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An inside look at what to expect coming into the biggest weekend in Canadian collegiate hoops

Every year in March the basketball world explodes with excitement. Both the United States and Canada’s top universities compete for their respective country’s championship title during this month. The 2014 Canadian Interuniversity Athletics (CIS) national championship tournament has a good chance of being the most exciting CIS nationals in recent years and, luckily enough, it is all taking place right here in Ottawa.

CIS determines their champion by pitting the best eight teams from coast-to-coast against each other in one action-packed weekend. To get to the final-eight, a team has to qualify and be successful in their respective conference playoffs. The breakdown of the conference tie-ins goes as follows:

Ontario University Athletics (OUA) – Sends gold, silver, and bronze

Canada West  – Sends gold and silver

Atlantic University Sport (AUS) – Sends champion

Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) – Sends champion

Wild Card – Team from any conference determined by CIS

Now that teams have locked up their appearance at nationals, they will be analyzed in a power-ranking type format:

#8 (Wildcard) – Saskatchewan Huskies  (Saskatoon, Sask.)

A strong team that has also had its fair share of struggles gets the wild card spot. The choice is somewhat questionable but it leaves a degree of uncertainty, which is all you could ask for in a wildcard pick.

#7 – McMaster Marauders (Hamilton, Ont.)

OUA’s best in the west has a strong team worth taking a look at but can be dismantled methodically, a task the Gee-Gees took up no problem in the OUA semifinal. The Marauders are athletic and fast but may not be able to put it all together when it comes to crunch time. Be careful buying stock in this Mac squad. 

#6 – Saint Mary’s Huskies (Halifax, N.S.) 

The Huskies took advantage of the Acadia-less AUS final where they could show just how good they can be. Do not look for SMU to be the Cinderella story of this year but don’t completely count them out either.

#5 – McGill Redmen (Montréal, Que.)

This years McGill team is pretty similar to last year’s, whom the Gee-Gees bounced in the first round. They thrived in the weaker RSEQ conference, which could get them into trouble early in the tournament especially if they draw an OUA opponent.

#4 – Victoria Vikes (Victoria, B.C.)

You don’t want to mess with the Vikes. This former Canadian basketball dynasty and perennial west coast power demands respect. A 19-3 regular season record is impressive but there is a reasonable amount of upset potential here.

#3 – Alberta Golden Bears (Edmonton, AB)

This Golden Bears team is the real deal. A fighting group that has been putting up big numbers in the win column and few in the loss. A 20-2 regular season put the Bears in the number three spot in the country for most of the season. Do not be mistaken, this is a dangerous team that has bite and can make a roar at the big dance.

#2 Carleton Ravens (Ottawa, Ont.) 

Despite being widely regarded the ‘other’ university in Ottawa, Carleton has always had a basketball team to brag about. They have won nine of the last 11 national championships, making them them a Canadian university basketball dynasty. It seemed as if they had another championship in the bag until their big brother from downtown came and showed everyone they can be caged. As of now, the future is uncertain for the Ravens; they’re on of the best so they can’t be counted out completely but use a pencil to slot them in first place, you may need the eraser.

#1 Ottawa Gee-Gees (Ottawa, Ont.)

All season long, the Gee-Gees have been the definitive second best team in Canada for mainly one reason – they could not beat Carleton. In the OUA final game, they cracked the code and did it, handing Carleton their first CIS loss in two years. The Gees have an almost pristine record this season with losses coming only against Carleton in the regular season and America’s fourth and fourteenth nationally ranked Syracuse Orange and Wisconsin Badgers in the preseason. The highflying, high scoring and blisteringly fast-paced Gees are the best bet for a Cinderella story this year, despite being the #1 seed. Winning the OUA’s Wilson Cup for the first time in 22 years is only chapter one, it is yet to be seen if or when the clock will strike midnight on this pack of wild horses.

All of the action gets underway at the Canadian Tire Centre on Mar. 7, where the Gees will take on Saskatchewan at 8 p.m. in the fourth game of the day. Spend the weekend at the Canadian Tire Centre and experience the March madness while watching your Gee-Gees fight to become national champions in the nation’s capital.