Manitoba Bisons hoops team hoping for long run at Canada West Championships

The Manitoba Bisons and Winnipeg Wesmen men’s hoops teams are just three wins away from glory.

All of the best university men’s basketball teams in Western Canada have gathered in Winnipeg this week with the University of Manitoba hosting this year’s Canada West Championships.

The single elimination tournament tipped off on Wednesday, but as a top-four seed, both the Bisons and the Winnipeg Wesmen have first-round byes.

The hosts are seeded fourth, while the Wesmen are ranked third, and both schools are still awaiting an opponent for Thursday’s quarterfinals where it’s win or go home.

The Herd were knocked out in the Canada West semifinals a year ago, but now have home-court advantage where they’ll be using the experience they gained in getting through to the final four in 2023.

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“It’s going through that moment – you almost have to do that as a right of passage to sorta prepare you for what’s to come,” said Bisons head coach Kirby Schepp. “We’re expecting a similar type situation, a similar type of environment here on Thursday night regardless of who we play. And I think having that game and those games last year, I think helps prepare a young group for hopefully a more successful run this year.”

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The Bisons will be leaning on second-year forward Simon Hildebrandt who was just named a conference first-team all-star.

The Winnipegger broke the Bisons single game record earlier this season with 41 points in a game. He suited up for the CEBL’s Winnipeg Sea Bears in their inaugural season and playing against professionals last summer has him better prepared for his second conference championship.

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“It’s like being able to play against all these older professional guys all summer and just taking like, little nuggets from each day of practice, and applying them to my season here,” said Hildebrandt.

While most university players took the summer off, Hildebrandt was playing in front of sold out crowds at the Canada Life Centre.

He appeared in 21 CEBL contests and averaged a little more than six points per game.

“I think in many ways mentally he’s probably more prepared,” Schepp said. “Going through those situations, playing in front of big crowds with the Sea Bears. The bright lights are maybe not as bright for him.”

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12 teams are chasing berths at nationals with the both the champion and the runner-up guaranteed spots, while a third team could also get in as a wild card selection.

The Bisons will play the winner between the (5) UBC Thunderbirds and the (12) UNBC Timberwolves in a quarterfinal matchup on Thursday at 8:00 pm. The Wesmen will take on either the (6) Regina Cougars or the (11) Fraser Valley Cascades at 6:00 pm at the Investors Group Athletic Centre.

The winners advance to Saturday’s semifinals with the gold medal match scheduled for Sunday night.

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