Canada's version of March Madness is here

CBC Sports' daily newsletter compares and contrasts the U.S. and Canadian college basketball tournaments, which are both happening this week.

U Sports men's and women's hoops tournaments tip off this week

The Carleton Ravens celebrated their ninth U Sports men's basketball championship in 10 years in 2020. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

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Canada's (lower-key) college hoops tournaments are set to tip off

Pierre Trudeau famously likened sharing a border with the United States to "sleeping with an elephant." That could also describe the relationship between Canadian and U.S. collegiate basketball.

March Madness is the hoops equivalent of a 10,000-lb. beast. The U.S. TV rights contract for the massively popular men's tournament pays the NCAA $870 million US this year alone. That's $245 million more than the NHL makes annually from its American TV deals. The women's tournament is rising in popularity and reportedly could fetch its own separate rights fees soon.

Though it's a quintessentially American product, March Madness seems to be reaching across the border more than ever, now that Canada is a legit exporter of basketball talent. This year's men's bracket featured a record 30 Canadian-born players, including a key starter on the two highest-ranked teams. Andrew Nembhard led No. 1 Gonzaga in assists, steals and minutes this season, while Bennedict Mathurin was Arizona's top scorer.

Unfortunately, both were upset in the Sweet 16 and no Canadians made it to the men's Final Four. But all four women's Final Four teams include a Canadian — two of whom can play significant roles. Junior forward Laeticia Amihere helped top-ranked South Carolina advance on Sunday with nine points and three rebounds vs. Creighton. Last night, sophomore forward Aaliyah Edwards helped send UConn to its 14th consecutive Final Four with 10 points and seven boards in a double-OT win over North Carolina.

With Canadians succeeding like this on college basketball's biggest stage, the northern version of March Madness can get lost in the shuffle. The U Sports national championships are much more modest — only eight teams, compared to 64 in the elephantine NCAA brackets, with considerably less hype. They also disappeared completely last year due to the pandemic. But they return from hiatus this week, and they're good tournaments in their own right.

The women's tournament tips off Thursday at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. The team to beat is Ryerson, which went a perfect 17-0 (including playoffs) to land its first-ever women's No. 1 seed. The Rams face No. 8 UPEI in the quarter-finals. The other matchups on Thursday are No. 4 Brock vs. No. 5 Acadia, which features national scoring leader Jayda Veinot; No. 3 Winnipeg vs. No. 6 Laval; and No. 2 Saskatchewan (the defending champs) vs. No. 7 Queen's.

The men's tournament begins Friday in Edmonton and, for once, Carleton is not the top seed. Just prior to the pandemic, the Ravens won their ninth title in 10 years. The defending champs went undefeated this season and looked poised for another No. 1 ranking in the bracket before Queen's upset them in the Ontario playoffs. The tournament committee made the no-brainer decision to award Carleton a wild-card spot, but the rules say they must be seeded below the teams that earned their way in via conference playoffs. So the Ravens enter the tournament as an extraordinarily dangerous No. 7 seed with the stingiest defence in the country and the second-most efficient offence — right behind Victoria, which happens to be their opponent in the Friday's quarter-finals. The other matchups are No. 1 Brock vs. No. 8 Saskatchewan, No. 4 Dalhousie vs. No. 5 Queen's, and No. 3 Alberta vs. No. 6 McGill.

The men's and women's semifinals are on Saturday, and the finals on Sunday. Starting Thursday, there are also U Sports championships happening in men's hockey and track and field. You can watch all of these things live on, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. See the full schedules here.

Canada's Aaliyah Edwards helped powerhouse UConn reach another Final Four. (Elsa/Getty Images)


Is Tiger Woods really going to play in the Masters? That's the question every golf fan is asking after today's report that Woods is at Augusta to play a practice round before deciding whether he can compete in next week's tournament. This year's Masters was thought to be out of the question for the 46-year-old after the career-threatening February 2021 car crash that mangled his right leg and damaged his left, among other injuries. He still hasn't entered an official PGA Tour event since the pandemic-delayed Masters in November 2020, but Woods did play with his son Charlie at a casual father-son tournament for past major champions in December, with the aid of a golf cart. Still, it would be pretty stunning to see him out there next week — whether he's capable of truly competing for his sixth green jacket or not. Read more about Tiger's potential Masters comeback here.

Eugene Melnyk's death caught the hockey world off guard. The 62-year-old owner of the Ottawa Senators underwent a life-saving liver transplant in 2015, but it was not widely known that he was in poor health until the team announced last night that he'd died of an unidentified "illness." Melnyk made his fortune in pharmaceuticals before buying the Senators in 2003, when the team was facing bankruptcy and the possibility of moving out of Ottawa. Four years later, the Sens reached their first (and still only) Stanley Cup final, losing to Anaheim in five games. Ottawa continued to make the playoffs most years through 2017 but has now failed to qualify for five years in a row. Fans had grown disillusioned with Melnyk's leadership, with some demanding he sell the team after he threatened to move it if attendance didn't improve. Melnyk also feuded with Ottawa's mayor after his attempt to get a new arena built fell apart in 2019. Like most people (and especially most billionaires), Melnyk leaves behind a complicated legacy. Read more about it here.

The Boston Pride repeated as Isobel Cup champions. After winning what turned out to be the final National Women's Hockey League title last year, Boston became the first champ of the rebranded Premier Hockey Federation with last night's 4-2 victory over the Connecticut Whale. More changes are in store for the only pro women's hockey league in North America. The PHF plans to expand from six to eight teams (including a Montreal franchise set to join the existing Toronto Six) and more than double each club's salary cap to $750,000 US next season. There's also been speculation that the PHF and the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association are becoming more amenable to collaborating on a new league that would bring the world's best players into the fold (the PWHPA, which includes basically the entire Canadian and U.S. national teams, has refused to play in the PHF). The two sides met with the NHL last week, but it's unclear what will happen next.

And finally…

The Canadian men's soccer team got its sword back. As a Lasso-like motivational ploy, coach John Herdman commissioned a ceremonial sabre inscribed with the Latin phrase Nihil timendum est (loosely translated as "fear nothing") for the team to take on road trips and plant in the opposing side's turf. "That's the swagger we want to play with," Herdman explained. "And it goes into every stadium to symbolize we'll own their ground." But the (sort of) weapon was seized by Costa Rican customs officials prior to last week's match, and Canada promptly suffered its first loss of the qualifying campaign. Luckily, the sword was returned for Saturday's home game vs. Jamaica, which Canada won 4-0 to clinch its first men's World Cup berth in 36 years. "We got it back. It was in that turf [Saturday]," Herdman said. Here's hoping the customs people in Qatar are a little more lax.

You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.

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