Oh, Canada. Oh as in: ugh.
Canadian basketball fans were a bit giddy about the prospects for domestic players at big-name National Collegiate Athletic Association programs in this year’s March Madness. Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Pangos were key pillars for Gonzaga University and helped lead the small school to its first-ever No. 1 seed. Then there was Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch at No. 4. And don’t forget freshman marksman Nik Stauskas at Michigan.
All the excited talk about Cancon in American college hoops had people saying seriously that a reasonable way to bet a bracket was to pick schools that featured Canadians.
Turns out, after the tournament was halved in the frenzy of the first four days, the red-and-white scheme proved a bad strategy. When the Madness began, there were 29 Canadians in contention. The likes of Olynyk and Pangos scored more than half their team’s points, both games, but, in the Round of 32, could not withstand the assault of three-pointers from No. 9 Wichita State. UNLV, meanwhile, lost right away, shooting badly from the field, led by a 4-for-11 performance from Bennett.
Call it a Sports Illustrated jinx, after the magazine last week published a lengthy story headlined “Canada’s Got Talent,” with a subhead about a “big impact in the big dance.”
As of late Sunday, only five Canadians had secured a ticket to the Sweet 16 (with one other outside chance as of press time, junior starting guard Jahenns Manigat for No. 7 Creighton, up against No. 2 Duke late Sunday ).
School:Michigan, No. 4 seed
How: Led by the likes of Tim Hardaway Jr., the Wolverines rolled through their first game against South Dakota State and then pounded No. 5 seed VCU 78-53. An effusive Michigan coach John Beilein cited a “very high-IQ team” and credited all his players on the court and “even the guys that did not play.” Stauskas was reasonably good – though not as good as during the year. The 6-foot-6 freshman guard from Mississauga, where he used to shovel his driveway in winter to shoot, scored eight points each game, close to his season average of about 11 a game, but he was just 1-for-8 from beyond the arc – after leading the team in threes during the year, banging down 45 per cent of them.
Next:No. 1 Kansas. Stauskas will have to light up threes like he previously has if Michigan is going to test one of the best teams in the country.
School:Marquette, No. 3 seed
How:Marquette is into the Sweet 16 – by three points. Marquette nearly was upended by No. 14 Davidson, barely winning, 59-58, and Cadougan played poorly. The senior guard from Toronto, who normally is the calm driver of the offence, managed no assists and tossed up 2-for-9 from the field for four points. Against No. 6 Butler, Marquette scraped through again, 74-72, and Cadougan, seeing fewer minutes, scored nine and notched two assists.
Next: Marquette will need Cadougan – the No. 1 recruit from Canada in 2009 – to revive his regular-season game, when he led the team in assists, with about four a game. Marquette’s next opponent will be either No. 2 Miami (Fla.) or No. 7 Illinois, with the two teams playing late on Sunday. Should Marquette push through to the Elite Eight, it’s either No. 1 Indiana or No. 4 Syracuse.
Players: Nick Wiggins, Chadrack Lufile
School: Wichita State, No. 9 seed
How: After winning their first game 73-55, and shooting 1-for-17 from the three-point line, Wichita found magic to bury No. 1 Gonzaga 76-70, underpinned by a barrage of threes, 14-for-28. Wiggins – a junior guard from Toronto, and older brother to phenom Andrew Wiggins – played three minutes in the team’s first game, and Lufile played one minute against Gonzaga.
Next: Wichita has a reasonable shot at the Elite Eight, as it faces either No. 12 Mississippi or No. 13 La Salle, the four and five seeds having been blown out in the West. Ohio State, No. 2, likely waits thereafter.
Player: Noel Jones
School: Syracuse, No. 4 seed
How: A 81-34 demolition of No. 13 Montana and a 66-60 defeat of No. 12 California. Jones, a junior who plays forward, did not see court time in either game, and has played just six games, and eight minutes, all year.
Next: Indiana, a No. 1 seed, the preseason No. 1, and mid-season No. 1.