NCAA Men’s Tournament: Canadian Awards
After a 24-month layoff, March Madness returned in spectacular fashion this past month, producing one of the best tournaments the sport has seen in recent memory. Cinderella’s such as Oral Roberts and Oregon State defied the odds, while favourites like Gonzaga and Baylor ran the table in remarkable fashion, culminating in an excellent viewing experience. From a local angle, there were more Canadian players than ever before, and many of them featured in large roles. With March Madness now officially behind us, we will take one last look at the tournament that was, and hand out our first ever March Madness Canadian Awards to the deserving Canadians who played their best on the biggest stage.
Most Outstanding Canadian: Andrew Nembhard (Jr.) – Gonzaga
The Most Outstanding Canadian Award is given to the Canadian with the best March Madness performances in terms of individual numbers and team results, and with that criteria in mind, the selection of Andrew Nembhard from Gonzaga is a no-brainer. Gonzaga were undefeated the entire season and went into the title game vs Baylor at 31-0. Although they came up short, Gonzaga had a great run in the tournament, and Nembhard played an even larger role than many would have expected. Nembhard started in every game from the Second Round beyond despite featuring as a 6th man during most of the regular season, and made his opportunities count. The Canadian had a few massive performances on route to the championship game including a 17-point 8-assist clinic against Creighton in the Sweet 16, and an 11 point game against UCLA in the Final Four, including a massive step back three-pointer in overtime to put Gonzaga ahead. Not only was Nembhard on the best team in the country all year, he looked like one of the best players in college basketball as well, and his incredible run to the title game secured him our Most Outstanding Canadian Award.
Most Improved Canadian: Maurice Calloo (Jr.) – Oregon State
The Most Improved Canadian Award is given to the Canadian with the best tournament performance out of those not expected to feature in a large role, and the winner without a doubt is junior Maurice Calloo. Coming into the tournament, there was little to no hype surrounding the Pac-12. Many experts felt as if the conference didn’t have enough fire power, and yet the Pac-12 was the best performing conference in the country in March Madness, with Oregon State being one of their biggest performers. The Beavers came into the madness hot after winning the Pac-12 tournament in surprising fashion, and never looked back, advancing all the way to the Elite Eight as a #12 seed. Maurice Calloo in particular played better than his season averages, and really used the tournament as a coming out party. Calloo averaged 5 PPG during the season, and outscored that number in every game, including massive performances against Oklahoma State and Houston with 15 and 13 points respectively. On top of the scoring, Calloo notched 5 rebounds on two occasions during the tournament as well, which was something he only did 5 times all season. From being buried on the bench with little opportunity to putting up 13 points in an Elite Eight game, Maurice Calloo turned heads, and will likely do the same next season if given the right opportunities.
Best Canadian Freshman: Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe (Fr.) – Oklahoma State
The Best Canadian Freshman award of 2021 came down to a few big names, with Purdue’s Zach Edey and more in consideration. In the end though, Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe was named Best Canadian Freshman, as he was able to end his freshman year on the same high he started it with. When given the chance, Moncrieffe is a high-flying difference maker, and he proved that time and time again this season alongside a star-studded lineup that includes possible #1 NBA draft pick Cade Cunningham. The minutes were hard to come by at times, but when he got them he was ready to produce, and he did exactly that in their First-Round game vs Liberty. Moncrieffe scored 10 points on 4/7 shooting alongside 9 rebounds and 2 blocks in what was a professional performance from both him and the entire squad. Moncrieffe wasn’t given as much action in the second game due to various factors including foul trouble, leading to a subdued scoreline, but he still managed to grab 6 boards in his 25 minutes of work. Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe fit right into one of the most dominant teams in college basketball as a freshman, and didn’t let the bright lights of March Madness get to him, showing just how poised he is for his age. The way Moncrieffe plays, you often forget he’s only in his first season, and that is the marking of an outstanding first year worthy of an award such as this one.
Best Canadian Senior: Eugene Omoruyi (Sr.) – Oregon & Chris Duarte (Sr.) – Oregon
All season long the Oregon Ducks have been led by their two-headed Canadian monster, and with both of them being in their final year, it’s only right that they share the honour of Best Canadian Senior. Oregon had an odd start to the tournament with a walkover first round victory over VCU due to COVID, but played in games after that on their way to a Sweet 16 exit vs USC. Oregon had a very solid run considering their pre-tournament expectations, and most of that can be attributed to Duarte and Omoruyi. Duarte had 23 points, 3 rebounds and 7 assists in the Ducks upset of Iowa, while Omoruyi had 17 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Even in a losing effort against USC, Duarte and Omoruyi scored 21 and 28 points respectively, making up well over half of the teams scoring on the night. These two Canadians were absolute stars in Oregon, and although it’s a shame their season ended the way it did, both Omoruyi and Duarte will walk away as the Best Canadian Seniors from 2021.
Written by Kyle Oliveira