Many sports fans consider the US college basketball championship the premium sports spectacle of the year. Next to the Stanely Cup Playoffs, of course.
There is a reason it’s called March Madness. Underdog upsets. Game-winning shots. David vs Goliath stories and deep loyalties that span generations. How can you beat that?
Throw in betting pools, nachos, and hot wings and its like a three-week-long SuperBowl party.
Its always must-see TV for sports fans, but Canadians may want to tune in this year even if you usually don’t watch basketball or sports.
The future of Canadian basketball will be on display. There are 32 Canadian playing for the 68 teams that made the tournament.
Unlike years past when BC boys like Steve Nash (Santa Clara), Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga), Brandan Clarke (Gonzaga), or Robert Scare (Gonzaga) led their teams on epic runs in the tournament, this year, there are no players from BC.
But Island basketball fans can still root for the five Canadians playing on a top-4 seed in the men’s tournament. Two Canadians have led their teams to #1 seeds.
- Andrew Nembhard (Aurora, Ont.) led Gonzaga (26-3) to the #1 seed in the West region. The senior point guard hopes to lead the Bulldogs back to the NCAA Championship game after a disappointing loss last year to Baylor. The 22-year-old is averaging career highs in points, assists, rebounds, and steals. He hopes to lead the top overall seed to its first NCAA title win in school history. Nembhart’s 1st game is against #16 Georgia State on Thursday at 1:15.
- Bennedict Mathurin (Montreal, Que.) guided Arizona (31-3) to the #1 seed in the East region. Mathurin remained at Arizona for his sophomore season even though he was projected to be a high NBA draft pick. The Montreal native made a smart decision. The 19-year-old was named The Associated Press Pac-12 Player of the Year, a unanimous selection for the All-Pac-12 team and one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year award. Mathurin’s Wilcats 1st game is against #16 Wright State on Friday at 4:27.
Oddsmakers project both teams as favourites to reach the Final Four. Their two teams could even meet in the championship game. In a recent poll of 25 college coaches and pro scouts, eight chose Gonzaga to win the title, and six chose Arizona.
But they are not the only Canadian stars leading top teams into the tournament.
Zach Edey (Toronto) starred for the #3 seeded Purdue Boilermakers (27-7). The 7-foot-4 sophomore centre was the leading offensive rebounder in the country, averaging 7.8 total rebounds and 14.6 points in just over 19 minutes per game. His 65.5 field goal percentage was the second in the NCAA. The Toronto native was named to the Second Team All-Big Ten as he helped Purdue to the #3 seed in the East region. On Friday, Edey’s Boilermakers play #14 seed Yale in a 1st round game.
This year’s Final Four will take place at the Caesar’s Superdome in New Orleans, beginning on April 2. The championship game is on Sunday, April 3.
To win the NCAA championship, a team has to win six straight games. A Canadian man has not won an NCAA title since Kyle Wiltjer with Kentucky in 2012. This year could spell the end of that drought.