While the Final Four is in New Orleans this year, there’s a good chance the Great White North will be well-represented in March Madness.
Oddsmakers are saying a Canadian could factor into who cuts the nets down for the NCAA men’s basketball champions this season.
In fact, it’s a pretty decent bet: Gonzaga, Arizona and Purdue all have proud Canadians making an impact on their roster.
Edey, Mathurin, Nembhard making their marks
Purdue’s Zach Edey of Toronto, Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin of Montreal and Gonzaga’s Andrew Nembhard of Aurora, Ont., headline a swarm of Canadian players primed for Madness this March.
The three play in separate conferences but have all caught the attention of many, including NBA scouts and oddsmakers.
With less than two months to go to the year-end tournament, the players have a chance to join a short list of former NCAA champs from Canada. That group includes Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky, 2012), David Thomas (Michigan State, 2000) and Jamaal Magloire (Kentucky, 1998).
NCAA men’s basketball futures: Zags, Wildcats, Boilers solid picks
Across the major operators for NCAA men’s basketball, Gonzaga is universally considered the favourite to cut down the nets.
In preparation for the upcoming launch, let’s get familiarized with the odds of another huge operator expected to come to Canada, BetMGM Sportsbook. We’ll also look at Ontario’s current legal option, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s Proline Plus Sportsbook.
Here’s how the Zags — and its starting point guard, Nembhard — shakedown heading into the home stretch of the college season, as of Friday (we compiled both American and European odds, as we’re not positive which Canadian sportsbooks will use):
- Proline Plus: 7.00 (American equivalent = +600)
- BetMGM: +550 (European equivalent = 6.50)
Edey and Purdue are not far behind:
- Proline Plus: 11.00 (+1000)
- BetMGM: +900 (10.00)
Mathurin and Arizona are a bit more of a long shot:
- Proline Plus: 18.00 (+1700)
- BetMGM: +1600 (17.00)
Nembhard looks to cap career with title, improve NBA stock
In the latest Associated Press Top 25 national rankings, this threesome landed in the top five: Gonzaga at No. 1, Arizona at No. 3, and Purdue at No. 4.
So the Zags could enter March with a bulls-eye on their backs. That could be good news for Nembhard. With the national spotlight glaring on Gonzaga, the Aurora native has an opportunity to up his NBA draft stock.
At 9.7 points per game and 5.3 assists, the lead guard has been solid – but not spectacular. It will likely take a special tournament for an NBA team to take a chance on him.
Then again, Nembhard’s even keel nature is rather symbolic of the steady nature of the Gonzaga program.
Zags look to avenge heartbreaking championship loss
Last year the Nembhard and the Zags made it to the NCAA final game. But they were downed by Baylor in convincing fashion, an 86-70 drubbing.
That’s given the Zags all the more fuel this time around. Heading into Jan. 27, Gonzaga has won eight straight games dating back to Dec. 9.
Whatever their record, come March, playing in the traditionally weaker West Coast Conference will always work against them. Bettors typically will edge on the side of caution with the university.
Consider the handle (amount of money bet on them) breakdown via BetMGM:
- Purdue (11.1% of handle)
- Arizona (10.9%)
- Auburn (7.3%)
- Duke (7.3%)
- Gonzaga (6.6%)
Do bettors not believe in the Zags, or do they not like the odds? Probably a bit of both, in addition to skewed handle based on which US states BetMGM is operating in.
Edey, Mathurin help schools make big leaps in championship odds
Meanwhile across the way in Indiana, Edey continues to boost his draft stock alongside Purdue’s championship hopes.
The 7-foot-4 big man averages about 16 points, eight rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game for the Boilermakers. Those are huge statistical leaps from his freshman year where he went for 8.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG and 1.1 BPG.
Perhaps uncoincidentally, Purdue has made big leaps alongside Edey’s development.
The Boilermakers opening odds were +1600 but BetMGM now has them pitted at +800.
Arizona and Mathurin did even better. The Wildcats went from +5000 to +1800.
Mathurin has been an integral part of that achievement.
Not only is the Quebecer projected to be an NBA lottery pick but multiple oddsmakers have him up for Player of the Year honours.
According to BetMGM on Monday, Mathurin was the book’s biggest liability for the award. He was listed at +1600 after opening at +8000.
Canadians across the NCAA continue to play at high-level
Outside of the trio of marquee Canadians, the tournament could potentially also feature a host of other countrymen.
Consider that Santa Clara has four Canadians on its roster, and New Mexico State has a pair.
Neither club has impressed oddsmakers to go all the way, though, as Santa Clara is +50,000 to win it all and NWS is at +100,000.
But one of the two could sniff the tourney.
Vancouver’s Fardaws Aimaq: Best Canadian statistically?
One interesting side story heading into the Madness is the situation of Fardaws Aimaq of Vancouver.
He won’t be playing in the NCAA tournament due to the performance of his team, Utah State.
But he is having one of the strongest statistical seasons of any Canadian college player – surpassing even Mathurin; a lock for the NBA.
Granted, Aimaq is playing against weaker competition in the Mountain West Conference. But at roughly 20 points and 14 rebounds per game, he holds one of the best stat lines in college basketball.
At this point, Aimaq’s NBA stock remains an enigma.
But with mobile big men being in high demand in today’s NBA, the Vancouver native should find his way to the highest level.