Top Canadians still in running to end drought

The bad news is your NCAA March Madness men’s bracket likely looks somewhat less than stellar.

The good news is you are not alone.

Considering the stat above about 161 perfect brackets was taken after the first full day of games, the numbers will look even worse for pretty much everyone after three more days of play. (Editor’s note: The writer of this piece is tied for 397th in a 482-bracket pool – meaning a top-400 finish is possible!)

Do not worry, however, if you somehow didn’t take 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s to reach the third round. There are plenty of good reasons to watch college hoops for the next four days – even if a pool victory isn’t in the cards.

Here are some storylines to watch heading into the Sweet 16 and Elite 8.

Canadian crown?

Of the record 30 Canadians on rosters to start the tournament, Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin, Gonzaga’s Andrew Nembhard and Purdue’s Zach Edey easily topped the list of Canucks most likely to make a significant impact on a Final Four team.

All three survived the opening weekend and now are two wins away from making it to the sport’s biggest stage.

Montreal’s Mathurin, projected as an NBA lottery pick, had one of the top performances of the tournament, scoring 30 points in Arizona’s dramatic overtime win over TCU in the second round.

Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said afterward Mathurin has a “clutch gene” and teammate Dalen Terry went a step further on live TV after the No. 1-seeded Wildcats booked a Sweet 16 clash with No. 5 Houston on Thursday in San Antonio, calling the six-foot-six guard “the best player in the country.”

But there has been an issue this week. The Arizona sophomore said Wednesday he has attempted to apologize to a TCU dance team member after a video circulated on social media showing Mathurin possibly making contact with her after the Wildcats’ win.

Meanwhile, Andrew Nembhard of Aurora, Ont., is coming off a 23-point outing in top-ranked Gonzaga’s comeback win over Memphis. The senior point guard also had 11 assists in the team’s opener against Georgia State.

Gonzaga, looking for its first national title after finishing runner-up last year following an unbeaten run to the final, faces No. 4 Arkansas on Thursday in San Francisco.

“Andrew has just had a phenomenal year,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said Wednesday. “… It’s just a very, very comforting feeling to have Andrew Nembhard as your point guard. In-game, out of game, night before games, things like that. You know by and large he is going to make the right basketball play.”

Seven-foot-four sophomore centre Zach Edey of Toronto has averaged 13.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in third-seeded Purdue’s wins over Yale and Texas.

The Boilermakers are the top remaining seed in the East Region and face No. 15 Saint Peter’s in Philadelphia on Friday.

Freshman Caleb Houstan of Michigan (a five-star recruit from Mississauga, Ont.) and freshman Matteus Case of Providence (Pickering, Ont.) are the other two Canadians still playing.

Just five Canadian men have captured an NCAA national championship – most recently in 2012, when Kyle Wiltjer won with Kentucky.


Without question, the Saint Peter’s Peacocks of Jersey City are the story of the tournament.

Only the third No. 15 seed to make the Sweet 16 in tournament history, the Jesuit university has the enrollment of some big high schools, with around 3,000 students.

All the Peacocks have done is stun one of the most storied programs in the sport, Kentucky, in overtime before going wire-to-wire for a win over Murray State — Ja Morant’s old team.

With a hashtag paying tribute to its mascot (Pete the Peacock), Saint Peter’s is a loveable underdog out of the unheralded Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, which hadn’t had a team in the Sweet 16 before this year.

But coach Shaheen Holloway said there’s something else you should know about his squad.

“I’m going to say this. It’s going to come off a little crazy, Holloway told reporters. “I got guys from New Jersey and New York City. You think we’re scared of anything? You think we’re worried about guys trying to muscle us and tough us out?”

The 45-year-old Holloway has been rumoured to be heading to a bigger school in the state (Seton Hall, where he played) when this run ends (ex-Pirates coach Kevin Willard recommended his former assistant at Seton Hall before taking the Maryland job).

The Peacocks are one of four double-digit teams remaining. The lowest seed ever to make the Final Four is No. 11 – done four times, most recently in 2018 by Loyola Chicago.

Before that, coach Jim Larranaga guided No. 11 George Mason to the Final Four in 2006. He’s back in this year’s Sweet 16 as coach of a 10th-seeded Miami Hurricanes team.

Speaking of coaches …
Holloway earned praise this from a famous counterpart – Coach K.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is retiring after the tournament, said on his SiriusXM show that what “Holloway has done, and his team, is worth tens of millions, maybe a hundred million dollars over the course of time for Saint Peter’s.”

Krzyzewski, of course, has done just a little bit of good work during his time with Duke. He’s in the Sweet 16 for a 26th time as his second-seeded Blue Devils face No. 3 Texas Tech in San Fran.

“It’s his last year he is coaching, so we want to send him out the right way, and that’s been the motivation since the beginning, was to send him out on top,” Duke star Paolo Banchero said.


ESPN had some fun this week ranking the all-time best starting lineups for each team in the Sweet 16.

To the surprise of no one, UCLA and North Carolina finished 1-2 ahead of their blue-blood bash on Friday in Philly.

UCLA, with an NCAA-leading 11 national titles, produced the likes of Reggie Miller, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton.

Hall of Fame Tar Heels include Michael Jordan and James Worthy. UNC has won six national titles.

Former Toronto Raptor Hubert Davis coaches this year’s eighth-seeded Tar Heels, who were a bubble team for much of the season. UNC, which spoiled Krzyzewski’s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, knocked out No. 1 seed and defending champ Baylor in the second round.

UCLA has a health concern as star guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. is dealing with an ankle injury.

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