VANCOUVER — UBC Thunderbirds head men’s basketball coach Kevin Hanson may well have coached the best 19-1, fourth-place team in the history of his sport.
In the moments after the Canada West’s first season of using the RPI system to seed its 12 post-season qualifiers was complete this weekend, there was little doubt that the it had hit the Thunderbirds harder than any team in the 17-team loop.
Despite its 19-1 mark, UBC will be seeded fourth in the post season, which for the blue-and-gold, begins in just under two weeks time with a quarterfinal series at War Memorial Gym against either Regina or Manitoba.
Final matchups based on the RPI were still pending, based on the results of Sunday’s league finale between Lethbridge and Alberta.
But UBC, which closed out its 20-game regular season on an 11-game win streak, has been seeded fourth with an RPI index number of .5975, its number plummeting the past three weeks due to the fact that it was playing teams mired near the bottom of the conference standings.
The conference plays an unbalanced schedule and each team has no say in who it plays.
Canada West coaches voted in the new system over the offseason, but it seems now that none had a true feel for how far awry the strength-of-schedule based index could punish a near-undefeated team.
“Overall, it’s frustrating but we have known that it’s been coming for a few weeks,” said Hanson, who was made aware of the potential three weeks ago that UBC could win out and not place first by Wayne Thomas, whose highly-respected Canada West Hoops blog has led in its coverage of the RPI. “It is out of our control and we’re not whining about it. Our players are long over the shock. We are getting prepped to play whomever is put in front of us.”
Yet that is not to say that Hanson will sit idly by in the off-season.
“I want to bring forth a motion that we don’t support (RPI),” said Hanson, as the Thunderbirds moved from first to fourth after sweeping Trinity Western to end its league schedule. “To hear speculation that even if we were 20-0 we wouldn’t have finished first? It’s the kind of thing where winning games this year didn’t matter. You shouldn’t be dropping as many points as we did by winning two games on the weekend.”
To that end, Hanson felt while geography and cost were always going to be challenging, three models needed to be examined: A round-robin format in which everyone played every other team; a two-division Canada West in which the teams in each division played each other twice and the other division once; the establishment of a new conference.
The first two have been used in various forms over the years, the third would prove to be very interesting. Yet while the potential of the current conference’s best teams forming, say, a six-to-nine team league, would draw greater interest, only its champ would likely be guaranteed a berth to the CIS Final 8. Currently, Canada West has two national berths and the potential of a wild-card entry.
Hanson also acknowledged the massive confusion RPI has brought to a league whose incredible product still remains a secret in so many of its markets.
“There is much discrepancy from where teams finished (relative) to their RPI,” added Hanson. “My phone has been blowing up from alums to friends across the country, who are wondering how this could happen. Whether it is me or not (putting forth a motion) we have to look at this and the process has to change.”
The bye week has come at a perfect time for the Thunderbirds.
UBC lost national scoring leader Conor Morgan to an ankle injury about five minutes into its series-opening weekend at Trinity Western on Friday.
“He got into physio Friday night, got more Saturday morning and they worked on it again today,” said Hanson of Morgan, the Victoria native whose 23.1 ppg continues to top the country. “But we’ve been told that basically he won’t shoot again until the end of the week. It’s out of our control, so we’ll just have to wait.”
Hanson said the injury is not in the high-ankle region and that after three treatments the swelling has started to come down on Morgan’s ankle.
“When he went down Friday and the rest of the team heard that he couldn’t go, they did’t perform well,” said Hanson. “I guess the saving grace is that the bench guys can get in. (You can) always spin a situation like this into a positive. They had the confidence to play well (in Saturday’s 104-72 win) without him. Luka (Zaharijevic) and Harp (Randhawa) got great minutes in the post and Isaiah (Familia) started and got 20 points and 11 rebounds.”
Yet that is not the only issue the ‘Birds are working through.
Point guard Phil Jalalpoor is also trying to shake a nagging ankle sprain suffered a number of weeks ago. Jalapoor played just 18 total minutes over the weekend against Trinity Western.
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