Matthew Winick, NCAA basketball editor for TheScore, spoke with the Toronto Observer about some of the biggest names that Canadian basketball fans should have on their radar as they look to fill out their brackets come March.
Here are three to watch out for:
Josh Primo, Alabama, G
If you were to ask anyone in the college basketball world who is the hottest team in the country right now, outside of Gonzaga and Baylor, there would be one resounding answer – the Alabama Crimson Tide. And yes, we’re still talking about college basketball.
Winners of nine straight, and sitting comfortably atop the SEC standings, the school usually known for its college football dominance is proving it can also be a relevant basketball school. Part of the reason for that success is the Toronto point guard. After coming off the bench to begin the season, he has started the past nine games, coincidentally the exact stretch that has vaulted Alabama to a top-10 national ranking.
Averaging 9.1 points per game for the season, the freshman guard has upped his performance in the past few games, resulting in the SEC naming him Freshman of the Week on Monday. In his last two games, Primo averaged 19.0 points, while shooting an absurd 73.7 per cent from the floor and 76.9 per cent from three.
Winick is one who sees Primo being a key to the Crimson Tide’s recent hot streak.
“You have seen the presence he has been able to provide for the team,” said Winick. “Whether it’s shooting, whether it’s defending, he plays hard all the time and I don’t think it’s a surprise that there is a correlation between Josh Primo minutes, and Alabama wins.”
Eugene Omoruyi, Oregon, F
If a Canadian-born NCAA men’s all-star team was put together, Omoruyi would be the veteran leader of the squad. Now in his fifth and final year in the NCAA, the redshirt senior is doing big things with head coach Dana Altman and the Oregon Ducks.
After three seasons with a subpar Rutgers team, including a breakout junior season, Omoruyi sat out the 2019-20 season so he could contribute to a title contender. And it did not take him long to make his presence known. In Oregon’s opening game of the season, Omoruyi had a career-high 31 points and 11 rebounds, staking his claim as one of the Ducks most important players.
The 6’6” forward has continued his strong play all season, averaging 16.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, while also providing the Ducks with a wealth of experience.
In terms of NBA potential, Winick believes that the native of Rexdale, Ont., has the makeup to potentially find a fit in the league.
“What he’s able to provide as someone who is 6’6” in terms of assists, playmaking, and three-point shooting, he is almost like a fourth guard out there for the Ducks, and that is something a lot of NBA teams are looking for,” explained Winick.
Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona, G
Mathurin might not have been on a lot of people’s radar coming into the 2020-2021 season, but the freshman guard made sure to change that narrative. Now 15 games into his debut season, Mathurin, like fellow freshman Canuck Primo, started the year by coming off the bench, only to develop into one of his team’s most important assets.
The Arizona Wildcats guard is currently leading his team in Player Efficiency Rating, at 13.5, contributing 11.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Mathurin’s team is 12-3, including a perfect 3-0 in games that the 6’7” guard out of Montreal has started.
Mathurin had his signature college moment to date on Jan. 14, scoring 31 points, on 83.3 per cent shooting, in a 98-64 rout of the Oregon State Beavers.
As a member of a highly touted Arizona recruiting class, Mathurin has had to earn every minute of playing time. Winick believes his nose to the grindstone attitude will be key as he continues his basketball career.
“He works so hard,” said Winick. “I remember listening to one of his post-game interviews, and he’s so calm, so collected, and so poised, it would not shock me if he got drafted this year. And if not this year, for sure the year after, because he is someone who just projects so well for the NBA.”
Big things coming
A record 17 Canadians made NBA opening-day rosters this season, a tremendous accomplishment for a country traditionally known mostly for its hockey prowess.
And with 159 players with passports from north of the 49th parallel currently on NCAA men’s Division rosters, it seems likely that 17 is only just the beginning.