Sons of Naismith | 2017–18 Tip-Off
The 2017–18 NCAA season is almost upon us, and that means it’s time to take a look at the Canadians who will be making a splash in college basketball this year.
The Canadian invasion of college basketball has been a multi-year development, and seeing Canucks play pivotal roles in top programs has become a regular occurrence. This was on full display last year when Canadians Dillon Brooks, Dylan Ennis, and Chris Boucher (a key contributor before being injured) lead the Oregon Ducks to a Final Four berth, cementing the relevancy of players from north of the border. Let’s take a look at the Canadians ready to have exemplary seasons in college basketball this season.
Being an accomplished four-star recruit coming out of high school, Koby McEwen raised some eyebrows when he declined offers from Power Five conference teams like Baylor, Wake Forest, and Ole Miss to attend Utah State. Judging by his freshman campaign, he made a great choice. Averaging 14.7 points, 3.1 assists, and 5.1 rebounds with the Aggies, the 6’3” 190-pound McEwen earned himself a starting position, becoming the first true freshman to start for the team in five years. While many freshmen struggle to earn the trust of their head coach, McEwen quickly earned a reputation as a responsible guard on both sides of the floor. Though his versatility is evident, his number one skill is even more apparent. The primary spacer for the Utah State offense, his 42.8 percent from the three-point line was a truly remarkable number for a first year. Having so much usage and production as a freshman, evading the dreaded sophomore slump should be no problem for McEwen. Look for him to continue to dominate the Mountain West Conference this year.
After a season of accomplishments like America East Conference Player of the Year, Honorable Mention All-American, and surpassing 1,000 career points, University of Vermont junior Trae Bell-Haynes threw his name into the NBA draft to gauge interest in his pro potential. Luckily for the Catamounts, he chose to withdraw and return for his senior season. The 6’2”, 170-pound point guard will be tasked with leading a talented team that returns four starters and is desperately hoping to return to the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. The trusted leader of the Catamounts’ attack, Bell-Haynes averaged 11.2 points, 3.9 assists, and 2.1 rebounds while chipping in defensively with 1.1 steals. A pass-first point guard, more shots are expected than the 8.2 field goal attempts he had in his 27.6 minutes per game. With Vermont being a trendy mid-major team entering the 2017 season, look for Trae Bell-Haynes to be the centerpiece of an exciting team to watch.
The Atlantic 10 Conference is going to produce some of the nation’s most exciting basketball this year, and one of the league’s gems is Montreal native Joseph Chartouny of the Fordham Rams. After winning A10 Freshman of the Year in 2015–2016, Chartouny followed up that stellar performance with a rock solid sophomore season averaging 12.1 points, 5.0 assists, and 4.1 rebounds. Capitalizing on the recognition of his all-around game, Chartouny tested NBA waters by declaring for the draft without hiring an agent. Ultimately, he decided to return to New York City for his junior year. Though a special player with the ball in his hands, his biggest calling card might be his disruptive defensive play. Averaging a stifling 3.2 steals per game, good enough for third-best in the country, Chartouny’s sneaky hands kept opposing point guards second-guessing their every move on the court. A high achiever both on and off the floor, Chartouny was a member of the A10 All-Academic team, showing heavy commitment to the classroom and making him an easy student-athlete to cheer for. If you’re looking for some great basketball outside of the Power conferences, be sure to sure to find an A10 league game and see Joseph Chartouny work his magic.
After dwelling in the basement of the SEC for the last several seasons, Missouri made a huge splash in the offseason by hiring coach Cuonzo Martin. Bringing in Martin, formerly at Washington, meant bringing in the No. 1 rated recruit Michael Porter Jr., and his brother, Jontay Porter. In the midst of this drastic improvement by the Tigers, one of the most impactful graduate transfers of the season has fallen under the radar. Toronto native Kassius Robertson, after three successful seasons at Canisius, is a proven scorer bringing backcourt firepower to match top frontcourt recruits. Averaging 16.1 points a game while shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc, Robertson will be constantly pressuring defenses from the guard spot and forcing opponents to pick their poison between him and the explosive big men on the inside. With all eyes on the Missouri Tigers to see coveted NBA prospect Michael Porter Jr., Kassius Robertson will have every opportunity to dominate on some of college basketball’s biggest stages.
The college basketball world was introduced to Kimbal Mackenzie in a big way during March Madness last season when Mackenzie’s Bucknell Bisons nearly upset a mighty West Virginia team in the Round of 64. Facing one of the most terrifying defenses in basketball, Mackenzie hung 23 points on the Mountaineers in a tightly contested 86–80 game that was on upset watch for most of the second half. A technical guard with a pinpoint release, Mackenzie’s sophomore season saw him average 11.9 points while shooting 41 percent from the three-point line and 83 percent from the charity stripe. The Bisons will enter the year as the favorite to win the Patriot League, and you can bet Kimbal Mackenzie will be relied upon to make big shots and lead the offense in their pursuit of some March Magic.
Long, bouncy, and with the ability to shoot threes, the University of Maryland’s Justin Jackson is a Canadian with NBA executives’ eyes all over him. In the mold of the typical NBA wing, Jackson stands at 6’7” with a 7’3” wingspan and a chiseled 225-pound frame. Completing the package, his 44 percent three-point stroke left many scouts salivating at his potential ceiling. Despite being selected to participate in the NBA Draft Combine, he decided to return to Maryland for his sophomore season to polish his game. If his defense, playmaking, and feel for the game progress the way many players’ do in the jump from freshman to sophomore you can be sure he will be at the top of every Big 10 team’s scouting report when the Terrapins roll into town. Be sure to catch some of Jackson’s games while he’s in college before he makes the leap to the professional ranks.
Now for some Canadian recruits ready to make an instant impact in their freshman seasons.
Emmanuel Akot, the 43rd ranked 2017 recruit, reclassified from the 2018 class in order to join a spectacularly talented Arizona Wildcats roster that many have penciled in to a Final Four slot. A versatile 6’8”, 185-pound stopper on the wing, Akot very well could be the final piece that establishes Arizona as a National Championship team.
From the U-19 Gold Medal winning Canada roster that upset the United States, Lindell Wigginton is an electrifying guard that is sure to provide plenty of highlights this year. Joining a school that boasts Canadians Melvim Ejim and Naz Mitrou-Long as alumni, Wigginton will be playing for the Iowa State University Cyclones. Tasked with following in the footsteps of exemplary point guard Monte Morris, Wigginton will have every opportunity to put up stats and develop in the Cyclone’s high-octane offense.
Seemingly always having their pick of top talent, the Kentucky Wildcats decided to look north and bring in 6’5” guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to compliment their compilation of elite recruits. On a team with sky-high talent and expectations to match, Gilgeous-Alexander will be expected to hound the opposing team’s best perimeter talent defensively, and push the ball in transition to the explosive Wildcat wings. Always a candidate to go deep in the NCAA Tournament, expect to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to be in some big games when the postseason comes around.
Coming in as the highest-rated Canadian recruit, Nickeil Alexander-Walker (cousins with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) is the 21st ranked player in 2017. An athletic 6’4” point guard, he was highly coveted by many accomplished programs before he chose to sign with the Virginia Tech Hokies. Coach Buzz Williams is notorious for his high-usage point guards, which means Alexander-Walker will have an opportunity to showcase his full arsenal of skills and attract plenty of NBA attention.
From savvy veterans to tantalizing rookies, the Canadian talent in the NCAA touches a vast number of teams. These are just some of the many Canadian exports that will be making waves in college basketball. Look for Canadian fingerprints all over the sport from tip-off in November until the Big Dance in March.
Sons of Naismith | The Gonzaga Myth
Gonzaga is poised for a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and the narrative around college basketball will be when, not if, Gonzaga will choke. The reputation of march madness choking has follow Gonzaga for over a decade, and I would love to take a look back and prove that they are not chokers like everyone says, proving it with numbers and anecdotal evidence. The tournament starts in 3 weeks, so I’d love to bang this out relatively quickly and maybe have it posted in 2 weeks? Maybe ambitious but I could get at it quick.
We see the same script played out nearly every March: Gonzaga dominates the regular season in the West Coast Conference, rolling through seldom-relevant teams such as Pepperdine, Pacific, and Loyola Marymount on their way to a regular season with around 30 wins and a number of losses you can count on one hand. Selection Sunday comes, and cameras are all over the Gonzaga locker room as they receive a top-3 seed. Before the dust settles on their celebration, critics have already started to fire off the same jeers that coach Mark Few and the Bulldogs receive seemingly every year:
“They don’t deserve this!”
“They haven’t played anybody!”
And my favorite, the line I am going to focus this article on:
“They choke in the NCAA Tournament every year!”
This is déjà vu for college basketball fans. Whenever Gonzaga has a top-5 seed in the NCAA Tournament you can be sure the common narrative surrounding Gonzaga will be the Bulldogs seeming to underachieve when the lights are on at the Big Dance. Despite being an extremely difficult accomplishment, Mark Few’s tremendous record of 17 straight NCAA tournaments with Gonzaga has been overshadowed by a reputation for losing earlier in the tournament then they were expected to, or as people like to say, “they choked.” Gonzaga’s reputation for choking in the tournament has been further exaggerated by Mark Few’s inability to reach a Final Four despite several talented and highly ranked teams and a reputation for being one of the best coaches in the country.
Are Gonzaga really the Choke Artists they’re made out to be or are they a victim of flawed perception? I have undertaken a study of the past 17 years of Gonzaga’s tournament results under Mark Few to find out if Gonzaga is truly the underachievers that many critics think they are.
I will be looking at Seed Expectation to see how Gonzaga fared in the tournament relative to where they were expected to finish. Here’s a table of Seed Expectation: an approximation of where a team should finish based off their pre-tournament seeding.
|9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, or 16||Round of 64|
|5, 6, 7, or 8||Round of 32|
|3 or 4||Sweet 16|
As you can see, Seed Expectation is very simple. For example, a 4 or higher seed would indicate the committee sees you as a top-16 team, so the expectation is that you would reach the sweet 16. It’s a simple tool for tracking how many times Gonzaga finished at, below or above their seed expectation each year.
Furthermore, I’m going to award or penalize the Bulldogs based on where they finished in comparison to their Seed Expectation. For every round they finish worse than their Seed Expectation, they receive a -1; for every round they finish better than their Seed Expectation, they’ll get +1; for every round they match their Seed Expectation, it’s a 0.
For example, if they received an 8 seed and lost in the round of 64, they would be penalized -1. If they received an 8 seed and made it to the Elite Eight they would receive +2. If they were to lose in the round of 32, they would receive a 0. Once we add and subtract the points associated with Seed Expectation, we’ll have a better feel for whether they’re the historical chokers many like to claim.
|2002||6||Round of 64||-1|
|2003||9||Round of 32||+1|
|2004||2||Round of 32||-2|
|2005||3||Round of 32||-1|
|2007||10||Round of 64||0|
|2008||7||Round of 64||-1|
|2000||8||Round of 32||0|
|2011||11||Round of 32||+1|
|2012||7||Round of 32||0|
|2013||1||Round of 32||-3|
|2014||8||Round of 32||0|
Check the math for yourself everyone, the total is 0. That means the average finish by Gonzaga over the last 17 years is perfectly aligned with where they were expected to finish.
To further show how, well, average they have performed, you can see they’ve underachieved 5 times, overachieved 5 times, and finished exactly as expected 7 times. These numbers show the perception Gonzaga chokes in the Tournament is actually a myth.
Gonzaga detractors might say 17 years is too long a time to look at to come to this conclusion, but recent history still shows they haven’t flopped as often as their reputation makes it seem. One performance that sticks out like a sore thumb in the Seed Expectation table is the -3 they got after losing in the round of 32 as the No. 1 seed.
Critics points to this loss as a prime example of the ‘Zags folding under the pressure of March basketball, but the loss wasn’t as simple as a No. 9 team upsetting a top seed in the second round. The Wichita State Shockers were no normal 9 seed that year. They had suffered some bad losses earlier in the season, which crippled their chances at a higher seed. They also had three future NBA players on their roster, Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, a luxury most college teams don’t get–and certainly not the standard 9 seed. Not only that, but Wichita State followed up their Gonzaga upset by going all the way to the Final four, where they gave eventual champion Louisville, their toughest game of the Tournament, falling 72-68 in the semifinal. Did Gonzaga really lose to a 9 seed that night? On paper, yes, but in reality they lost to the second-best team in the Tournament based on performance. If the Selection Committee hadn’t put Gonzaga in the same bracket as the sleeping giants from Wichita State, they may have gone all the way to the Final Four.
If you want to see an example of Gonzaga’s nationwide perception, look no further than the image of Adam Morrison crying at center court after the Bulldogs blew a 17-point halftime lead to UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen. Weeping Adam Morrison has been a photo used by many to push their idea of Gonzaga choking, but should they? Yes, Gonzaga held a halftime lead of 17 points and yes, UCLA came back and won 73-71. What many people forget, however, is that Gonzaga was the 3-seed and the Bruins were the 2-seed, preventing it from being an upset and leaving Gonzaga with a Tournament result aligning exactly with their Seed Expectation. As well, this was a Bruins squad the fielded an incredible roster of future professionals including Arron Afflalo, Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison, Ryan Hollins, and Luc Mbah a Moute. After narrowly squeaking by Gonzaga, the UCLA went on to easily dispatch powerful Memphis and LSU teams on their way to a National Title game. This would lead me to believe that the 17-point lead at halftime achieved by Gonzaga was a gritty group of upperclassmen playing above their heads for 20 minutes; a team that shot for the stars and came extremely close before coming back to earth.
The past few years, There have been several Gonzaga squads that casual and serious fans hoped would make a run all the way to the final weekend. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to make them. Despite these disappointments, we can’t swing too far to the other side of the spectrum and claim this team is predestined to collapse when the pressure ratchets up in March. As I’ve shown, the evidence simply doesn’t match that belief. When Selection Sunday comes and Gonzaga is awarded a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, make sure to check history before assuming they’re due for a collapse.
Thank you to contributions from Spencer Lund and Tony Patelis, and to Andrew Hamilton for the image.
Sons Of Naismith: What If They Didn’t Go Straight To The NBA?
A commitment decision by a top high school recruit can be world-changing for both team and player alike. A transcendent college basketball talent, even if he only stays for one year, can take a team from a treacherous fight for relevancy to national championship contender. For an athlete, a decision of where to play and who to be coached by can mean very different routes of development and style of play, which is sure to show itself when they take their game to the professional ranks.
Prior to a rule change in 2005, top talent was faced with a decision between playing college basketball or declaring for the NBA draft directly out of high school. The stars that took the latter option and entered the draft while bypassing college makes for a very interesting hypothetical question for college basketball fanatics like myself: If these players did attend university, where would they be? I decided to investigate for myself and theorize where some of the stars of today’s NBA would have attended university had they decided to take that path.
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Amir Johnson, mostly a shot blocker and rebounder at the NBA level, was drafted 56th overall by Detroit, and his fairly limited offensive skillset throughout his career could lend to the narrative that a year of college development would have served him well. An easy choice would be his hometown UCLA squad, where he would play alongside Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Ryan Hollins. However, I think Johnson would have gone to a different hometown program with more opportunity for minutes, and rebounded Nick Young’s missed threes at the University of Southern California.
Hometown: Jackson, Mississippi
Before Golden State nabbed Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, they utilized Monta Ellis in the sharpshooter role. A run and gun offensive player in the truest sense, Ellis’ style of play makes it hard to imagine him playing for a lot of the top coaches in college basketball who preach a slower, more methodical way of attacking — and, well, defense. Hometown schools Ole Miss and Mississippi state might have an edge here, but I think Ellis would have looked perfect going to play for coach Rick Barnes at the University of Texas, where he would have formed an electric backcourt with Daniel Gibson while dropping dimes to LaMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker down low.
Hometown: Freehold Borough, New Jersey
Oh, what could have been. J.R. Smith in college basketball was perhaps a level of awesome we were not prepared for as fans and the basketball gods were therefore forced to withhold him from the highest amateur level in the land. I certainly played around with the idea of Swish staying in the northeast and attending Georgetown, following in the footsteps of fellow volume shooter Allen Iverson. However, even though that 2004 Hoyas team boasted Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green, they didn’t have the success that would have drawn a contested shot-making prodigy of Smith’s magnitude. Instead, I imagine him as a University of Connecticut Husky, playing alongside Charlie Villanueva and trading fadeaway jump shots with Rudy Gay.
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Considering he went #1 overall and has had a great NBA career, I don’t think anyone is saying Dwight Howard made the wrong choice in declaring for the draft. The consensus best player available, Howard would have had the opportunity to play for any school in the country, perhaps going for the allure of the Duke Blue Devils or Kansas Jayhawks, or looking to play alongside an elite point guard like Rajon Rondo at Kentucky or Chris Paul at Wake Forest. However, after returning to his hometown Atlanta Hawks in free agency, he showed he is the type of guy to stay close to home and play for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, where he would have benefited from playing with an elite backcourt of Will Bynum and Jarrett Jack. This would be a great fit for Howard, assuming they would have a jersey that fit tight enough for Howard’s specifications.
Hometown: Lake Wales, Florida
Considering the immediate impact Stoudemire had on the NBA as an 18-year-old, it’s safe to say he would have been the predominant big man in college hoops had he gone to a D1 program. His athleticism would have looked great in the middle of Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone at Syracuse, and if he had joined his home state Florida Gators he could might have been able to form the most juxtaposed front court of all time with future Spurs sharpshooter, Matt Bonner. However, after watching him play next to Steve Nash for so many beautiful years in Phoenix, I think it’s fair to say he’ll realize he needs to play next to a top-notch point guard to reach his full potential. That means Point Guard University, otherwise known as the University of Arizona Wildcats. If he went to Tucson, he would have played with extremely talented point guard Salim Stoudamire, and the Stoudemire-Stoudamire pick and roll would wreak havoc on opposing defenses with broadcasters trying to differentiate the similar-sounding surnames. The Wildcats roster also included Andre Iguodala, Luke Walton, and Channing Frye, so it isn’t far fetched to say Amar’e would be drawn to being a Wildcat.
Hometown: Akron, Ohio
Considering it was a foregone conclusion LeBron would be headed right to the Association out of high school, we never had much of a chance to think about what college recruitment for LeBron would have looked like. He has spoken about his admiration for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, so playing alongside Luol Deng and J.J. Redick could have been in the cards. Michigan State was an amazing team at the time, and it’s very easy to imagine LeBron and coach Tom Izzo connecting over a mutual love of basketball and football. He could have teamed up with the player of the year, Jameer Nelson, at Saint Joseph’s, where future teammate Delonte West also played. Unfortunately for these other schools, LeBron’s love of hometown Ohio State has been well documented, and he could have seen this as an opportunity to turn his home school around, as the Buckeyes were a meddling 7-9 in the Big Ten conference play the year before he was drafted. And Jim Tressel’s squad wouldn’t have offered any stars for LeBron to join. However, as we all know, LeBron loves his hometown and he loves a challenge, so I have to think he would have gone to Ohio State.
Sons Of Naismith is a column on NCAA Basketball from a Canadian perspective.
Sons of Naismith | Tip Off
125 years after Canadian Dr. James Naismith created the game of basketball, his sons are permeating the game more than he could have ever imagined. This past season there were 92 Canadians in NCAA Men’s Basketball, and the number is growing every year. More importantly, these Canadians are taking on bigger and bigger roles on winning teams. Here is a look at north of the border guys who are going to dominate college basketball this year.
Nazareth Mitrou-Long, who goes by Naz Long, is locked and loaded to terrorize Big 12 backcourts and lead the Iowa State Cyclones back to March Madness, where they have been a mainstay the last several years. This Mississauga, Ontario native isn’t the first canuck to take the court for the Cyclones, as fan favorite and Canadian National Team member Melvin Ejim also laced them up for Iowa State. Faulty hips caused Long to shut down after only eight games last season, but an NCAA-granted medical redshirt allowed him another year of eligibility. At age 23, Long will be trusted to lead a team who graduated a boatload of talent and production last year. Naz won’t light up the stat sheet, but his guidance and defensive toughness will ensure Cyclone success.
If you’re looking for a hooper who embodies Canadian stereotypes like being reserved and over-polite, you aren’t going to find it with Xavier Rathan-Mayes. This Florida State sniper, known as “X” to friends and broadcasters, is going to blaze down the court, cross you over, then drain a deep three—and he isn’t going to say sorry.
Rathan-Mayes has a big personality and NBA aspirations, something you’d expect from a guy who played with Andrew Wiggins and Tyler Ennis on several AAU and international teams growing up. His dynamic scoring made headlines against Miami where he exploded for 30 points in 4:38 (seriously, think about that for a minute) in an inspiring comeback attempt that fell short. At 6’4” and 190 pounds, Xavier will be transitioning to more point this year in an attempt to improve his first round draft stock.
Here is extremely exciting news: The Oregon Ducks might be the best team in the NCAA, and they have so many Canadians they might as well be called the Oregon Loonies. Ranked #5 in the country going into the season, I’ve got them pegged to win the NCAA tournament. They start a trio of Canadians that arguably are the best players on the roster.
Their ringleader is Dillon Brooks, who is the straw that stirs the drink, and I will boldly predict he wins Player of the Year in College basketball this season. A versatile 6’7”, Brooks is ready to answer the call at both ends of the floor. He averaged 16.7 points alongside 5.4 boards and 3.1 dimes, while locking down wings and chipping in 1.1 steals a game. It will be very interesting to see if he decides to go pro after this season.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, anticipated Chris Boucher to succeed at the level he did for Oregon last year. A 6’9” beanpole out of Montreal, Boucher was a high school dropout with no college offers, working as a dishwasher to help support his family. His fortunes changed when a Junior College coach saw him dominating a pickup game, which lead to Boucher playing competitive ball again. After quickly developing his game, he won Junior College player of the year in 2014, which led Oregon coach Dana Altman to give him an opportunity.
Despite criticisms of Boucher’s slight frame, questionable basketball history, and unorthodox style, Altman threw him into the starting lineup where he became one of the Pac-12’s best big men. Boucher is a rare combination of shot blocking and three-point shooting. He set a new Pac-12 record this past season as the only player with over 100 blocks and 35 three-pointers in a year. When the Ducks dominates this season, expect Chris Boucher to become a folk hero in the pacific northwest.
The third member of Oregon’s Canadian trio is Dylan Ennis, a transfer from Villanova. He’s a prototypical glue guy that any college team would love to have. Ennis is the older brother of Houston Rocket Tyler Ennis (yes, older brother). Dylan is entering his sixth year of college basketball after being granted two redshirt years. A fellow pass first point guard, Dylan is a reliable distributor that looks to get his team into the offence quickly. Ennis’ veteran savvy could be the x-factor that gets Oregon deep into the tournament come March.
More Sons Of Naismith:
Mychal Mulder might be one of the best kept secrets in college basketball. Playing at Kentucky behind yet another Canadian Jamal Murray last year, this Windsor, Ontario guard didn’t get many minutes. But he was a four star recruit who will have a better opportunity to play now and show his worth.
Joseph Chartouny, a guard from Montreal, won Rookie of the Year in a very talented Atlantic-10 conference for the Fordham Rams, and I can’t wait to see what he follows up with this season.
And finally, these Canadians are on ESPN’s Top 100 recruiting class of 2017:
#29 Nickell Alexander-Walker (Toronto) is going to Virginia Tech.
#44 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Toronto) is uncommitted.
#49 Lindell Wigginton (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia) is going to Iowa State.
#83 Christian David (Milton, Ontario) is going to Butler.
Sons Of Naismith is a column on NCAA Basketball from a Canadian perspective.
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Eastern Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 2
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