Women’s March Madness is red-hot, and Canadians are part of the show

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

The annual college-basketball/office-gambling extravaganza that is March Madness officially tipped off this afternoon. While the NCAA men’s bracket remains a cultural juggernaut, generating billions of dollars in broadcast revenue and billions more in wagering (much of it by people who haven’t watched a minute of college hoops all year), it’s the women’s tournament that now seems to have all the juice.

Things had been trending in this direction for a while, but the women’s game truly went viral last spring — thanks mostly to Caitlin Clark. The Steph Curry-esque sensation shot Iowa to the national championship game almost single-handedly, dropping a 41-point triple-double on Louisville to send her team to the Final Four before pouring in another 41 to upset undefeated South Carolina in the semifinals. Clark added 30 in the title game to set a new tournament record of 191 total points (in six games), but the Hawkeyes got trounced by rugged LSU.

The story didn’t end there, though. A million social-media and sports-debate-show takes were launched when, in the closing moments of the final, LSU star Angel Reese taunted Clark by doing that “you can’t see me” hand gesture popularized by the wrestler John Cena and pointing to an imaginary championship ring on her finger. Clark had done the hand thing herself during the Louisville game, but extremely online people on both sides of the debate spent days arguing whether Reese had crossed the line of poor sportsmanship. The fact that Reese is black and Clark is white added more fuel to the outrage inferno.

WATCH | Canadian NCAAers unable to profit off likeness in United States:

Canadian NCAA athletes blocked from big endorsement deals

Unlike their American counterparts, Canadian NCAA athletes — including basketball star Zach Edey — aren’t allowed to make money off of their name, image and likeness in the United States because of visa restrictions. That means they’re missing out on some potentially big paycheques.

This was not our finest moment as a society, but it did fill out Clark’s Bingo card of modern mega-celebrity. Singular talent? Check. Jaw-dropping live performances? Check. Social-media heat? Check. She’s pretty much Taylor Swift with a jumper.

Clark took her stardom to new heights this season by averaging almost 32 points per game and breaking several major-college scoring records — culminating with her overtaking the legendary Pistol Pete Maravich for the most points of all time in either men’s or women’s ball. In the process, she led Iowa to the No. 2 ranking in the country. The 22-year-old also declared for the upcoming WNBA draft, where she’ll surely be picked first overall by the Indiana Fever and instantly become the most popular player in the league.

That means this will be Clark’s final March Madness. But the selection committee showed her no favour, putting Iowa in what’s being called the Region of Death with Reese’s defending-champion LSU and sixth-ranked UCLA. Iowa opens Saturday at 3 p.m. ET against the winner of one of tonight’s play-in games. The Hawkeyes are on course to meet either LSU or UCLA in the fourth round, with a trip to the Final Four in Cleveland at stake.

The 64-team bracket tips off Friday, and features some compelling non-Caitlin storylines. After having their perfect season ruined by Clark in last year’s Final Four, redemption-seeking South Carolina once again enters the tournament undefeated and ranked first overall in the country. And don’t miss USC freshman phenom JuJu Watkins, who averaged 27 points to finish second in scoring to Clark. Watkins’ Trojans are the top seed in their region of the bracket.

A handful of Canadians are set to play in the tournament, but only two really stand out.

Aaliyah Edwards, a senior forward from Kingston, Ont., is the No. 2 scorer (17.8 points per game) and leading rebounder (9.3) for UConn, the most successful program in the history of women’s college basketball. The Huskies’ incredible run of 14 consecutive trips to the Final Four ended last year with an exit in the Sweet Sixteen. But star point guard Paige Bueckers is finally healthy after having her last two seasons ruined by knee injuries.

UConn is the 3 seed in USC’s region and a popular pick for the Final Four. The Huskies’ last championship came in 2016, so this could be Edwards’ final chance to win a ring if she decides to declare for the WNBA draft. She’s projected as a high first-round pick.

The other Canadian to watch is Gonzaga’s Yvonne Ejim, Canada’s highest-scoring NCAA women’s player for the second straight season. The stat-sheet-filling senior forward from Calgary leads the Bulldogs in points (19.8) and rebounds (8.5) as well as steals and blocks.

Gonzaga is the 4 seed in a region where Texas is the top dog and blue-blood Stanford is the No. 2. Here’s more on Ejim, Edwards and other Canadians in the NCAA women’s tournament.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Back To Top