More (NCAA) Canada: 16 Teams, 8 Maple-Sweet Predictions

A rough day, and he was so honest/heartbroken/humble afterward. Barely 19, and the hype’s not his fault. (Stay, Andrew. Stay, my idealism urges, but it ain’t happenin’.) That’s Dwight Powell with the block.

So, okay. It’s not called the Nearly Canadian Athletic Association, but the 2014 men’s HoopMadness tournament has been unusually big news way north of Kentucky. We’re down to the Sweet 16, the semi-finals of the four regions. There will be no Wiggins tale of the family tape looming in the finals, because Andrew peed the bed and scored all of four points against Stanford; mind you, the Cardinal started two Canadians, so you can understand his anxiety. (Older, nearly anonymous Nick outshone – or at least, didn’t so notoriously wilt in front of the basketball world – his kid brother, hitting five points off the bench in Wichita State’s gripping loss to Kentucky. Well, I read that it was gripping; I’ll try to download it and other notable games from the opening rounds, as there’s no live watching from Dalian.) There’s also no Tyler Ennis, the rising star who’d formerly played in Wiggins’s shadow on that killer AAU team from Toronto (CIA Bounce) and Canada’s national youth teams, as Syracuse was knocked out by Dyshawn Pierre and Dayton, a still-less heralded Canuck player and small-time school. The Perfect Little PG, Kevin Pangos, didn’t have enough help to lead Gonzaga past a loaded Arizona team. Yeah. So, my fairytale – Once upon a time there were two big Wigginses, and one lived high in a basketball palace, while the other lived in the basement of a modest apartment building in Wichita, Kansas…— didn’t end the way it was meant to, and Cinderella and her slippers had nothing to do with it.

(Hey, enough about me – how’s your bracket?)

All right, back to me: I only picked seven out of the 16 supermale Sweetheart teams using my sketchy scouting reports and icy Canadian bias. I’d have had eight if I had only known where Montreal’s Kenny Chery was from; along with Brady Heslip, that makes two Canuck starters, which in hindsight made it obvious that the Bears would maul Creighton, which had Dougie McBuckets (a nickname for McDermott that is so homely it’s cute) but only one Canucket (Jahenns Manigat cringes). However, this does open the door for Baylor and Nik Stauskas’s Michigan Wolverines to meet in the final four, the winner to take on the EJIMinators from Iowa State (which is nearly a Canadian prairie province anyway, right?). Sounds good to me! So, lessee how this shakes out:

Thursday, March 27

I just insert the images, I don’t make ’em. Sigh. “Eh-Team”. Okay, then.

Wisconsin (2) vs. Baylor (6): The Badgers take it on the chin from Canada for a second time this year! (Last summer, the dynastic Canadian university Carleton Ravens took down Wisconsin in a summer exhibition match. Coach Bo won’t count it on his resume, but kudos to Wisconsin for a full and frank treatment of the game here.) Ditto today: guards Chery and Heslip are not only Great White Northers, but they lead a long and athletic Baylor team that took a long time to get organized but are hotter than Tim Horton’s coffee right now.

Arizona (1) vs. San Diego State (4): No Canadians. No interest.

(Okay, not quite true. Key under-reported factor: SDS knocked off New Mexico State and its four Canadians in the opening round, while Arizona only had to deal with one (Pangos) against Gonzaga in (the real) round 2. Advantage: Aztecs! I’ll pick the upset here; I’ve had a latter-day resurgence of respect for Steve Fisher, the SDS coach, despite his Fab 5 associations. (Heck, I’m even softening on Jalen Rose; anybody who’s as big a fan of Larry Bird as he is? Fine by me.))

Florida (1) vs. UCLA (4): No Canadians. Almost no knowledge of either team, especially Florida, so it comes down to coaches and soft-spot legacies. Billy Donovan is pretty great, I think, but the Bruins were the first basketball team I loved. On the other hand – wait, too many hands. My heart wants to see UCLA blue and gold, but my head says Billy.

Looks good in red and white, even without the maple leaf: Dyshawn Pierre.

Stanford (10) vs. Dayton (11): Although either of these clubs will likely lose to the Gators – there, I’ve said it, and I sure hope it doesn’t cost me my passport – Stanford has two Big Canadas up front in Dwight Powell and Stefan Nastic, and Dayton counters with just one, Dyshawn Pierre. Easy call. Canada Basketball wins! (But I’ll go with Stanford, because these guys study and Powell was Academic Guy of the Year in the Pacific 12 conference.)

Friday, March 28

Michigan (2) vs. Tennessee (11): First, nobody from the play-in game makes it to the Sweet 16, as the Vols did, so it’s either a great story or something a bit fishy – where were these guys all year? I hear they’re talented (and maybe they’re just getting rid of that Pearl smell), but they’re done. Michigan is led by their super-soph suburban shooter straight from the streets of Mississauga, Nik Stauskas. (YESSSSSS!) Not only is he Canadian, but he comes from a Lithuanian background, that cozy little Baltic basketball hotspot. Hard to beat. Wolverines in a walk.

Nik Stauskas: long, strong gunner. Amazing improvement in his sophomore season; no mere spot-up shooter.

Virginia (1) vs. Michigan State (4): Unlike the Wolverines, the MSU Spartans don’t have any Canadian content, but like Big Blue, they’re really just part of Greater Southwestern Ontario. Yes, and they also have Tom Izzo. Pick Sparty! (Hmm, and what a great story them meeting in the national final would be! Cinematic delusion alert.)

Louisville (4) vs. Kentucky (8): No Canadians. WHO CARES?!

(Ha. Even I can get into this epic clash of egos, tradition and blue-blood basketball. Both headmen are slick salesmen, but Pitino is also a coach. He has experienced players. Some NBA day I’ll likely admire the games of some of these Kentucky freshmen, but not tomorrow. I detest the whole Calipari one-done approach. Louisville wins the grudge match, which should be great theatre.)

The GTA in Ames, Iowa: Long and Ejim.

Iowa State (3) vs. Connecticut (7): “UConn” is a blatant attempt to sound Canadian; and “Huskies”, from Connecticut? That’s just bad geography, and Coach Kevin Ollie doesn’t have any real CanContent to back it up. Iowa State, meanwhile, has Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim as well as gunner Naz Long, both Greater Toronto Area lads. No upsets here, friends. Cyclones blow away the Huskies.

Maybe, maybe-just-maybe, I’ll be able to watch something on Chinese TV come the Final Four or the championship game. It happened once in my five years here: by some fluke, the Butler/Duke classic from 2010 was shown on a regional channel here in China, where they love NBA basketball but pay no attention to the collegiate ranks. I won’t have my Wiggins-fest for the final, but there’s still a great chance for Canadian players to shine on the biggest stage short of the Association. Despite the distance, I’ll be paying attention.

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