Tony McIntyre and his wife, Suzette Ennis, had one ideal destination in mind for this March: Buffalo.
The parents of Syracuse
point guard Tyler Ennis
guard Dylan Ennis
got their wish on Sunday night, when the NCAA men's basketball tournament
selection committee confirmed they'd be heading down the QEW from their home in Brampton, Ont., for the start of March Madness this Thursday.
Tyler helms the 27-5 Orange, who landed the No. 3 seed in the South bracket
, while older brother Dylan comes off the bench for the 28-4 Wildcats, ensconced at No. 2 in the East. Villanova plays Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the opening round, while Syracuse gets Western Michigan.
When the NCAA decided a few years ago to try to place higher-ranked teams closer to home for early-round games, they probably weren't thinking about making things easier for basketball families in the ever-growing cradle of hoops talent that is the Greater Toronto Area.
"Makes for an easier drive," McIntyre told me last week as we speculated on possible locations.
This was before he headed to Greensboro, N.C., for Syracuse's ACC tournament flameout
against N.C. State, while Suzette went to New York City for Villanova's loss to Seton Hall
in the Big East tourney. After trekking all over the U.S. east coast to watch their kids play this season, a weekend just 150 km away in Buffalo sounds downright fantastic.
With more, and even bigger, Canadian names
highlighting March Madness this year, McIntyre has enjoyed a front-row seat for this unprecedented era of talent development. As a co-founder, owner and coach of the GTA-based Nike CIA Bounce
AAU program that has produced several Canadian basketball stars, he's watched not just his own kids, but players like U.S collegiate stars Andrew Wiggins
and Melvin Ejim
, and NBAers Anthony Bennett
and Tristan Thompson
come into their own.
"It's great to sit back and see these kids that you grew up in the gym with go on to perform on this stage," McIntyre said.The Ice Man cometh
As for his own boys, after a surreal 25-0 start to the season (with Tyler Ennis inspiring "Ice Man" t-shirts
, complete with a maple leaf, for sale up and down Syracuse's Marshall Street), the Orange has hit a wall, losing five of their last seven.
McIntyre doesn't buy into the line that Syracuse's first season in a different league (they moved from the Big East to the ACC this year) caught up with them late in conference play.
"If someone said in November, Syracuse is going to be 27-4 come March, everyone would have been like, 'Hell, yeah,'" he said. "But I think with the undefeated run, the expectations go up."
"Ice Man" was a fitting nickname as Ennis performed cooly under pressure during that 25-0 run, which included a star-making, game-winning three-pointer against Pittsburgh. In the final five minutes of the second half and overtime in those games, according to ESPN Stats & Info, Ennis shot 8-for-9 from the field, 14-for-14 from the foul line and posted a 6-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Injuries to forward Jerami Grant and centre DaJuan Coleman down the stretch altered the formula a bit for 'Cuse, and Ennis had to adjust. But word out of Central New York is that the Orange are still confident going into the big dance.
"I think they're in good spirits," McIntyre said. "Tyler is like, 'Hey, I'm not worried. We're going into this feeling good, and we got blown out of one game [to now No. 1 seed Virginia] all year.'"
If Syracuse's act is together enough to win two games in Buffalo, there may be a potential Sweet 16 date in the South bracket with No. 2 Kansas
. That would create a dream matchup for McIntyre and all Canadian basketball fans: Ennis vs. Wiggins.Wiggins grows into starring role
It's been a year of ridiculous expectations for Wiggins, with so much pressure placed on the prodigy from Thornhill, Ont., as the presumptive top pick in the upcoming NBA draft that his team-high 17.4 points per game for Kansas appeared too human for some.
McIntyre maintains that Wiggins's development has been just fine, and that it's grown in step with his Jayhawks team.
"I thought Andrew did a great job adjusting," said McIntyre of his former pupil. "He's done an amazing job stepping up when he has to."
With star big man Joel Embiid
on the shelf with a serious back injury, Wiggins has scored 93 points on nearly 51 per cent shooting in Kansas's last three games. Embiid remains a question mark going forward, and while it's tough for the Jayhawks to replace his defence, it's worth remembering that it was the Cameroonian centre's emergence that somewhat altered coach Bill Self's style earlier in the season.
When the masses were chattering about Wiggins's supposed shortcomings, it was more a case of "not getting Andrew the ball early, and making him work out of the corners," McIntyre said. But now, "coach Self has done a really good job of working everybody in, and I think Andrew has ultimately found where he can pick his spots in the offence."
Self has evidently come to a realization regarding Wiggins as well: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. With one of the early knocks being the laid-back Canadian's supposed lack of aggression, the Kansas coach told ESPN's Myron Medcalf last week that he's come to appreciate Wiggins's style.
"I thought coming in that we needed to try to change him and change him in a way where he was outwardly, visibly more energetic, passionate, because he is a stone face on the court," Self said. "And that would have been the worst thing we could have ever done." 'Other' Wiggins, Shockers in tough
Keeping with the theme of Canadian basketball families, Nick Wiggins
(Andrew's older brother) got to the Final Four last year with surprising Wichita State
. And while he and fellow Ontarian Chadrack Lufile
were again contributors to a Shockers team that went undefeated (34-0) this season, he discovered that the NCAA selection committee isn't always kind to high-ranked teams from mid-major conferences.
While the Missouri Valley Conference champs secured the No. 1 seed in the Midwest bracket, they've got their work cut out for them with schools like Duke
Over in the East, Ejim's Iowa State
squad (which includes fellow Canadian Naz Long
) sits at No. 3 after winning the Big 12 tournament. Their run included a convincing 94-83 win
over Wiggins and Kansas. The forward from Toronto has had a big season, averaging 18.1 points and 8.5 rebounds to vault himself into the NBA draft conversation.
"With Melvin, his academics are incredible too," McIntyre is quick to point out.
Ejim's signature game this season was a 48-point, 18-rebound effort against TCU. He's improved each season he's been in Ames, Iowa.
"For him to go into the Big 12 and do what he's done for four years, it makes you so happy," McIntyre said. "It couldn't happen to a better kid."More Canadians in March Madness
According to Canada Basketball, 27 Canadian players are set to dress for the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Along with Ejim, Long, Lufile and the brothers Wiggins and Ennis, they are:New Mexico State
-- Daniel Mullings, Sim Bhullar, Tanveer Bhullar, Renaldo Dixon.
At No. 13 in the West, the Aggies aren't anyone's idea of a favourite. But with three Canucks in the rotation (leading scorer Mullings, Dixon and the 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar) plus Tanveer Bhullar (Sim's 7-foot-3 brother who has yet to appear in a game) and reshirts Jalyn Pennie and Matthew Taylor, this is again essentially Team Canada in this tournament.Michigan
-- Nik Stauskas.
year after helping the Wolverines reach the title game, Stauskas, a
6-foot-6 sophomore from the Toronto area, averaged 17.5 points per game
en route to Big Ten player of the year honours.Gonzaga
-- Kevin Pangos, Dustin Triano.
a junior, averaged 14.1 points to place second on the team. Triano, a
redshirt freshman who did not see game action this season, is the son of
Jay Triano, the former Toronto Raptors head coach.Arizona St
-- Jordan Bachynski.Baylor
-- Brady Heslip, Kenny Chery.Creighton
-- Jahenns Manigat.Dayton
-- Dyshawn Pierre.Eastern Kentucky
-- Jaylen Babb-Harrison.Harvard
-- Laurent Rivard, Agunwa Okolie, Patrick Steeves.Oregon
-- Richard Amardi.Saint Louis
-- Grandy Glaze.Stanford
-- Dwight Powell, Stefan Nastic.
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