Yep, it’s that time once again.
The National Basketball League of Canada has just finished its fifth regular season, and is now headed toward its postseason. This year, all eight teams – four in Ontario, four in the Maritimes – will participate in the playoffs.
And since I don’t participate in the NCAA basketball bracket game (I still believe that you should only be in the NCAA tournament if you’ve actually WON your conference), the NBL tournament is more to my liking.
The quarterfinal rounds are best-of-five, the semifinal rounds are best-of-seven, and the Finals – which features the Atlantic Division team versus the Central Division team – is a best-of-seven championship. Ontario-based teams have won the last four championships, so will an Ontario team make it five in a row?
Last year, I was nearly perfect in my bracketology, having picked all four quarterfinal winners and the Atlantic Division champions. Um… I did mess up on one pick in the Central Division… and the team that won that round certainly let me know of my error.
Yeah, yeah, I know, I know… But hey, how many of you got YOUR NCAA bracket busted and had the winning team make a YouTube video to clown you for your incorrect pick?
Okay… so let’s take a look at the brackets, shall we?
I’ll start in the Atlantic Division. The 2-3 matchup features the Saint John (N.B.) Mill Rats against the Moncton (N.B.) Miracles. Saint John has some intangibles working for it – they have plenty of veteran leadership in long-time players Anthony Anderson, Doug Herring Jr. (who played at Utica College) and Gabe Freeman (a former member of the Albany Patroons). Moncton, on the other hand, has been a scrappy opponent every night, and their head coach is former NBA center Paul Mokeski. This is a tough one to pick. Veteran leadership versus veteran players.
My pick – Saint John Mill Rats in 4 games.
The other side of the bracket features the Halifax (N.S.) Hurricanes against the (Charlottetown, PEI) Island Storm. The Storm have had more injuries than an entire episode of Grey’s Anatomy, but they’ve stayed in the game each time. Halifax, on the other hand, has dominated from the start of the season to the end, and has the league’s best record at 29-11.
My pick – Halifax Hurricanes in 3 games.
Halifax versus Saint John in a best-of-seven. This will be a tough battle between two strong squads, and I think the big variable here will be defense. And that’s where the Mill Rats have an advantage in Anthony Stover. The former UCLA star not only broke the record for most blocked shots in a season (which was 66), he actually DOUBLED the record (finishing with 132 blocks). God freakin’ damn.
My pick – Saint John Mill Rats in 6 games.
Let’s now go to the Central Division, where all four Ontario teams are based. Starting off with the 2-3 seed, the Windsor Express against the expansion (St. Catherines) Niagara River Lions. Niagara has the league’s top scorer in Logan Stutz, while the Express counter with veterans Tony Bennett and Brandon Robinson. There’s the old adage… play like you’ve been there before. Windsor has. Niagara hasn’t, but they won’t go away quietly.
Which is why I’m actually leaning toward choosing the River Lions for this matchup. You know that in the NCAA brackets, there’s always a #12 seed that sends the #5 seed home crying. The River Lions may be that underdog Cinderella team that, in a good strong struggle, can take this bracket.
My pick – Niagara River Lions in 5 games.
And I bet right now, Windsor’s Tony Bennett is looking for a fully-charged video camera so that he can do another “I Believe that we can win” video for me again.
Now for the 1-4 matchup – the London Lightning versus the Orangeville A’s. Let me help you out. Orangeville is just outside of Brampton. Let me help you some more. Brampton is just outside of Toronto. Let me help you out some more. … Toronto is just outside of America. 😀
That being said, the A’s have gone through several long losing streaks this season – but, in all honesty, the streaks have been snapped by wins over the division-leading Lightning. Still… Orangeville would need to win three games against the two-time NBL champions. I’m not seeing that happening any time soon.
My pick – London Lightning in 3 games.
The Central Division matchup will feature London versus Niagara. And no matter how much spark and spunk the River Lions may have… I’m not seeing them pulling the upset a second time.
My pick – London Lightning in 5 games.
Okay. Lightning versus Mill Rats, NBL championship series. Best of seven. This will be a highly contested and spirited matchup. Can veteran minor league coach Rob Spon guide the Mill Rats to wins against Canadian head coach Kyle Julius (who actually played FOR the Lightning years ago)?
Yeah, it will come down to this.
My prediction… and mind you, this is my personal opinion and should only be taken as such…
It’s going to go to Game 7.
It’s going to go to overtime.
And in the final moments…
With London down by two and London’s top rookie Stephen Maxwell driving to the lane with seconds to go…
He goes up for the layup…
Anthony Stover swats it into the cheap seats…
Saint John Mill Rats take the win and the NBL Championship.
Raise the banner.
And that’s my prediction for the 2016 NBL Canada playoff championships. You can take them as you see fit. If you like my predictions, that’s great. If you hate them … just do like the Windsor Express did last year. Make a video and let me know how wrong my picks were.
The playoffs start Monday.