Canadians could put their stamp on March Madness | CBC Sports

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Canada is well-represented in March Madness

It’s March, which means one of the best sports weekends of the year is upon us. The 64-team men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments begin on Thursday and Friday, respectively. Savour these moments while your bracket is still perfect.

A record 50 Canadians litter rosters across both March Madness fields, including five on No. 1 seeds. Here’s a few who stand out:

Zach Edey, centre, No. 3 Purdue
At seven-foot-four and 295 pounds, Edey certainly stands out. And yet, the Toronto native only picked up basketball in high school after focusing more on baseball (as a pitcher with a blistering fastball) and hockey (unsurprisingly, as a crease-clearing defenceman) when he was younger. Now a sophomore at Purdue, Edey took over as starting centre and averaged nearly 15 points and eight rebounds per game — almost double his output as a freshman.

Edey’s lack of mobility makes his defence a question mark, but the combination of size and quick improvement should propel him into the NBA — possibly as soon as next season. He was the final cut from Canada’s Olympic qualifying team last June, but expect to see him on plenty of future national teams as his game perfectly suits the international style of play.

Laeticia Amihere, forward, No. 1 South Carolina

Credited as the first Canadian woman to dunk in a game when she was just 15, Amihere is a key piece off the bench for the best team in the NCAA. The 20-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., impressed in Canada’s short-lived Tokyo Olympic tournament and used that success to boost her points and assists averages in her third season with South Carolina.

Amihere toggles between point-guard and forward duties for Gamecocks and U.S. national coach Dawn Staley. And two years removed from a lengthy injury recovery that zapped some of her athleticism in her freshman season, she’s back to dunking again

Bennedict Mathurin, forward, No. 1 Arizona

Not only is Mathurin the most NBA-ready Canadian in the NCAA, he could also provide the biggest impact in the tournament itself as the best player on a top-seeded team. The Montreal sharpshooter is averaging more than 17 points per game and was recently named a second-team All-American.

Mathurin starred for Canada’s under-19 team in the summer, including a 31-point outburst to help clinch the bronze medal. Arizona didn’t make the 2021 NCAA tournament, meaning this year is the first opportunity for Mathurin to make a star turn on his sport’s biggest stage. A solid performance could cement his status as a top NBA prospect.

Aaliyah Edwards, forward, No. 2 Connecticut

After so many years of pure dominance, it’s strange not seeing a No. 1 next to UConn’s name in March, though you can chalk the slight step back up to the lengthy injury absence of star Paige Bueckers, who has since returned. Edwards, of Kingston, Ont., is in her second season with the Huskies after being named her conference’s sixth woman of the year as a freshman.

Despite increased playing time, Edwards’ stats slightly regressed as a sophomore. But the Olympian came on strong as UConn won its conference tournament, and she looks poised for success as the Huskies seek their first title since their run of four straight was ended by South Carolina in 2017.

Andrew Nembhard, guard, No. 1 Gonzaga

If it feels like you’ve been seeing Nembhard’s name on lists like these for years, well, you’re not wrong. The 22-year-old senior from Aurora, Ont., declared for the NBA draft all the way back in 2019, before ultimately withdrawing. 

Since then, he’s transferred from Florida to Gonzaga, where the Bulldogs lost in the national championship last season before bouncing back to earn the top overall seed again this year. And while Nembhard leads Gonzaga in minutes, assists and steals per game, his NBA prospects haven’t improved much. The steady guard could be headed for a future leading the national team in qualifying windows.

Nembhard’s brother Ryan starred this season as a freshman for ninth-seeded Creighton, but will miss the tournament with a broken wrist.

Shaina Pellington, guard, No. 4 Arizona

Pellington, of Pickering, Ont., was one of four Canadians to reach the women’s Final Four last season, knocking off Edwards and UConn before falling to Alyssa Jerome’s Stanford club, which previously beat Amihere and South Carolina, in the title game.

Pellington also played in the Olympics, where her energy and aggressiveness provided a palpable boost. She’s averaging about 11 points per game for the Wildcats this season.

At least two other Canadians are worth noting. Shaedon Sharpe is technically part of No. 2 Kentucky, but he’s yet to play a game after joining the team in January. Sharpe was ESPN’s top-ranked recruit of his high-school class, and would likely be a top-10 pick in the 2022 NBA draft. But he and his family told the Toronto Star he plans to return to school next season. Meanwhile, guard Merissah Russell of No. 1 Louisville was an alternate on the Olympic team and could become the latest Canadian to win the whole thing.

Canada’s Laeticia Amihere drives to the hoop against Mississippi forward Snudda Collins. (Sean Rayford/The Associated Press)

Quickly…

Nine people, including 7 members of a U.S. college golf team, were killed in a car crash. Six students and one coach from New Mexico’s University of the Southwest are dead following a head-on collision with a pickup truck in Texas on their way home from a tournament. The driver and passenger from the truck are also dead. Two more students were in critical condition. Read the latest on the tragedy here

The Blue Jays acquired an all-star third baseman from Oakland. Last time Toronto did that, the player was Josh Donaldson and he won MVP in his first season. Now, the Jays are returning to the Athletics well by adding defensive whiz Matt Chapman in exchange for four prospects, including their most recent first-round pick. Chapman, 28, is under team control through 2023. He placed top-10 in MVP voting in both 2018 and 2019, and he hit 27 home runs last season despite carrying a .210 batting average. The addition only beefs up an infield that already includes all-stars Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Read more about the trade and what Chapman brings to the Jays here.

Canada’s last Indian Wells hopes lie in doubles. Teenager Leylah Fernandez dropped her fourth-round match in straight sets to reigning champion Paula Badosa of Spain last night in her first tournament since winning the Monterrey Open. Denis Shapovalov was knocked out in the third round a day earlier, with Felix Auger-Aliassime previously being eliminated in the second round. But Canada still has two strong chances remaining in women’s doubles, with Fernandez and Gabriela Dabrowski each reaching the semifinals with non-Canadian partners. If both win, it’d guarantee a Canadian champion at the California tournament. Read more about Fernandez’s loss here.

And finally…

Can the Edmonton Stingers cover a 92.5-point spread? The Stingers’ 2-3 record along with some tiebreaker math means they need to beat Nicaragua’s Real Esteli by at least 93 points to advance to the quarter-finals of the Basketball Champions League Americas tournament. But according to Bet365, the Canadian Elite Basketball League champions are actually 3.5-point underdogs. You can watch the Stingers try to run up the score on CBCSports.ca tonight at 9:30 p.m. ET.

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