Q&A: Canadian Basketball Stars, Black vs. Dream, Pac-12 Basketball


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I remember a time not long ago when players like Steve Nash and Todd MacCulloch were huge stories for successfully transitioning to NCAA basketball out of Canada. The Canadian National Team of the 1990s was wholly unimpressive, and imports to the American game came infrequently. That’s changed significantly in the last decade or so, made evident by just how difficult it was for me to pare this list down to just five.

A few noteworthy Honorable Mentions: Missouri’s Kassius Robertson, who scored 22 points in a huge win over Alabama this week, and Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

5. MiKyle McIntosh, Oregon

Oregon basketball’s flourished recently behind both a veteran transfer (Joe Young) and Canadian import (Dillon Brooks). Former Illinois State star MiKyle McIntosh is both, hailing from Pickering, Ontario.

McIntosh is averaging better than 10 points and six rebounds per game,

4. Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State

Iowa State’s NCAA Tournament dreams are not buried yet. A win this week over West Virginia kept hopes alive for the Cyclones, and Nova Scotia-based freshman Lindell Wigginton was front and center in the upset. Wigginton is averaging more than 16 points per game, which ranks tops among the NCAA’s current crop of Canadian players.

3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky

NBA buzz is starting to build around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, much in the same way De’Aaron Fox’s star began to rise a year ago at this time. Gilgeous-Alexander, out of Toronto, is coming off a career-best 30-point performance — 20 of which he scored in the second half and overtime in a win over Vanderbilt.

2. Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont

Remember this name, because the senior guard out of Toronto has the makings of a potential NCAA Tournament breakout star. Trae Bell-Haynes powers an excellent Vermont team, poised to return to the Big Dance one year after putting a scare into Purdue. Bell-Haynes was an AP All-America honorable mention selection in 2017 and America East Conference Player of the Year. He’s improved his statistics across the board in 2018, averaging 14.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.

1. Oshae Brissett, Syracuse

Yes, it’s difficult to argue with Syracuse’s Oshae Brissett as the top Canadian player in the NCAA right now. The Mississauga native is averaging close to a double-double at 14 points and nine rebounds a game. Not as easily quantified is the freshman’s impact on a defense ranked eighth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, as Brissett’s usage rate is best on the team.

So, when Aleister Black debuted in NXT almost a year ago, I hadn’t had much exposure to him as Tommy End on the European indie scene. While I appreciated the Christopher Lee-style Dracula entrance, I wasn’t feeling his character. His combination black metal look, seemingly Buddhism-inspired serenity gimmick and MMA-Bro in-ring style struck me as corny — like Black was a Create-A-Player on N64’s No Mercy.

No question Black could go; I loved his match vs. Hideo Itami at TakeOver: Brooklyn III. Beyond that, however, he was not someone I could envision being into as a character.

My feelings on Velveteen Dream as a character were much different from the outset. He absolutely nailed his Prince-inspired gimmick, and with refined chops inside the ring, Dream’s someone I could absolutely envision main-eventing in WWE.

Pairing him with Black last autumn was a stroke of genius, as I felt their feud elevated each wrestler where he was lacking. Black showed more charisma and more depth to a character he’s still fleshing out than he’d previously exhibited, while Dream put on the best match thus far of his young career at TakeOver: War Games.

A successful and entertaining wrestling feud often stems from two very different identities and styles clashing: Rock-Austin, for example, pit the former Miami Hurricane star born into the business and thrust into the spotlight immediately against the pissed-off former journeyman. Aleister Black and Velveteen Dream have their own yin-and-yang dynamic that, with the right opportunities, could develop into a main-event feud by Wrestlemania 37.

Historical precedent as far as at-large chances suggests Stanford, in its current position, will boost Pac-12 bubble teams — be it ever so slightly. The Cardinal are Top 100 in both KenPom (99) and RPI (90), and precedent does indeed point to Top 100 wins carrying weight.

However, the gravity of a Top 100 win takes a backseat to the newer designation of Quadrant I wins, and Stanford equals a big Catch-22 for Pac-12 bubble teams. It’s not impossible for the Cardinal to get to No. 75 in the RPI — the ranking at which a win on the road counts as a Quadrant I victory — but bubble teams UCLA, USC and suddenly, Arizona State, all lost at Maples Pavilion. Arizona, the Pac-12’s only team that looks like a Tournament shoo-in, is the only March hopeful that stands to benefit if Stanford reaches that Quadrant I territory.

Meanwhile, for Stanford to climb, it needs to knock a bubble team or two out of the picture. The Cardinal’s next two games — Oregon and at Utah — won’t define Stanford as a quality win come Selection Sunday, but two Ls would ding the Cardinal enough to only harm bubble teams’ resumes.