O Gonzaga! The Zags are Canada’s entry into March Madness!
With 4 Canucks on board, how far can Canada er, I mean, Gonzaga can go with CBSSports.com Bracket Games ?!
Gonzaga , everyone’s favorite underdog is unofficially Canada’s entry into the NCAA tournament. With four Canadians on the roster including star center Robert Sacre , the Bulldogs have some serious Canadian content tacked onto their usual bracket-busting talent. And let's face it, after Thursday's crazy bracket-busting, the underdogs is where your heart should lie. Especially if your a Canuck!
Ironically, the Zags will play near the Canadian border but not the one they had hoped for. With a loss to St. Mary’s in the West Coast Conference championship game, any chance to play in Spokane was dashed and the Bulldogs ended up across the country in Buffalo, NY to play Friday against the No. 9 seed, Florida State (22-7).
Perhaps Canadians around the Golden Horseshoe of greater Toronto can make their way up the Queen Elizabeth Way and get to the HSBC Arena to cheer on 'Canada’s team' as they aim for another run to the Sweet 16. There is certainly plenty of Canadian talent to cheer on.
The star among the Canadian quarter is Sacre, a 7-footer who had to medically redshirt last season as he battled broken bones in his foot throughout his second season with the Zags. Now a redshirt sophomore, he started 31 of 32 games, pitching in 10.0 points a game, 5.2 rebounds and almost 2 blocks a game. A big body with sure hands, he’s put together a steady season as the starting center and will undoubtedly be attracting some NBA scouting visits to the state of Washington in the next couple of years.
While Sacre has successfully overcome his foot problems, fellow Canadian Manny Arop, the freshman forward, will not see any tournament action as he underwent surgery of his own last week. He had his broken left foot repaired after he was injured in the semifinal victory over Loyola Marymount in the West Coast Conference tournament. Arop is a promising freshman forward who averaged 3.8 rebounds in less than 12 minutes a game, but will watch his first NCAA Tournament on crutches.
A couple of other Canadians who could make an impact from the bench include 6’11” Kelly Olynyk and 6’6” Bol Kong. Olynyk, another freshman forward with a slick shot from Kamloops, BC, has earned some sizable minutes (12.3 MPG) as a true freshman and knows his Canadian teammates very well having played with all of them internationally in Canada’s junior basketball programs.
Kong has also seen some floor time this season as a long-range specialist, putting up 4.8 points a game as a 6’6”forward burying nearly 44% of his 3-point attempts. Kong and Arop both moved to Canada at a young age having been born in Sudan. Their next move was not nearly as far, just across the border to Spokane and their hoping their journey over the next couple of weeks takes them to the Sweet 16 and maybe all the way to Indianapolis.
And if you don’t believe in the Zags continued popularity – check the numbers! The Zags are ranked 56<sup>th</sup> (2008) among the top 200 schools for sports merchandising and that is in spite of not having a football program. Perhaps with more jersey orders from the Great White North we’ll see the Zags reach new heights in sales as they get busy busting brackets.
As for this tournament, they certainly can’t look past Florida State on Friday night as the #9 seeded Seminoles will also be looking to make some noise. The ‘Noles own quality wins over Marquette and Georgia Tech (twice) and will shape up to be a difficult first-round opponent for the Bulldogs.
Of course, don’t forget to check out March Madness on Demand at http://mmod.ncaa.com