March Madness fever reaches Ryerson

Wiggins is one of the Canadians who was eliminated earlier than expected. (Courtesy Quentin Ghent / Flickr)

Wiggins is one of the Canadians who was eliminated earlier than expected. Courtesy Quentin Ghent / Flickr)

By Alex Chippin

Duke, done. Kansas, done.Wichita State, done.

These are crazy times and they can be characterized simply as “March Madness”, the gigantic single-elimination college basketball tournament in the United States.

“(For) any team that makes it this far, no matter what their record was, anything is possible,” says Jean-Victor Mukama, a freshman guard for the Ryerson men’s basketball team. “I think it’s been proven this year more than in previous years.”

From Thursday to Sunday, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament narrowed the field from 64 teams to 16. The first two rounds sent home some of the game’s top NBA draft prospects, including Duke University’s Jabari Parker and University of Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins.

Third-year Ryerson Rams basketball guard Aaron Best says the teams that pull off upsets seem to have one thing in common.

“The most important thing is always cohesiveness as a team,” he says. “That’s why a team like Mercer can beat Duke. You watch the interviews after and everybody says the same thing. They say it’s a great group of guys or they talk about how close the team is.”

Upsets of such high magnitude seldom happen in the regular season. But somehow, when the calendar hits March, the clock gets stuck on 11:59 p.m., as multiple Cinderella stories are crafted.

The stakes loom large for higher seeds, while lower seeds are simply happy to be on national TV. That can make a difference, according to Best.

“They can creep up on you at the end of the game and beat you. In my first year, nobody really thought of us to be an elite team so every night we played like we had nothing to lose.”

That season, the Rams went to the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Final Four and made the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Final 8 in a magical 2011-12 season.

While the Mercer Bears sent shockwaves through everyone’s brackets on Friday with a stunning upset against Duke, the end of the weekend belonged to Stanford University.

On Sunday, they surprisingly took out Kansas and reignited the debate over Andrew Wiggins’s draft stock.

Rams guard Yannick Walcott believes the latest round of criticism won’t affect the Thornhill, Ont., native’s draft position.

“He’s a freak athlete and that’s kind of what the NBA wants now,” Walcott says. “They want athletes, and then they can teach you how to shoot. You can’t teach someone how to be more athletic.”

It was a generally underwhelming season for Wiggins, who is expected to leave school for the NBA draft this spring, despite being named Big 12 Rookie of the Year.

From one Rookie of the Year to another, Rams’ rookie Mukama says superior team play can overcome better individual talent in the NCAA tournament.

“This is a team sport and there’s a reason why people that have good chemistry always win,” he says.

His teammate Walcott agrees, and says that he wasn’t caught off guard when Duke went down early in the tournament, citing its lack of experience.

Instead, Walcott was more surprised to see the Wichita State Shockers lose in the second round matchup after going undefeated in the regular season.

However, Best still believes Duke was the biggest upset of this year’s tournament, even though it held a lower seed than Wichita State.

“Duke was the biggest upset to me because Mercer is just a school that I never really heard of. I mean it’s crazy. And on top of that, the celebration after the game was pretty entertaining.”

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 26, 2014.

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