By Noah Love
The past two seasons of OUA East Division basketball has proved another sports cliché is true: Anything can happen in the playoffs.
Two years ago Ryerson’s men’s team sneaked into the postseason, finishing in fourth place with a 10-10 record. But the Rams upset two teams to win the division title and qualify for the national championship tournament. Last season the Rams appeared to be a sure bet to repeat as champs, after they finished the season at 17-3. But the team was upset by the fourth-seeded Queen’s Golden Gaels, who were making their first playoff appearance in nine years.
History shows there’s no reason to count the Rams out when they enter the playoff tournament at the University of Ottawa this week, even though this year’s team is young.
“We want to win the damn thing,” head coach Terry Haggerty said. “We’re not just going up for the award banquet’s chicken dinner.
“This was a rebuilding year for us, but then so was the team from two years ago, so you never know.”
The Rams (14-8) take on the York Yeomen (16-6) in the division semifinal at 3 p.m. on Thursday.
A win against York means a berth in Friday night’s division championship, against the winner of Carleton (22-1) and Laurentian (13-9). A win on Friday would earn the Rams a trip to the CIAU championships in Halifax, March 16 to 18.
Causing concern for the team right now is fourth-year forward Sasha Ivankovic, who injured his ankle in a Feb. 17 game against Concordia.
Ivankovic sat out Ryerson’s playoff-clinching 71-52 victory over Ottawa on Friday and an 85-62 loss to Carleton on Saturday. The team doesn’t know if he’ll be able to play on Thursday.
“Sasha is not a 100 per cent go for York, so we might need two or three guys to be unlikely big-game heroes,” Haggerty said.
Making matters worse, second-year forward Bill Crowdis and first-year guards Konrad Tota and Tim Higgins are all battling the flu. Fortunately, they’re all expected to play against York.
The Rams know how dangerous the Yeomen can be. They have a 1-3 record against York this year.
The teams’ last regular-season meeting — a 68-67 buzzer-beating win for the host Yeomen — was so intense, tempers flared after the game and a brawl nearly erupted outside the dressing rooms.
“York has given us a lot of trouble this year,” Rams point guard Karlo Villanueva said. “We’re happy making the playoffs, but we know we are capable of beating this team.”
Even though York has spent much of the year ranked in the 7-10 range in CIAU coaches’ poll and Ryerson has rarely been ranked, Yeomen coach Bob Bain says Thursday’s game wil be close.
“It will probably be a defensive match,” said Bain, whose team is ranked ninth. “If no one comes up big for one team, the other will walk away with the game.”