There's March madness on both sides of the border
Collegiate championships happening in all kinds of sports
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It's March Madness everywhere
While the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments get most of the attention, this time of year is chock full of collegiate sports championships in both the United States and Canada. Here's a look at some of the most interesting stuff going on, from a Canadian perspective:
NCAA men's basketball tournament
After three days off, the tourney resumes tonight with the first half of the Sweet 16 round. By the end of the weekend, we'll know who's headed to the Final Four in New Orleans.
The top two favourites to win the title are still alive, thanks largely to an essential Canadian player on each team. Andrew Nembhard led top-ranked Gonzaga this season in minutes, assists and steals, and the senior guard helped the Bulldogs dodge an upset by Memphis in the second round by scoring 23 points, including some clutch free throws down the stretch. Second-ranked Arizona, which is the No. 1 seed in its quadrant of the bracket, would probably be out if not for the second-round heroics of Bennedict Mathurin. The sophomore guard, who led the Wildcats in scoring this season and won their conference's player-of-the-year award, nailed a three-pointer to force overtime and scored six points in OT to finish with 30 in a sweaty win over TCU. He also threw down a hellacious dunk.
Nembhard and the Zags tip off the Sweet 16 tonight when they play Arkansas, a 4 seed, at 7:09 p.m. ET. Mathurin and Arizona face a tough 5 seed in Houston, which reached the Final Four last year, at 10 p.m. ET.
Two other Canadians played significant roles in getting their teams to the Sweet 16. 7-foot-4 centre Zach Edey is averaging 13.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in the tournament for Purdue, a 3 seed that will try to end the Cinderella run by 15 seed Saint Peter's on Friday at 7:09 p.m. ET. Freshman forward Caleb Houstan has helped 11 seed Michigan knock off a couple of higher-seeded opponents (he scored 13 points in the first round), setting up a clash with 2 seed Villanova tonight at 7:29 p.m. ET.
NCAA women's basketball tournament
Their production isn't on the level of Mathurin's or Nembhard's, but a pair of Canadians are notable contributors for two of the best teams in the women's Sweet 16. Junior forward Laeticia Amihere averaged seven points and four rebounds this season for top-ranked South Carolina and had a total of four and four in the first two rounds of the tournament. Sophomore forward Aaliyah Edwards averaged close to eight points and five rebounds this season for UConn — the most successful program in the history of women's college basketball. The Huskies are "only" a 2 seed this year, but they're looking more dangerous than that now that star American guard Paige Bueckers is back from a knee injury that cost her most of the season. Edwards averaged 5.5 points and 5 rebounds in the first two rounds.
Amihere and South Carolina open the women's Sweet 16 on Friday at 7 p.m. ET when they face Carolina. Edwards and UConn take on 3 seed Indiana on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET.
NCAA men's hockey tournament
The puck dropped this afternoon on the 16-team bracket, which culminates with the Frozen Four in Boston next month. The most interesting team is Michigan, which features four of the top five selections from last year's NHL draft.
Two of them are Canadian, led by No. 1 pick Owen Power, the 6-foot-6 defenceman who opted to return to school rather than join the Buffalo Sabres. Over the past 10 months, Power has played in the men's world championship (helping Canada win gold), the world juniors (scoring a hat trick before the event was cancelled two games in) and the Winter Olympics, where Canada was eliminated early.
The other top Canadian on the Michigan roster, forward Kent Johnson, was taken fifth overall by Columbus in the draft before returning to college and notching 35 points in 29 games this season. American Wolverines Matty Beniers and Luke Hughes went second (to Seattle) and fourth (New Jersey).
U Sports national championships
U Sports is the national governing body of university sports in Canada — our version of the NCAA. This week and next, it's holding national championship tournaments/meets in hockey, basketball, volleyball, swimming and track and field. These are all being streamed live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. See this schedule for details.
The most interesting event happening this week is the women's hockey tournament, which returns in Charlottetown after being cancelled the past two years because of the pandemic. The first two quarter-final matchups are today: McGill vs. UNB at 2 p.m. ET and Nipissing vs. UBC at 6 p.m. ET. Tomorrow it's Saskatchewan vs. Brock and Concordia vs. UPEI at those same times. The winners advance to Saturday's semifinals, and the winners of those face off Sunday for the Golden Path Trophy.
Concordia is the No. 1 seed, but No. 7 McGill has the best player. Forward Jade Downie-Landry was named the U Sports women's hockey player of the year after leading the country in both goals (14) and points (27) in only 15 games. The last time the women's tournament was played, in 2019, Downie-Landry was named MVP despite McGill's losing to Guelph 1-0 in the final. Read a preview of this year's tournament here.
The Canadian men's soccer team can clinch a World Cup spot tonight. A win in Costa Rica would put Canada into its first men's World Cup since 1986. A draw could even do the trick if Panama doesn't beat Honduras tonight. If it doesn't happen tonight, Canada will have two more chances to clinch as the final round of regional qualifying closes with matches on Sunday in Toronto vs. Jamaica and Wednesday at Panama. The surprising Canadians are atop the CONCACAF standings after going undefeated in their first 11 matches — including a perfect 3-0 in the previous window without Alphonso Davies. The young superstar is still out due to a heart condition detected after a bout with COVID-19, but there's little doubt that Canada will finish the job without him in this final window. CBC Sports Senior Contributor Chris Jones is in Costa Rica covering tonight's match, which kicks off at 10 p.m. ET. Read his preview here and get his thoughts on what it would mean for this team to end Canada's World Cup drought here. If you missed yesterday's newsletter, we previewed Canada's final qualifying push in detail. Read it here.
Canada kept rolling at the women's curling world championship. Since starting the tournament 2-2, Kerri Einarson's team has won five games in a row — if you include last night's walkover victory over Scotland, which is forfeiting all its games after a COVID-19 outbreak last weekend. Today's 9-3 victory over the United States moved Canada (7-2) into a tie for second place with Sweden. First-place Switzerland (9-0) is the only team to have clinched a spot in the six-team playoffs so far, but Canada's chances are looking very good heading into tonight's matchup with South Korea (6-2), which is the only other team with fewer than four losses. The round robin concludes tomorrow, with Canada facing Germany and the Czech Republic.
Nathan Chen's absence opened the door for Japan at the figure skating world championships. With the United States' Olympic and world champ out due to injury, Japanese skaters swept the top three spots in today's men's short program in France. Beijing bronze medallist Shoma Uno led the way, followed by silver medallist Yuma Kagiyama. Keegan Messing was the top Canadian, placing ninth. The free skate is Saturday. At our publish time, the pairs free was in progress, with Canada's Vanessa James and Eric Radford hoping to move into a medal position after placing fifth in yesterday's short. If you read this in time, you can catch the conclusion here. Friday's segments are the rhythm dance (starting at 6 a.m. ET) and the women's free (1 p.m. ET). Watch them live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
Kyrie Irving waited them out.
The defiantly unvaxxed NBA star will be allowed to play in home games for the Brooklyn Nets after New York mayor Eric Adams exempted athletes and performers from the city's vaccine mandate today. Irving missed the first few months of the season as the Nets refused to let him be a part-time player. But they backed off in January, allowing him to play in road games since then. When New York relaxed some of its vaccine rules a few weeks ago, Irving gained the right to attend Nets home games as a fan (which he did) but not enter the locker room (which he also did, incurring a $50,000 fine from the NBA).
Irving is the most high-profile example of an athlete affected by the just-abolished mandate, but there was also pressure from baseball to remove it before Opening Day on April 7. Yankees slugger Aaron Judge is among the New York players suspected of being unvaccinated after he sidestepped a question about his status recently. If Canada's current regulations stay in place, unvaxxed players will not be allowed to travel to Toronto to face the Blue Jays.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.