March Madness tips off this week, as the best in American college basketball will be going head to head in a win or go home style knockout tournament for a shot at a national championship.
Canadians continue to thrive in both collegiate and professional basketball, and if you don’t know who to cheer for as you make your bracket this week, try backing a team being led by a Canadian player.
On the men’s side, there are 25 Canadians playing for 19 different schools in the tournament this year. As for the women, there are 26 Canadians whose teams made the bracket. With there being more parity than ever in American collegiate basketball, any of our national heroes could be the last ones left dancing this March.
Here’s a breakdown of the top Canadian players competing for a National title this month.
Zach Edey (Junior), Purdue, Toronto, ON
On the men’s side of the tournament, the Purdue University Boilermakers snagged the No.1 seed in the East Division of the bracket. Edey is a 7-foot-4 centre currently averaging 22.3 points, 12.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists this season.
The Boilermakers have a 29-5 record going into the tournament, and with their No.1 seed position, have an ideal path to the Final Four. Men’s college players don’t have the same requirements to declare for the NBA Draft that women’s players do, so Edey is expected to move to the pros after this season. Women’s players, on the other hand, must graduate their program and be at least 22 years old in that year to declare for the WNBA.
As a top player in the NCAA, he is currently projected to be drafted in the second round of the 2023 NBA Draft – but his performance in March Madness has the potential to boost the Canadian's prospects.
Aaliyah Edwards (Junior), Connecticut, Kingston, ON
Aaliyah Edwards of Kingston, Ont., has been on the NCAA radar since she was a freshman in the legendary women’s basketball program at the University of Connecticut. The UConn Huskies have won 11 national titles and made 34 straight March Madness appearances, but this was a particularly trying year for the program.
With several players in and out the lineup all season with injury, the Huskies barely had the required number of available players needed to compete in several games. A lot of the load was put onto Edwards, and she stepped up to the challenge. The 6-foot-3 forward averaged 16.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and has a field goal percentage of 57.3 on the season.
She is in the running for several season awards, including the Naismith Trophy for Most Outstanding Player, the Wooden Award for Outstanding Women’s Collegiate player, and has already won the Big East Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Edwards has also made several appearances for the senior Canadian national team, including at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
After leading her team to a Big East Tournament Championship, she’ll try to do the same again and win UConn’s 12th national title. The Huskies were awarded the No. 2 seed in the Seattle 2 region and will kick off their tournament by hosting the first two rounds in Connecticut. They’ll face Vermont in the first round, and should they win, await the winner of Baylor versus Alabama.
Laeticia Amihere (Senior), South Carolina, Mississauga, ON
The South Carolina Gamecocks have been on an astronomical rise in women’s basketball over the past few years, and Laeticia Amihere has been a big reason why. Under head coach Dawn Staley, South Carolina won their second national title last year, and are the favourites heading into the tournament this year.
Coming into the season undefeated, Amihere and the Gamecocks look virtually unbeatable most of the time. With reigning National Player of the Year and prospective No. 1 WNBA Draft pick Aliyah Boston running the court, they are the team to beat. Amihere has averaged 7.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists for the Gamecocks this season at the forward position and provides the team with a scary amount of depth.
Amihere’s best game came in the SEC Tournament semifinal, where she went off for 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds against Ole Miss. In the quarterfinal against Arkansas, she scored 16 points and grabbed five rebounds. Coach Staley will definitely look to Amihere to put up those numbers as the Gamecocks try to repeat as national champions.
Olivier-Maxence Prosper (Junior), Marquette, Montreal, QC
The forward out of Montreal is currently dominating in his junior season at Marquette University, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There have been several players coming out of Montreal and Quebec over the past few years, and the sport continues to rise in popularity there. Just last year, Bennedict Mathurin was drafted sixth overall by the Indiana Pacers and has been having an incredible rookie season.
In the NCAA, Prosper has averaged 12.4 points and 4.6 rebounds for the Golden Eagles this season, contributing to their 28-6 record. His best game came against St. John’s University on Jan. 3 when he scored 29 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the Golden Eagles' 96-85 victory.
The Golden Eagles head into the tournament as the No. 2 seed in the East division and will face Vermont in their first round matchup. If both Marquette and Purdue can make it through, they could face each other in the Elite Eight – meaning a Canadian on Canadian duel could be in store.
Shayeann Day-Wilson (Sophomore), Duke, Toronto, ON
In her freshman season at Duke, Wilson didn’t get to participate in March Madness as the Blue Devils didn’t qualify for the tournament. Now in her sophomore season and averaging 8.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists, the guard out of Toronto has helped her team get back on top. The Blue Devils finished second place in the Ally ACC Tournament behind top-seeded Virginia Tech, and finished the season with a 25-6 record.
As the starting point guard for the young Duke team, it’s only up from here for the Blue Devils under coach Kara Lawson. They enter the tournament as the No. 3 seed in the Seattle 4 division, and are set to face Iona in their opening round. If they are able to make it through, they have the potential to face top teams Colorado and Iowa – great tests for a young team on the rise.