If you haven’t completed a bracket yet, consider this one of your final warnings. This is not a drill. After a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the March Madness men’s NCAA basketball tournament is back.
Of even more interest to those of us north of the border: This year’s tourney features 25 Canadian players, and more than a few who could find themselves playing well into things.
Without further ado, here are nine standout Canadians to watch as things tip off this Friday:
Andrew Nembhard, G
If you’re a follower of Canadian international hoops, the name Andrew Nembhard will be eminently familiar to you. A contemporary of R.J. Barrett, Nembhard got some ahead-of-schedule reps with Canada’s senior team back when the pair were 18, and earned plaudits both for steady play and the occasional highlight:
— Basketball World Cup (@FIBAWC) June 30, 2018
And while Nembhard didn’t end up on the sure-thing route to pro stardom that Barrett did, he has had a solid collegiate career to date. After two years in Florida (and as many flirtations with the NBA draft), Nembhard transferred to Gonzaga this year and is enjoying his most team success to date. The Zags are ranked No. 1 in the country on the back of an active 26-game win streak heading into the Big Dance, and will need Nembhard’s steady play off the bench to get the “One Shining Moment” that has long eluded the program.
Chris Duarte, G
Born in Montreal, 23-year-old Chris Duarte is the Canadian most likely to have his name called in the upcoming NBA Draft, and he’s reached that status through a winding, unique path.
Duarte was raised in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, before moving to New York for his final two years of high school. He then starred for two years at Northwest Florida State College, becoming an NJCAA Division 1 All-American, before transferring to Oregon for the pandemic-shortened 2019–20 campaign. This season, the six-foot-six guard has put up averages of 16.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.8 blocks while shooting 52 per cent from the floor and 43 per cent from three-point land.
Could he follow current Toronto Raptor Chris Boucher’s path — Montreal roots to small-college success to a transfer to Oregon — all the way to the NBA? A big tourney performance for him and his Ducks team would go a long way to making that happen.
Eugene Omoruyi, F
Does anyone actually start their career at Oregon as a freshman? (Don’t look that up. I’m sure it’s never happened.) Another late-arriving Duck, Eugene Omoruyi played three years at Rutgers before transferring and sitting out the 2019–20 season as per NCAA rules. Now a redshirt senior, Omoruyi put up 16.7 points per game while significantly upping his three-point attempts and efficiency en route to joining teammate Duarte on the All Pac-12 Team.
Joshua Primo, G
SEC All-Freshman Team selection Joshua Primo was originally slated to be part of the 2021 high school class, but reclassified in February last year to graduate in 2020. So far this season, he has proven ready for the moment on a stacked Alabama team.
Playing 22.6 minutes per game, Primo is averaging 8.1 points and 3.4 rebounds, and joined the starting lineup mid-season. He’s currently day-to-day with a knee injury, but coach Nate Oats sounds confident Primo can return at some point during the Tournament (also note the confidence about how far they’re going, which you want in a No. 2 seed):
Bonus Can Con: Alabama boasts two players from north of the border. Though he has played sparingly in his freshman season, Toronto native Keon Ambrose-Hylton looks to be a big part of the Crimson Tide’s future.
Zach Edey, C
A must-see pick among the names on this list — partly because it’s impossible to miss him. (HEYO!) Seven-foot-four, 285-pound freshman Zach Edey started playing basketball in October 2017, and has been making significant strides ever since.
His per-game numbers of nine points and 4.5 rebounds won’t jump off the page, but they’re stellar when you consider he averaged fewer than 15 minutes.
A Toronto native, Edey put up his two best performances of the season in back-to-back games down the stretch — 21 points against Wisconsin and 20 against Indiana — and earned extra headlines in the Big Ten tourney for chipping in outside the lines:
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) March 12, 2021
Jahvon Blair, G
Senior guard Jahvon Blair’s Georgetown Hoyas finished the regular season 8-12, drawing an eight seed in the Big East Tournament … which of course they promptly won with victories of the ninth, fifth, second and first seeds in the tourney.
Blair was a huge part of the victory, as he has been for Patrick Ewing’s program the past four years. The Brampton native went for over 15 per game in the tourney and 18 in the final, which ended up being a blowout of Creighton.
GEORGETOWN IS BACK!!!
— Jahvon Blair (@JuggyBlair147) March 14, 2021
Quincy Guerrier, F
What a season it’s been for Montreal’s Quincy Guerrier. After putting up seven points per game off the bench for the Orange in 2019–20, Guerrier assumed a starting role for all 25 games this year. In playing 12.6 more minutes on average against other teams’ top lines, he upped his output in points (14.4 per game), rebounds (8.8), steals (0.9) and blocks (1.1) while actually shrinking his turnovers (1.0). He also kept his field-goal percentage level (49.7 per cent to 49.6 per cent) while taking 1.8 threes per game. It all added up to an All-ACC third-team nod for the sophomore.
While many considered them a bubble team, the Orange won three of their final four games to close out the season and earned an 11 seed from the committee. They’ll get San Diego State in the first round and they’ll need the high-flying “Candyman” to come through to pull off the upset.
— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) March 10, 2021
Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe, F
Vaughan, Ont., native and Orangeville Prep alum Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe is enjoying a strong freshman season at Oklahoma State, averaging 9.2 points and 5.1 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game. The six-foot-seven forward can also do stuff like this:
— Marshall Scott (@Marshall_Once) November 13, 2020
Canadian viewers should have no difficulty at all finding Moncrieffe’s games during the tourney as freshman teammate Cade Cunningham is the current favourite to go No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft.
Aher Uguak, F
Like Omoruyi, Aher Uguak is a redshirt senior who’s played three seasons at Loyola after transferring from New Mexico following his freshman season. Known for his chops in his team’s own end, Uguak made both the Missouri Valley Conference All-Defensive Team and the All-MVC third team as well.
Uguak also brings some Western Canada flavour to this list, as he hails from Edmonton.
Here’s a list of all 25 Canadians whose teams have made the men’s Tournament:
1. Keon Ambrose-Hylton, Alabama
2. Malcolm Bailey, Colgate
3. Keeshawn Barthelemy, Colorado
4. Jahvon Blair, Georgetown
5. Maurice Calloo, Oregon State
6. Max Cheylov, UC Santa Barbara
7. Brandon Cyrus, UC Santa Barbara
8. Okay Djamgouz, Drake
9. Chris Duarte, Oregon
10. Zach Edey, Purdue
11. Quincy Guerrier, Syracuse
12. Nathanael Jack, Florida State
13. Matey Juric, Drexel
14. Elijah Lufile, Oral Roberts
15. Liam McChesney, Utah State
16. Sean Miller-Moore, Grand Canyon
17. Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe, Oklahoma State
18. Andrew Nembhard, Gonzaga
19. Eugene Omoruyi, Oregon
20. Gabe Osabuohien, West Virginia
21. Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Clemson
22. Joshua Primo, Alabama
23. Victor Radocaj, Eastern Washington
24. Sam Thomson, Colgate
25. Aher Uguak, Loyola Chicago