Only 2 Canadians left in 2011 March Madness as Sweet Sixteen nears

Arizona’s stunning victory over Texas on Sunday eliminated two of the most talented college basketball players to come out of Canada. Brampton’s Tristan Thompson, a potential first-round NBA draft pick one day, and guard Cory Joseph of Pickering saw their freshman season with the No. 4 Longhorns end dramatically when Derrick Williams converted a three-point play that gave the fifth-seeded Wildcats a 70-69 win and a berth in the Sweet Sixteen round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.

Only two Canadians remain in the tournament: Marquette sophomore guard Junior Cadougan, a Toronto native who played his high school basketball in Georgia and Texas and was one of the top 75 recruits among the 2009-10 freshman class; and  Richmond small forward Francis-Cedric Martel, a 6-6 junior from Montreal who averages 4.7 points coming off the bench.

If either Cadougan or Martel becomes the first Canadian since Denham Brown (2003-04 UConn) to be part of a national championship team, then this tournament will go down as the most shocking in history. The Golden Eagles are an 11 seed who will face No. 2 North Carolina in the East Region while the 12th-seeded Spiders take on No. 1 Kansas in the Southwest. No double-digit seed has ever won the tournament.

And it’s unlikely either of these two will make it beyond the Sweet Sixteen, but who thought Purdue would lose by 18 to VCU? Not me. I had the Boilermakers as a Final Four pick. (Shockingly, I can still win my bracket pool if Duke goes all the way. Turns out most people in my pool think Ohio State or Kansas will come out on top.)

A record 20 Canadians were on rosters for this year’s edition of March Madness and while this hasn’t been a good first weekend for 18 of them, next year is shaping up to potentially be the biggest season for Canadian basketball players in the NCAA ever.

Thompson announced last week that he would be returning to Texas for his sophomore season despite being considered a top 20 NBA prospect by many prognosticators. Thompson, a 6-8, 225-pound power forward, and Joseph will be joined by another player from the Toronto area, Myck Kabongo, the best point guard to come out of Canada since Steve Nash.

The 6-2 Kabongo is playing at Findlay Prep, the Nevada school known for churning out top-flight basketball recruits like the two Canadian Longhorns. With Kabongo, Texas will be a serious national contender next year.

If Kris Joseph returns to Syracuse for his senior year, he would also be playing on a potential championship team. The 6-7 forward from Montreal, who is the cousin of the Longhorns’ Cory Joseph, led all Canadians in Division 1 scoring with 14.3 points per game and is a potential first-round NBA prospect. Although he’s likely to go pro, he could come back to make himself a bona fide lottery pick and lead a Syracuse team that will be loaded with two highly touted freshmen, top-ranked centre Rakeem Christmas and guard/forward Michael Carter-Williams, and a number of talented returning players including starting guards Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche.


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