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FIBA World Cup Qualifying primer: Explaining why it’s important for Canada

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It’s a weekend of new beginnings for Canada Basketball.

Not only does Sunday represent the first game in the new partnership between Canada Basketball and Sportsnet, it’s also the beginning of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 qualifying cycle for the senior men’s national team.

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It’s a long road to that event, with multiple stages of qualifying – and a separate tournament smack in the middle of qualifying – and the uncertainty around in-season qualifying windows means there’s significant pressure to win when you have a good roster turnout. Canada definitely has that for a pair of games with Bahamas, and with records and point differentials carrying over to subsequent rounds, it’s a great opportunity to hit the ground running and lay the groundwork for a 2023 World Cup that’s hopefully more successful than the last four.

Games

Canada will play a pair of games against the Bahamas to open the qualification window.

The format originally would have called for these teams to play each other once in each of their homes, but the pandemic has shuffled that approach. In fact, not only will they not host each other, both games will be played at a neutral site in the Dominican Republic.

Those games take place Sunday Nov. 28 at 4 p.m. ET and Monday Nov. 29 at 4 p.m. ET.

Broadcast

As announced last week, Sportsnet is now the exclusive home for FIBA events in Canada, beginning with these qualifiers and extending through the fall of 2025.

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That means all of these qualifiers, the eventual World Cup, any youth level tournaments, the women’s pursuit of a World Cup berth in early 2022. All of it can be found on Sportsnet for the next four years.

This week’s games will have Dan Shulman and former national team forward Jevohn Shepherd on the call, with women’s senior national team player Natalie Achonwa joining Danielle Michaud and Michael Grange for studio analysis.

(No word on if Grange will spray-tan or wear bronzer to try to match the 29-degree temperatures in Santo Domingo.)

Qualifier format

The FIBA Basketball 2023 World Cup qualifying procedure is a little convoluted to follow. There will be 80 teams competing in their respective regions in order to earn one of 30 berths to the 2023 World Cup. Japan and Philippines already have places in the 32-team tournament as co-hosts (along with Indonesia, who still need to qualify).

The Americas region (where Canada competes) will eventually send seven teams to the World Cup.

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For the first stage of qualifying, Canada is in Group C along with Bahamas, Dominican Republic and U.S. Virgin Islands. They will play a total of six games over windows in November (vs. Bahamas in Dominican Republic), February (vs. Dominican Republic and Virgin Islands at a location to be determined) and July (also vs. Dominican Republic and Virgin Islands at a location to be determined).

To move on, Canada needs to finish top three in their group.

From there, they’ll merge with the three best teams from Group A (Argentina, Venezuela, Panama and Paraguay) to form Group E for the second stage. They will then play the Group A teams twice each over windows in August, November and February, 2023. Records from the first stage will carry over.

The three best teams from each second-stage group, as well as the best fourth-place team, will then qualify for the 2023 World Cup.

Canada placed 21st in the 2019 World Cup in China after failing to qualify in 2014. Their best finish ever is sixth in the World Championship (1978 and 1982), but they’ve topped out at 13th (2002) since the turn of the millennium.

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The World Cup is a massive tournament on its own and carries additional importance as a qualifier for the 2024 Olympics. Seven teams will punch their ticket for the 2024 games in Paris via the World Cup. Canadian fans know all too well what comes next for the remaining teams: Last-chance Olympic Qualifying Tournaments.

And as an extra layer of confusion, there is also the 2022 FIBA AmeriCup, taking place in Brazil in September.

Canada has already qualified for that event, and while placing well is still valuable to the program, it’s not a direct feeder into the 2023 World Cup. Canada placed a disappointing eighth in the 2017 AmeriCup after taking home bronze – and nearly qualifying for the Olympics – in 2015.

Roster notes

The current FIBA World Cup qualifying procedure requires a program like Canada to lean heavily on their depth of talent. While Canada producing NBA and EuroLeague-calibre talent at an increasing rate is an incredible sign of growth, players in those leagues have generally not been made available for in-season qualifying windows.

To qualify for the 2019 World Cup, Canada used 35 different players. That will likely be the case again over the next two years, with most qualifying windows taking place in-season. Players from non-EuroLeague international clubs will make up the bulk of the rosters.

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The 15 players Canada took to Houston for training camp ahead of their tip to Dominican Republic are as follows:

There should be a few familiar names here. Phil and Thomas Scrubb, Kyle Wiltjer, Kassius Robertson, Anthony Bennett and Owen Klassen are long-time participants for the program and bring a level of experience and familiarity that’s necessary in such a short event. Junior Cadougan also injects a decade-plus of experience to the group.

Kenny Chery, Phil Scrubb’s teammate with Avtodor, will make his national team debut, something that’s felt like a brewing inevitability the last few years. Kyle Alexander brings an interior presence for a team that’s often been thin inside, Aaron Best is a beloved two-way Swiss-army knife, Kadre Gray can score in a hurry if necessary and AJ Lawson brings some program experience and defensive versatility, as well. J.V. Mukama, Kalif Young and Jermaine Haley offer some newer faces at the back end of the rotation.

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It’s hard to project what a rotation will look like when considering the fast acclimation necessary here, but the Scrubbs, Chery, Robertson, Best, Wilter, Bennett, Alexander, Klassen seem likely to form the core. (I’d personally have Chery, the Scrubbs, Wiltjer and Alexander start, but again, that comes down to acclimation time.)

Some notable absences here other than the NBA, NCAA and G League groups are Kaza Kajami-Keane and Trae Bell-Haynes (injured/illness), Tyler Ennis (recently returned), Dylan Ennis, Naz Mitrou-Long, Olivier Hanlan and EuroLeaguers Marial Shayok and Dyshawn Pierre.

Coaches

Toronto Raptors assistant coaches Nate Bjorkgren and Nathaniel Mitchell will coach the men for this window, and have been away from the Raptors this week to help the team prepare in Houston, Texas.

A long-time Nick Nurse collaborator and recent head coach of the Indiana Pacers, Bjorkgren has been with the Canada Basketball program since Nurse joined the fold in 2019. Mitchell, meanwhile, has been with the program in an official capacity since 2016 around stints with the Maine Red Claws, Raptors 905, the Charlotte Hornets and now the Raptors. He’s also a favourite off-season workout instructor for a number of Toronto-based players in the program.

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In October, Nurse emphasized the importance of consistency for the program. Releasing a pair of his NBA assistants, who have also been assistants with him for the national team, allows for some of that consistency despite the in-season window. They will coach for the February window, as well.

Bjorkgren will officially be the head coach of these first two windows, with Mitchell moving into the head chair for the AmeriCup in Brazil this summer.

What’s next?

First up for Canada is getting off to a strong start against Bahamas. Canada did just that during 2019 World Cup qualification, beating Bahamas twice by an aggregate score of 206-136. (Canada ranks 18th in the latest FIBA rankings, compared to No. 59 for Bahamas.)

Next up on the FIBA docket for Canada Basketball and Sportsnet will be the senior women’s team playing in their 2022 FIBA World Cup qualifying tournament Feb. 10-13 in Japan, followed by the Feb. 24-27 qualifying window for the senior men.

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Stampeders beat Lions, both teams lock up playoff spots

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VANCOUVER — The Calgary Stampeders avoided a season sweep at the hands of the B.C. Lions with a defensively impressive 25-11 win at B.C. Place on Saturday.

The win ensures the Stampeders will go to the playoffs for the 17th year in a row.

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A spectacular 54-yard catch by rookie Jalen Philpot of Delta, B.C., set up the only major score of the first half, landing the Stampeders (9-5) on B.C.’s three-yard-line for a touchdown conversion by Ka’Deem Carey.

Calgary failed on its two-point convert attempt. Peyton Logan added a 19-yard touchdown run with 1:57 left in the fourth quarter, and Dominique Rhymes caught B.C.’s lone touchdown pass from Antonio Pipkin with 29 seconds remaining. Pipkin carried the ball across the one-yard-line for a successful two-point convert.

Calgary’s field-goal kicker Rene Paredes was good on four-of-five attempts, from 39, 33, 31 and 33 yards. He added a convert for 13 total points.

For the Lions (9-4), Sean Whyte extended his CFL field-goal streak to 13 with a 34-yard kick to get his club on the scoreboard with 24 seconds left in the third quarter.

Paredes kicked wide to the right on his first field-goal attempt of the game. That came just 2:08 into the contest — the Stampeders had marched down to the B.C. 41-yard line after opening the first quarter by recovering Paredes’ 11-yard onside kick.

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One week after grabbing a 31-29 overtime win over the Stampeders at McMahon Stadium, the Lions could not find a spark to ignite their offence.

In his first home start at B.C. Place after being acquired in a trade with the Montreal Alouettes on Aug. 19, quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. was 12-for-24 in the air for 151 yards. He added 11 yards on the ground. Anthony Pipkin stepped in under centre late in the fourth quarter, going 4-for-6 for 66 yards and one touchdown throw.

Kicker Stefan Flintoft had a busy night for the Lions, punting for 417 yards.

The Lions also came out on the wrong side of the penalty tally. After last week’s thriller at McMahon Stadium included 215 yards in total penalties, B.C. was whistled for six penalties for 65 yards on Saturday. That included a critical major foul on Jordan Williams which gave Calgary good position near centre field before Philpot’s monster catch shortly before halftime.

A major foul for roughing the passer also negated an interception by T.J. Lee with just over three minutes left to play in the fourth quarter.

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As Calgary’s defence kept the Lions pinned in their own half of the field for most of the game, quarterback Jake Maier had a strong outing. He completed 27 of 33 pass attempts for 294 yards and added 14 rushing yards. The Stampeders finished with five penalties for 36 yards.

With the win, combined with losses this week by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Ottawa Redblacks, Calgary clinched its 17th-consecutive CFL post-season berth on the night Dave Dickenson coached his 100th career game with the Stampeders, improving his record to 70-28-2.

After the Lions won both matchups at McMahon Stadium for the first time since 2010, the Stampeders extended a winning record at B.C. Place that stretches back to 2016.

Despite the loss, B.C. also clinched its first playoff spot since 2018.

FOOT NOTES: Stampeders’ veteran offensive lineman Derek Dennis was taken off the field on a cart late in the first quarter after suffering a leg injury …Injured B.C. wide receiver Josh Pearson led the crowd in the singing of `O Canada’ before the game … The B.C. Football Hall of Fame inducted its Class of 2022 before Saturday’s game … The Lions also held their Salute to Amateur Football … Next week, the Lions will host the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday, while the Stampeders will be back at McMahon Stadium to take on the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday.

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College football Week 4 winners, losers, overreactions: Kicking blunders plague SEC teams, Oklahoma in trouble

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There’s one phrase that makes blood run cold from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Provo, Utah: College kickers. On Saturday, the fortunes of four SEC programs were changed in an instant by two college kickers missing critical kicks in painful fashion. 

Arkansas had a manageable 42-yarder to beat Texas A&M for a second straight season. The Razorbacks out-gained the Aggies by more than 80 yards and needed just one swing of the leg to remain ranked in the top 10. Unfortunately, Cam Little’s kick improbably bounced off the top of the upright — a doink unlike any in recent college football memory. 

All Missouri needed was for All-American kicker Harrison Mevis to make a 26-yard field goal. Easy enough, right? Mevis nailed 20 of 22 field goals last season, including three from more than 50 yards. A 26-yarder is child’s play … except not against Auburn on the Plains as Mevis shanked the kick to the right and the matchup went to overtime. The game swung again after Nathaniel Peat fumbled an open touchdown at the goal line, and that was that. The Tigers are still searching for their first Power Five win. 

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Here are more winners, losers and overreactions that highlighted the Week 4 action around the country. 

Winners

Kansas QB Jalon Daniels: Start the Jalon Daniels Heisman campaign. He’s been that ridiculously good through the Jayhawks’ 4-0 start. Daniels completed 83% of his passes for 324 yards, 83 yards rushing and accounted for five touchdowns in an emphatic 35-27 win over previously undefeated Duke. The junior from Lawndale, California, has been the catalyst for a Kansas program that had not won four games in a season in 13 years. He deserves the lion’s share of the on-field credit.

Tennessee: The Vols let things get a little hairy in the last five minutes thanks to some quick Florida touchdowns, but the performance was more dominant than the 38-33 final score. This was a coming-out party for Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker, who threw for 349 yards, rushed for 112 yards and had three touchdowns in a win over Florida. This was just the second Tennessee win over Florida since 2004, and gives the Volunteers a great chance to enter the AP top 10 when the polls come out on Sunday. 

Losers

Miami coach Mario Cristobal: The Hurricanes earned some early credit for beating up cupcakes, but the last two weeks have been a disaster. Miami had 27 first downs against Texas A&M, the most ever in a game without scoring a touchdown. On Saturday, a 45-31 embarrassment against Middle Tennessee sent any Miami hype train off the rails. Once-promising quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was benched after two interceptions, but rushing for fewer than 2 yards per carry and surrendering 500 yards to Middle Tennessee is nothing short of a disaster. Cristobal can’t blame talent in that kind of loss — this is coaching. 

Houston: The Cougars needed to score 10 unanswered points in the final five minutes to survive a challenge from 2-2 Rice. The Owls led for much of the game as the Coogs committed 10 penalties and turned the ball over to give Rice a chance. After the game, Houston coach Dana Holgorsen expressed frustration to the Houston Chronicle. 

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“I’m tired of yelling at them. Tired of motivating them. Tired of all that crap,” Holgorsen said. 

For a team that was thought at one point to be a serious contender for the New Year’s Six, narrowly avoiding a 1-3 start isn’t bringing many warm feelings.

Week 4 Overreactions

Oklahoma isn’t winning the Big 12: The Sooners flew up the polls after dominating an easy schedule featuring Nebraska, Kent State and UTEP. However, Kansas State to open Big 12 play was a rude awakening. The Wildcats scored more points (41) than the Sooners surrendered all season (30) thanks to a five-touchdown performance by Nebraska transfer QB Adrian Martinez. Suddenly, Brent Venables’ task in Norman feels far less turnkey than it did after eviscerating the rival Cornhuskers. Considering the depth the Big 12 showed in nonconference play, there are no easy games remaining. 

Kansas State has a tiebreaker over Oklahoma. Road trips to TCU, Iowa State and Texas Tech could be hairy. Battles with Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma State remain. There’s too many speed bumps for the Sooners to make it to Arlington if this is the Oklahoma we’re getting in 2022.  

Wisconsin isn’t Wisconsin anymore: Between 2004 and 2017, Wisconsin was close to the most consistent program in college football. The Badgers went 141-45 and finished ranked in 13 of the 16 seasons, including five top-five finishes. Losing to No. 3 Ohio State was expected, but a noncompetitive 52-21 decision to fall to 2-2 suddenly brings up some existential questions. 

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The Badgers have finished ranked just once in the last five years under Paul Chryst. After the loss today, the Badgers have no ranked teams left on their schedule. It’s unlikely they can show enough to fight back into the polls. Additionally, Wisconsin has just one Rose Bowl since 2012. At one point, this was a program that could measure success by trips to Pasadena. 

Chryst went 34-7 in his first three seasons. Since 2017, he is 33-18 — a fine record but not one that satisfies the Wisconsin standard. Complicating things is the fact that Wisconsin likely has one of the most attractive coaching candidates in the nation on its staff in defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard. 



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Washington's Rome Odunze makes a SPECTACULAR catch vs. Stanford

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Rome Odunze’s amazing TD reception gave the Washington Huskies a 26-7 lead against Stanford. 



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