With the beginning of March Madness only days away, the hype surrounding the tournament has just about reached its peak.
In Canada much of the talk surrounds Kelly Olynyk, and rightfully so. The 7-foot forward who hails from Kamloops, B.C., has become the face of the Gonzaga Bulldogs, who head into the first round as the No. 1 seed in the West Region.
Olynyk was one of the top players in the NCAA this season as he led the Bulldogs in scoring and was second in rebounding averaging 17.5 points and 7.2 boards per game. He also has an interesting backstory to go along with his success being that just a year ago he red-shirted for the Zags while Robert Sacre led the team’s frontcourt.
But while Olynyk and the Bulldogs, who also have Newmarket, Ont., native Kevin Pangos in their starting lineup, may be the easy choice for Canadians looking for a team to root for in the Madness, for those who prefer cheering on the underdog and want to stay loyal to the red and white, the New Mexico State Aggies are a team worth taking note of.
Not only are the Aggies a No. 13 seed heading into the first round against No. 4 ranked Saint Louis, but they also have three Canadian players – Sim Bhullar (Toronto), Daniel Mullings (Toronto) and Tyrone Watson (Hamilton) – in their starting lineup and another in Renaldo Dixon (Toronto) who comes off the bench.
While Mullings, a 6-foot-2-sophomore guard, may be the most highly skilled player on the Aggies roster – he led the team in scoring averaging 14 points per game – for sports fans who don’t follow college basketball throughout the year, Bhullar might be the easiest to recognize.
The Toronto native stands 7-foot-5, 355 lbs and finished fourth on the team in scoring and second in rebounding, averaging 10.2 points and 6.5 boards. Bhullar stepped up for the Aggies in the Western Athletic Conference championship game over the weekend where he scored 16 points, collected 15 rebounds and added five shot blocks in the 64-55 win over the UT-Arlington Mavericks.
Watson and Dixon round out the Canadian foursome. Watson, a senior forward, finished just ahead of Bhullar in scoring averaging 10.8 points per game while Dixon, a junior forward chipped in an average of 5.7 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.
While the experts may not be picking the Aggies as the first-round bracket buster it’s worth mentioning that No. 13 seeds have done surprisingly well over the last 10-plus years. According to this ESPN graphic, since 2000 all four No. 4 seeds have advanced out of the first round just twice and the No. 13 seeds have advanced 12 times in that timespan.
New Mexico State can only hope to be on the winning end of that statistic come Thursday.