Playoff Free Throws: Three play-in series slated for Keystone Province

Playoff Free Throws: Three play-in series slated for Keystone Province

Brian Swane, Special to Canada West

EDMONTON - A new era in Canada West playoff basketball begins with a quartet of best-of-three play-in series, tipping off Thursday and Friday.

For the first time, playoff seeds have been determined by RPI, resulting in compelling match-ups across the conference.

Manitoba will be hoops heaven, with the U of M, Brandon, and Winnipeg all hosting series. The other contest takes place in Lethbridge, where the Pronghorns will play their first home post-season games since 2001.

While the defending conference champion and top-seeded Calgary Dinos join Alberta, Saskatchewan and UBC in having a bye to next week's quarter-final round, the 2016 Canada West silver medal-winning Thompson Rivers Wolfpack visit the Bobcats, needing a win to keep their hopes alive for a second consecutive berth at nationals.

A look at the series:

(12) Regina vs. (5) Manitoba

The Bisons (12-8) would love for the series to unfold exactly as when they hosted the Cougars (9-11) five weeks ago, winning back-to-back games against Regina, 93-81 and 84-75. The teams have been going in opposite directions, with Manitoba winning 10 of its last 12, while the Cougars dropped seven of eight before winning their final two games, against TRU, to clinch a playoff berth.

The Bisons feature Canada West's top playmaker, Ilarion Bonhomme (4.8 assists per game), who quarterbacks the third highest-scoring team in the conference (82.8 points per game). Regina has four players averaging over a dozen points and five who have scored at least 22 in a single game.

(11) Victoria vs. (6) Lethbridge

With just one playoff victory in the last 15 years, the Pronghorns are hoping not only to win a game, but a series when they host the Vikes. After starting the season 4-4, Lethbridge has been one of Canada West's strongest teams.

Victoria (9-11), which returns to the post-season following a year's absence, is coming off a sweep of Winnipeg and has won four of six. The Vikes are led by guard Grant Sitton, the third-leading scorer in Canada West (19.3 ppg), while Lethbridge counters with the one-two punch of Elliiot Sentance (17.6 ppg) and Dejon Burdeaux (17.1 ppg).

Lethbridge was 2-0 against the Vikes this season, winning 76-58 and 94-81 at Victoria last month.  

(10) Fraser Valley vs. (7) Winnipeg

The element of surprise may prove pivotal for the Wesmen and Cascades, who have not played each other since January 2014. Winnipeg (12-8) finished just ahead of UFV (11-9) in the standings, but UFV enters the post-season on a roll with four consecutive wins.

If there's one safe prediction, it's that there will be plenty of outside shooting, as UFV and Winnipeg rank second and third, respectively, in three-pointers made among Canada West teams. UFV's top scorer, Manny Dulay (17.2 ppg), led the conference with 78 treys in 20 games. Forward Sean Tarver, who provides Winnipeg with instant offence off the bench (15.6 ppg), converted a blistering 47 of 107 attempts from beyond the arc during the season. 

(9) Thompson Rivers vs. (8) Brandon

There's no place like home for the Bobcats (9-11), who picked up all but one of their wins this season in the friendly confines of Brandon's Healthy Living Centre.

For their part, the Wolfpack (8-12) were a solid road team in 2016-17, going 4-6 including a victory at Winnipeg. An intriguing twist sees Brandon's second-worst defence in Canada West (83.9 points against per game) matched against the conference's third-lowest scoring team in TRU (72.6 ppg). Guard Tyson Cooper (18.6 ppg) leads four Bobcats who average at least 9.4 points, while the Wolfpack will lean on their Ukrainian sensation, Volodymyr Iegorov, who is among the conference best in scoring (18.3 ppg), boards (9.1 rpg), and rejections (1.3 blocks per game). This is the first post-season meeting between the teams, who did not play each other this season.

Men's basketball play-in series schedule:

Thu. 16 UFV   Winnipeg   7:00 PM CST
  CW Play-In Series - Game 1
  Regina   Manitoba   7:30 PM CST
  CW Play-In Series - Game 1
Fri. 17 UFV   Winnipeg   3:00 PM CST
  CW Play-In Series - Game 2
  Thompson Rivers   Brandon   7:00 PM CST
  CW Play-In Series - Game 1
  Regina   Manitoba   7:30 PM CST
  CW Play-In Series - Game 2
  Victoria   Lethbridge   7:00 PM MST
  CW Play-In Series - Game 1
Sat. 18 UFV   Winnipeg   3:00 PM CST
  CW Play-In Series - Game 3 (if necessary)
  Thompson Rivers   Brandon   7:00 PM CST
  CW Play-In Series - Game 2
  Victoria   Lethbridge   7:00 PM MST
  CW Play-In Series - Game 2
  Regina   Manitoba   7:30 PM MST
  CW Play-In Series - Game 3 (if necessary)
Sun. 19 Victoria   Lethbridge   3:00 PM MST
  CW Play-In Series - Game 3 (if necessary)
  Thompson Rivers   Brandon   7:00 PM CST
  CW Play-In Series - Game 3 (if necessary)

Watch every game on Canada West TV.