Canadians could have a big impact on men's March Madness

CBC Sports' daily newsletter looks at the Canadians playing key roles for some of the best teams in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Purdue star Zach Edey headlines the key Canadians on top teams

A basketball player palms a ball with both hands.
Canadian giant Zach Edey is one of the best players in U.S. college basketball. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

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The annual American college basketball extravaganza that is March Madness tips off tonight with the first two play-in games for the men's tournament, followed by the start of the 64-team bracket on Thursday. Here's a look at the Canadians playing prominent roles for some of the top contenders to reach the men's Final Four in Houston:

Zach Edey, centre, Purdue (No. 1 seed in East region): The 7-foot-4, 305-pound giant from Toronto is one of the very best players in college basketball. While his old-school post-up game might look basic to modern NBA fans, most college foes have no chance of stopping Edey when he gets the ball in the paint. The junior ranked sixth in all of NCAA Division I men's basketball this season with 22.3 points per game and third in rebounding with 12.8 for a surprising Purdue team that was ranked No. 1 in the country for a time. The Boilermakers landed the top seed in a tough quadrant of the bracket where traditional powers Duke and Kentucky lurk as the No. 5 and 6 seeds.

Charles Bediako, centre, Alabama (No. 1 seed in South): Another seven-footer from the Toronto area, Bediako is averaging about six points and six rebounds a game as a sophomore starter for the top-ranked team in the tournament. The Crimson Tide have also drawn the most negative attention in college basketball since forward Darius Miles was charged with capital murder for allegedly providing the gun fired by another man in the January shooting death of a young woman. Alabama freshman star Brandon Miller, a projected lottery pick in this year's NBA draft, was at the scene at the time of the shooting but will not be charged with a crime, prosecutors said.

Marcus Carr, guard, Texas (No. 2 seed in Midwest): Boosted by the extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic, Carr last month became Canada's all-time leader in points and assists in NCAA Division I men's basketball. Averaging 15.9 points and 4.1 assists this season, the senior from Toronto is the top scorer and playmaker for a strong Texas team that landed in the same region as title-favourite Houston. The Longhorns' first-round opponent is 15th-seeded Colgate, which has a pair of Canadian reserve forwards in Sam Thomson and Malcolm Bailey.

Olivier-Maxence Prosper, forward, Marquette (No. 2 seed in East): The 6-foot-8 junior from Montreal is an important starter who averaged 12.4 points (third-most on the team) and 4.6 rebounds (second) this season. The Golden Eagles, who are in the same region as Edey's Purdue, open against a 15th-seeded Vermont team that can bring a pair of Canadian freshmen guards off the bench in TJ Hurley and Sam Alamutu.

Ryan Nembhard, guard, Creighton (No. 6 seed in South): It's a stretch to call Nembhard's Bluejays a contender, but they're getting buzz as a darkhorse in Alabama's region. The sophomore starting guard is averaging close to 12 points and five assists for a school that reached the Sweet 16 two years ago before falling to eventual finalist Gonzaga, featuring Nembhard's brother Andrew at point guard.

Another Canadian playing a key role for a sixth-seeded team is Emanuel Miller, a senior starting forward with TCU. He's averaging 12.4 points and 6.6 rebounds for the Horned Frogs, who are in tough in a brutal West region featuring defending champion Kansas as the No. 1 seed, strong UCLA at No. 2 and dangerous Gonzaga and UConn as the 3 and 4. For a full list of the 24 Canadian players in the men's March Madness bracket, see this story on the Canadian website Basketball Buzz.

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