On Point Scouting exclusive article by Aaron Shore
Multiple Canadians were dancing in the first four days and many of them played well. Here are some impressions from the games I’ve been able to catch.
MOVING FORWARD TO THE SWEET 16
As it happens, the four Canadians from my NCAA All-Canadian first team (the fifth, Josip Vrankic, was not in the tournament to begin with), are also the ones who will still be with us in the second week. Andrew Nembhard, Bennedict Mathurin, Caleb Houstan, and Zach Edey are also the clearest Canadian NBA prospects in college, so it’s great to have them all continuing for at least another week.
It was anything but easy though. All four teams (Gonzaga, Arizona, Purdue, and Michigan) were truly tested. All had to come from behind and show some heart in at least one of their games last weekend and should count themselves lucky to still be dancing.
Andrew Nembhard (Gonzaga Bulldogs/Zags)
The Zags looked rusty in the first half of their opening round. The small but feisty Georgia State gave them some trouble. But then the Panthers got into foul trouble, Canadian Eliel Nsoseme was injured, and the Zags were able to pull away in the second half behind big games from their duo of bigs, Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren. Nembhard had a fairly quiet game but still flirted with a triple-double, putting up nine points (3 of 6 from 3), 11 assists, and six rebounds.
The second-round game against Memphis was one of Nembhard’s best games in college and it came at a huge moment, with the Zags trailing by 10 at the half and facing early elimination, against a very good team that came together at the right moment. Nembhard kept the Bulldogs in the game during their terrible first half with 13 points. In the second half he pushed the ball to Timme when he got (sizzling) hot, before providing two huge 3-pointers and four clutch FTs in the final 5 minutes to seal the game. Despite the high stakes, he never looked rattled or rushed, keeping his composure, and also not looking even a bit worn out, even while playing the full 40 minutes in a game with such high intensity (as he also did this year in other big games). He finished with 23 points and five assists, shooting 5 of 10 from 3 (he’s 12 of 22 from behind the arc in his four games in March, adding 8apg to only 2TOs). It’s impressive to see how much the #1 team in the country depends on Nembhard. Few would not rest him even for a minute in big games.
Andrew Nembhard's importance to Gonzaga's success cannot be understated. The 6-5 PG paced the Zags to an 82-78 win over Memphis last night, knocking down 5/10 3PT attempts & icing the game w/ 4 FTs while displaying his usual pace, patience, and poise as their floor general. pic.twitter.com/2s4dKtkfoQ
— League Him (@League_Him) March 20, 2022
This is the shot that has really unlocked Andrew Nembhard's game this season. Looks so much more comfortable punishing unders with pull-up 3s. He now has 19 PTS and 5 AST on 5-of-10 from 3. Positional size, elite court sense, and now a threat from beyond the arc. pic.twitter.com/Kf1MY671S4
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) March 20, 2022
All in all, this season has been exactly what one could have hoped for from Nembhard. He maintained his awesome playmaking while improving on some of the weaker aspects of his game – getting into the paint, looking for his offense more assertively, and shooting the ball well (career-highs 38.5% from 3 and 87% from the line). And it only got better as the year progressed. Over his last 17 games, he’s had 15 points (42% from 3 on nearly 5 attempts per game and 93% from the line), 7 assists (to only 1.5 TOs), 4 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game. He’s now shooting his threes with confidence and no hesitation, also pulling up from NBA range and beyond. You have to think that this level of play (which includes being voted the MVP of the West Coast Conference Tournament) would secure a spot for him in the NBA next year, either via a second-round draft pick (seems quite likely now) or by signing with a team as a free agent.
Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona Wildcats)
Mathurin had a rather mediocre first game against Wright State (18 points on mediocre shooting and no assists), as the Wildcats did not encounter too much resistance. But it was just the appetizer to the epic game against TCU and Emmanuel Miller (more on him below) in the second round. For most of the game, Mathurin seemed to be sailing. He was okay, but not spectacular, didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, and wavered on the defensive end. But when Arizona got into a late-game deficit, he made all the big plays to save their season. Over the last 3 minutes of regulation, he had a great assist to a Dalen Terry 3-pointer that tied the game, a great backdoor cut to bring the deficit down to one, as well as the pull-up 3-pointer that tied the game and sent it to overtime. In overtime he scored six more points, including two buckets off of tremendous offensive rebounds. All in all, he showed great spirit and clutch mentality. Oh, and he finished the game with 30 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals.
These post-season performances are cementing him in the lottery, perhaps even in the top half of it if he can continue to show this kind of winning basketball. Here are a few of his game heroics:
OMG BEN MATHURIN JUST BROUGHT THE HOUSE DOWN pic.twitter.com/e3bUzotPgw
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 21, 2022
“Benn has the clutch gene.” pic.twitter.com/uUT2A7VkXY https://t.co/IVVsdyB7aq
— Arizona Basketball (@ArizonaMBB) March 21, 2022
Caleb Houstan (Michigan)
The Wolverines reached the Sweet-16 with two upsets against good teams in #6 Colorado State and #3 Tennessee. They started their game against Colorado State on Thursday quite poorly and fell behind. But both Houstan and the team found their shooting touch in the second half and he was key to the Wolverines come-from-behind win, with 13 points and a couple of big 3-pointers. In the second round the Wolverines managed to pull another come-from-behind upset, but this time Houstan had minimal impact, finishing the game without scoring a point.
Michigan freshman Caleb Houstan is a SNIPER pic.twitter.com/OCwhb39nRN
— Kings Film Room (@SacFilmRoom) March 17, 2022
Houstan still looks like a guy who should go back to school next year to improve his physicality and on-ball creation. Hope that’s what he decides to do, even if he will likely go in the second round if he does declare.
Zach Edey (Purdue Boilermakers)
Edey was great and highly efficient in the easy Purdue blowout against Yale in the first round (16 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks in only 20 minutes; almost didn’t play in the second half). In the tight win against Texas and Marcus Carr (see below) he got into early foul trouble and did not play as much, largely because Trevion Williams had an awesome game and deserved to get most of the minutes at center in Sunday’s game. Edey still managed to impact that game in his limited minutes, as the small Texas front court didn’t couldn’t really handle him and had to repeatedly send him to the line. He finished the game with 11 points and 10 rebounds. But he didn’t look his best and was not always able to use his size to dominate.
6’9 Dylan Disu with some smothering defense on 7’4 Zach Edey pic.twitter.com/nfZsaYgWjP
— CBB Talk (@CBBSuperFan) March 21, 2022
Like Houstan, I think Edey has a decent chance to go in the second round of the draft if he declares but I’d prefer to see him come back for another year in Purdue, where he doesn’t have to share the minutes with Williams and becomes the center of the show. Obviously there’s some risk in this, as the boilermakers will lose both Williams and Ivey and are not likely to be contenders next year. But I think the college game is actually a good environment for Edey to continue developing (particularly with what Purdue can offer big men) and selfishly, I’d also love to see him dominate another year.
As three quarters of the teams in the tournament are already out, so are most of the Canadians. But quite a few of them exited in style and deserve some praise.
Marcus Carr (Texas Longhorns)
This is the version of Carr that Texas (and Canadian) fans were hoping to see throughout this season. Over the two NCAA tournament games, Carr looked like his old Minnesota self, initiating, making big shots, and creating for teammates. He started weak in the first-round game against Virginia Tech, but then a half-time buzzer beater from way beyond the half-court line unleashed him. He went on for an excellent second half, posting 15 points, 9 assists, and only 1 TO, leading the way to a nice Texas win.
Carr was even better against Purdue, making tough buckets, getting his teammates involved, and keeping the Longhorns in the game, finishing the game with 23 points and 7 assists. That’s a fitting ending to a great college career. Despite a rough final season, he remains a high-level player with the ball in his hand. He’ll have a hard time getting an NBA contract after this year, but he’s surely going to become a great pro for years (I think playing overseas would be great for him).
MARCUS CARR IS DIFFERENT 🤘 pic.twitter.com/hIZLvXp3lC
— Texas Men’s Basketball (@TexasMBB) March 18, 2022
🇨🇦🏀🍁Marcus Carr leaving it all on the floor. 👌👏
20p/6a, 7/17 FG, 3/7 3PT, 3/5 FT, 2 TO, 2 PF, 35 MIN
No. 6 #Texas Longhorns | No. 3 #Purdue Boilermakers#MarchMadness #CollegeBasketball #HookEm pic.twitter.com/CXZTemvGlk
— BasketballBuzz.ca 🇨🇦🏀🍁 (@basketballbuzz) March 21, 2022
Abu Kigab and Emanuel Akot (Boise State Broncos).
Kigab did not start the game well and at half time he did not score, as Memphis opened up a 20-point lead. But in the second half he was spectacular. He scored 20 of his team’s 23 points in that half (!) and brought Boise State back to a 5-point deficit all by himself before Memphis pulled away to win the game in the final minutes. Great to see him end his college career on a high note.
Tough bucket from Abu Kigab and the Broncos are fighting back 👀#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/uzN3b4Ubm2
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 17, 2022
I think that Kigab is a legit guy to get an NBA two-way contract with his defense, effort, versatility, and the intangibles he brings to the court. The shooting is murky (only 30% from three this season and over his college career), but he can contribute even without it. I’ve been saying for years that this is a guy I would go to war with any day of the week. On a side note, it’s nice to see that I’m not the only one thinking about him this way. The Athletic’s John Hollinger mentioned Kigab before the start of the tournament as a potential sleeper who could sneak into the late second round or get a two-way contract.
As for Emmanuel Akot, he showed me again why he’ll have a hard time making it to the NBA despite his impressive physical profile (a strong 6’8), good shooting (40% from 3 on the season with quite a few attempts), and the ability to lead the ball and pass. It mainly has to do with just not having quick enough feet, which limits his potential to be a real 3&D, but also makes it hard for him to get into the paint. He just cannot blow by guys, and that really limits his creation.
Emanuel Miller (TCU Horned Frogs).
Miller showcased his usual all-around game in the two tournament games, scoring 10 points in both (which is right at his season average), and providing a lot of toughness, hustle plays, and heart. He’s not a flashy player and his perimeter game clearly still needs additional work. But he’s a player any college team would love to have. Just look at the two plays below: A great block against Seton Hall and a putback in overtime against Arizona (which cost him a bloody nose and was the last time TCU had the lead in this game).
Emanuel Miller sends this one WAY back. pic.twitter.com/KX9W2i3QOb
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 19, 2022
🇨🇦🏀🍁 Emanuel Miller strong effort
10p/7r/1a, 3/7 FG, 4/4 FT
No. 1 #Arizona Wildcats | No. 9 #TCU Horned Frogs #MarchMadness #CollegeBasketball pic.twitter.com/15CBzZ9c1J
— BasketballBuzz.ca 🇨🇦🏀🍁 (@basketballbuzz) March 21, 2022
If Mike Miles stays next year, TCU will be an even better team and perhaps even a legit title contender with some extra help. And Miller should be an important part of the puzzle. Hopefully, he can also elevate his game in the process (particularly the shooting).
Olivier-Maxence Prosper (Marquette Golden Eagles)
The golden Eagles had a really bad game against North Carolina. Their two stars, Darryl Morsell and Justin Lewis had perhaps their weakest showing of the season, while the North Carolina Tar Heels’ Caleb Love exploded for 21 first half points to put away the game. But O-Max did look good, hitting a few open threes (4 of 8 on the game), taking advantage of the defensive focus on others, and leading his team in scoring with 16. He doesn’t really feature prominently in the Marquette offense, but hopefully next year that’s going to change. For that, he’ll need to improve his handle and continue to work on his shooting, as well as the defensive awareness.
This is an important action for UNC to defend with Armando Bacot + Brady Manek: Marquette runs a lot of early-offense side ball screens, including this double drag look with an empty corner — quick decision-making here from Justin Lewis in the slot to skip it to O-Max Prosper pic.twitter.com/m5fyatnIzJ
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) March 14, 2022
Nathan Cayo (Richmond Spiders)
Cayo is a guy I mentioned in my preview to the season, but not much since. He did not have a particularly impressive season (and the Spiders were somewhat disappointing as well, given how old and experienced they are). But he and Richmond were responsible for one of the bigger upsets of the first round, beating Iowa and the likely top-5 pick Keegan Murray. Cayo put up 15 points on 7/11 shooting in that game. Unfortunately, in the next round Providence was too much for the Spiders but Cayo had another excellent game, leading the team with 18 points on 9/11 shooting. He’s an efficient player and a good defender, a glue guy who should be able to now embark on a professional basketball career.
Looking forward to the second week, Thursday is going to be big, with Gonzaga, Arizona, and Michigan all playing. Stay tuned!