their resilience in the playoffs, aiming to capitalize on their strengths.

Key Players to Watch: Ontario Tech Ridgebacks: Keon Baker (19.1 PPG), Zubair Seyed (16.5 PPG), Ayub Nurhussien (13.8 PPG). Lakehead Thunderwolves: Nathan Bilamu (15.6 PPG), Harold Santa Cruz (15.5 PPG), Chris Sagl (15.0 PPG).

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Historical Context: Previous encounters favor Lakehead with a 2-1 record in overall and regular-season matchups. However, Ontario Tech claimed victory in their recent face-off on February 10, 2024, with an 85-79 win.

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Laurier golden hawks point guard taye donald races to hoop for a tough lay up against the ottawa gee gees
Laurier Golden Hawks point guard Taye Donald races to the hoop for a tough lay-up against the Ottawa Gee-Gees – Photo: Laurier Athetics

No. 11 York Lions (11-11) vs. No. 6 Laurier Golden Hawks (14-8)

As the OUA men’s basketball playoffs gain momentum, the encountered between the No. 11 York Lions and the No. 6 Laurier Golden Hawks promises a tight affair between two teams that have experienced remarkable journeys, with each overcoming unique challenges throughout the season.

York Lions – 2023-24 Season: Under Coach Holness, the Lions navigated the regular season challenges to secure the 11th seed. With a record of 11-11, the Lions showcased offensive efficiency, averaging 78.6 points per game. Evan Shadkami and Josh Noton played pivotal roles, providing scoring consistency and leadership.

Laurier Golden Hawks – 2023-24 Season: Guided by Coach Serresse, the Laurier Golden Hawks earned the sixth seed with a 14-8 record. Their well-balanced play is evident in an average of 82.6 points per game. Standout performers Taye Donald and DeAndrae Pierre contributed significantly to Laurier’s success on both ends of the floor.

Key Players to Watch: York Lions: Evan Shadkami (21.6 PPG), Josh Noton (18.4 PPG) Laurier Golden Hawks: Taye Donald (20.7 PPG), DeAndrae Pierre (15.8 PPG)

Previous Encounters: In the ongoing rivalry, York and Laurier are deadlocked with a 16-16 overall record. Yet, the recent trend favors York, securing the last four encounters, including a tense 81-80 victory on February 10, 2024. York also holds a 1-0 playoff advantage.

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Carleton ravens marjok okado plays tough defence against brock badgers freshman guard nemnja sarkanovic
Carleton Ravens Marjok Okado plays tough defence against Brock Badgers freshman guard Nemnja Sarkanovic – Photo: Brock Badgers

No. 10 Brock Badgers (11-11) vs. No. 7 Carleton Ravens (13-9)

In a match-up of contrasting trajectories, the No. 10 Brock Badgers face off against the No. 7 Carleton Ravens in a pivotal matchup of the OUA men’s basketball playoffs. Despite enduring their worst regular season in decades, the Ravens, under the leadership of head coach Taffe Charles in his fifth season, aim to leverage a late-season resurgence. Meanwhile, the Badgers ride into the playoffs on a three-game winning streak, seeking to capitalize on their newfound momentum.

Carleton Ravens – 2023-24 Season: Navigating a challenging season, the Carleton Ravens finished with a 13-9 record. Overcoming massive roster changes, they closed out the regular season strongly, winning three of their last four games against strong opponents. This earned them the right to host another playoff game at home, a significant accomplishment and advantage they have enjoyed since 2003.

Key Players for the Ravens: Xavier Spencer (13.6 PPG): Displaying versatility, Spencer not only contributes in scoring but also excels in rebounds and assists, making him a pivotal figure for the Ravens. Marjok Okado (12.4 PPG): With an impressive shooting percentage, Okado emerges as an additional scoring threat, further enhancing Carleton’s offensive capabilities.

Brock Badgers – 2023-24 Season: head coach Will Manigat, a former Ravens player with two national titles under his belt, returns home with the Badgers. In an up-and-down season, Brock enters the playoffs on a high note, boasting a three-game winning streak with convincing victories. Coach Manigat looks to leave his mark by challenging the defending champions in what promises to be a thrilling contest.

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Key Players for the Badgers: Jevon Brown (14.0 PPG): Brown’s scoring proficiency, particularly from beyond the arc, stands as a critical element for Brock’s offensive strategy. Jordan Tchuente (14.0 PPG): Serving as a dominant force in rebounds, Tchuente brings a physical presence to the court, contributing significantly on both ends.

Previous Encounters: In the historical matchups between the Carleton Ravens and the Brock Badgers, Carleton holds a dominant 25-5 overall record. The Ravens have not only emerged victorious in the last four meetings but have also maintained a consistent success in postseason matchups, boasting a 4-0 record against Brock in playoff showdowns. Carleton’s recent 69-63 triumph on November 17, 2023, showcases their consistent superiority over the Badgers.

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Toronto metropolitan star player aaron rhooms stares down mcmaster marauder defender after tough made two point basket
Toronto Metropolitan University leading scorer Aaron Rhooms stares down McMaster Marauder defender after scoring atough two point basket – Photo: TMU Bold

No. 9 McMaster Marauders (12-10) vs. No. 8 Toronto Metropolitan (13-9)

As the OUA playoffs begin, the matchup between the No. 9 McMaster Marauders (12-10) and No. 8 Toronto Metropolitan (13-9) promises to be a tightly contested battle. Both teams belong to the OUA Central conference and share a closely contested history, setting the stage for an intense playoff encounter.

McMaster Marauders – 2023-24 Season: Headed by the experienced guidance of coach Patrick Tatham in his seventh season, the McMaster Marauders navigated a competitive season, concluding with a 12-10 conference record. The team showcased remarkable resilience, maintaining a .500 record in U Sports and achieving an overall record of 14-17. Standout moments include a victory against Laurier and triumphs against Toronto, Western, Brock and Carleton.

Toronto Metropolitan – 2023-24 Season: Under the leadership of coach David DeAveiro in his fourth season, TMU Bold had a standout season with a 13-9 conference record. The team excelled further with an 18-9 U Sports record and an impressive overall record of 20-11. Featuring a potent offensive lineup led by Aaron Rhooms and David Walker, TMU Bold aims to leverage their regular-season success in the playoffs. Recent performances, including victories against Algoma and Lakehead.

Key Players: Pivotal contributors for McMaster include Mike Demagus, Ay Osunde, and Nathan Charles, showcasing both scoring capabilities and defensive resilience. For TMU Bold, the dynamic duo of Aaron Rhooms and David Walker has spearheaded the team’s offensive charge. Rhooms, averaging 16.6 points per game, and Walker, with 15.5 points per game, will play crucial roles in TMU Bold’s playoff aspirations.

Current Trends: McMaster enters the playoffs on a mixed note, securing notable wins against challenging opponents like Brock and York while facing hurdles in games against Queen’s and Ontario Tech. In contrast, TMU Bold boasts a more consistent trend, marked by victories against Algoma and Laurentian, showcasing their ability to navigate diverse competition.

Previous Games: TMU Bold and McMaster share a balanced history with a 16-16 overall record. However, TMU Bold has seized momentum in recent matchups, clinching victories in the last four encounters. In regular-season league games, the teams stand deadlocked at 12-12, yet TMU Bold has claimed the last three victories. In playoff games, TMU Bold holds the advantage with a 1-0 record, securing the last game. Over the past 5+ seasons, TMU Bold has asserted dominance with a 7-2 record, emerging victorious in the last four games.

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