It will be March Madness in August. The rising University of Victoria Vikes have ambitious dreams for next season in men’s basketball, and a schedule to match, as the U Sports national semifinalists and defending Canada West champions will play pre-season games this summer against 2023 NCAA Tournament teams Xavier and Penn State in the Bahamas.
The game against the Musketeers, who reached the Sweet Sixteen in March Madness, is on Aug. 8. The game against the Nittany Lions, who reached the second round of the NCAA tournament and produced Denver Nuggets’ second-round 2023 NBA draft pick Jalen Pickett, is on Aug. 10. Both games are to be played at the Baha Mar Convention, Arts and Entertainment Centre as part of the bdG Sports tournament. The Bahamas national team will play Xavier and Penn State as part of the series.
“This is a great opportunity for our players and staff to spend time working together to build our team for the 2023-24 season,” Xavier head coach Sean Miller said in a statement.
NCAA basketball teams are allowed to take a foreign trip once every four years. Penn State head coach Mike Rhoades said the games against UVic and the Bahamas “can set the tone as we move forward.”
It is another sign of the rising stature of the UVic team. Most such opportunities regarding Canadian university basketball teams usually go to the Carleton Ravens, who have won 17 national championships since 2003, including the last four in a row and 11 of the last 12. The Ravens are 43-57 against NCAA Div. 1 teams since 1999, according to Edilson J. Silva of BasketballBuzz.
UVic head coach Craig Beaucamp is currently in Hungary as assistant coach of the Canadian team at the 2023 FIBA Under-19 World Cup, in which Canada won gold in 2017 with current NBA player R.J. Barrett and bronze in 2021 with Zach Edey of Purdue and Ryan Nembhard of Gonzaga.
Beaucamp will turn his attention to preparing the Vikes for Xavier and Penn State upon his return. UVic will also host the annual Guy Vetrie Memorial Tournament from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 at CARSA Gym featuring the Vikes, Carleton, Bishop’s and the Alberta Golden Bears before heading to the Queen’s Tindall Invitational Oct. 20-22 in Kingston, Ont.
It has been a return to prominence for UVic, which won seven consecutive national championships in the 1980s with rosters that included Olympians Eli Pasquale, Gerald Kazanowski and Greg Wiltjer. The Vikes’ last national title was in 1997, led by Eric Hinrichsen, who represented Canada in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
The Vikes, loaded with talented rookies and sophomores last season and a signature player in third-year sensation Diego Maffia, went into the U Sports national tournament in the spring ranked No. 1 in the country but fell in the semifinals. Big hopes remain for a team that returns most of its largely Island-produced roster for at least the next few seasons. Local hoops fans can sense it as the Vikes recaptured their attention with old-school capacity crowds watching the team sweep to the Canada West championship last season on Ken and Kathy Shields Court at CARSA gym.
The 2023-24 Canada West men’s and women’s schedule was released last week. The UVic teams will open at home on Nov. 3-4 against the University of Calgary Dinos. The annual cross-strait rivalry games against the UBC Thunderbirds are on Nov. 23 at CARSA Gym and Nov. 25 at War Memorial Gym in Vancouver. The conference regular season runs to Feb. 9-10.
There will be disappointment for UVic fans in the revamped Canada West playoff format. The post-season rose week-by-week to a rousing crescendo this spring as men’s top-seed UVic hosted all its playoff games.
But there will be no raucous and bursting-at-the-seams CARSA Gym next playoffs season as Canada West has opted for single-venue playoff tournaments to be hosted by the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg for the men and by the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford for the women, both from Feb. 21 to 25. The top 12 teams in both the men’s and women’s regular seasons will advance.
“We are excited to have the best men’s and women’s teams in the conference each converge on a single site and really highlight the calibre of basketball in Canada West,” Eoin Colquhoun, Canada West associate director of sport said in a statement.
The U Sports national championship tournaments are March 7-10 at Quebec City for the men and Edmonton for the women.