Last week one of North America’s most talked about sports events, the NCAA Tournament – March Madness, kicked off in the United States.
This legendary tourney has become much more than just a U.S. collegiate Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, it has also become a launchpad for Canadian basketball talent to assert itself.
Every year millions of people including those who aren’t even fans become “bracketologists” filling out their March Madness brackets in trying to predict who will be crowned National Champions. What makes this tournament so exciting is the potential for an upset, where a low ranked seed potentially beats a top rated team to move on in the tournament. Those who cheer for underdogs were treated to eight upsets that included two teams led by Canadian talent.
So who were Canada’s standouts?
The silver medallist at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games has made quite an impact in his one season with the Kentucky Wildcats. He set a school freshman record for points scored in a season with 720, passing former UK star Brandon Knight’s mark of 657. He also tied the school record for consecutive 20-point games (12), a record that has stood since 1975 when Kevin Grevey originally set the mark. Kentucky may have been eliminated from the tournament in the second round but it certainly wasn’t without a fight. In his two games in the March Madness tournament, Murray had a combined 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks and 35 points. Murray led the Wildcats to an 85-57 victory over Stony Brook in the opening round but suffered a heart breaking 73-67 loss to Indiana, falling short of reaching the Sweet 16. This potential Top-10 NBA pick will have to decide between another shot at the tournament next year or entering the NBA draft.
The number one seed Oregon Ducks are primed to go the distance in this tournament with a plethora of Canadian talent. Led by Mississauga native Dillon Brooks, Oregon also boasts top Canadian talents, Chris Boucher and Dylan Ennis. Brooks, a silver medalist at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games has been an integral piece to Oregon’s success in the tournament. In the first two rounds, Brooks has had 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks and 35 points. Including a clutch three-pointer against Saint Joe’s giving Oregon the lead 64-62 in the final minutes of the game in their victory over the Hawks 69-64. The Oregon Ducks will be a team to keep your eye on for the remainder of the tournament.
This 6′ 10″ senior is having an incredible year with personal bests, averaging 6.4 rebounds and 20.4 points per game. He’s also helped the Gonzaga Bulldogs (11) reach the Sweet 16, beating out Seton Hall (6) and Utah (3) in the first two rounds of the tournament. In those two games combined, Wiltjer has had 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 30 points. Wiltjer was a silver medalist for Team Canada at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games this past summer and a bronze medalist at the U-18 Americas Championships. Wiltjer has a strong family background in representing Canada on the international stage in basketball, as his father Greg was on the Olympic team that placed 4th at Los Angeles 1984 and his sister Jordan Adams was on multiple Canadian national teams as well.
Known as the Montreal Mutombo (a name he received for his shot blocking prowess like Dikembe Mutombo), Chris Boucher has been a defensive force since transferring to Oregon from Northwest College in Wyoming. The 6′ 10″ forward was the 2014-15 Spalding NJCAA Division I Player of the Year and a First Team All-American. In his first season with the Oregon Ducks, Boucher has averaged 7.4 rebounds, three blocks and 12.1 points per game. He led the NCAA in total blocks and was second in blocks per game. In the opening round of the March Madness tournament, Boucher led Oregon with 20 points in their 91-52 victory over Holy Cross. With the influx of Canadian talent on Oregon it’s hard not to root for the Ducks in March.
This Mississauga native transferred to the University of Hawaii after the 2013-14 season from the University of Missouri and hasn’t looked back. The 6′ 11″ Junior had his best season, averaging 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 blocks and 15.6 points per game. Stefan Jankovic was a key component to the Rainbow Warriors success helping Hawaii (13) to their first tournament win in school history with a first round upset over California (4). In two rounds of the March Madness tournament, Jankovic had a combined 13 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 blocks and 30 points. The Rainbow Warriors fell just short of the Sweet 16 with a 73-60 defeat to the Maryland Terrapins (4).
Marial Shayok and the Virginia Cavaliers are alive and well in the March Madness tournament. Shayok helped get the Cavaliers to the Sweet 16 with his four rebounds, three assists and 22 points in the first two rounds of the tournament.
Dyshawn Pierre’s March Madness dream was cut short with a first round loss to Syracuse (10) but the 6′ 6″ senior played hard with 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 6 points. Pierre had a good year all around averaging 5.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 11.2 points per game.
Now that we’ve discussed our Canadian standouts, what other Canadians competed in March Madness and who’s left?
Canadians in March Madness
Gonzaga Bulldogs (11) – Still competing
Kyle Wiltjer – Portland, OR (dual citizen)
Dustin Triano – Vancouver, BC
Iowa State Cyclones (4) – Still competing
Nazareth Mitrou-Long – Mississauga, ON (out with hip injury)
Oklahoma Sooners (2) – Still competing
Dinjiyl Walker – Vaughan, ON
Oregon Ducks (1) – Still competing
Dillon Brooks – Mississauga, ON
Chris Boucher – Montreal, QC
Dylan Ennis – Brampton, ON (out with broken foot)
Virginia Cavaliers (1) – Still competing
Marial Shayok – Ottawa, ON
Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans
Kemy Osse – Montreal, QC
Stefan Duric – Burlington, ON
Jarryn Skeete – Brampton, ON
Dyshawn Pierre – Whitby, ON
Green Bay Phoenix
Tevin Findlay – Malton, ON
Stefan Jankovic – Mississauga, ON
Saren Westrop — Lethbridge, AB
Mychal Mulder – Windsor, ON
Jamal Murray – Kitchener, ON
Oregon State Beavers
Malcolm Duvivier – Toronto, ON
Junior Lomomba – Montreal, QC
Seton Hall Pirates
Braeden Anderson – Okotoks, AB
Weber State Wildcats
Cody John – Toronto, ON