The 2023 NCAA basketball tournament kicked off on March 12, and it’s already shaping up to be one of the most memorable in March Madness history, with several shocking upsets in the first three rounds. A record 53 Canadians round out the men’s and women’s brackets and have already turned in incredible performances, fuelling fans north of the border. In honour of this historic year, The McGill Tribune ranks the top two upsets and Canadian players of the tournament so far.
Upset #2: Princeton 59-55 Arizona
Three years counting, the 15-seed has defeated a number two seed, but that doesn’t take away from Princeton’s miraculous achievement. Arizona entered the tournament in great form after winning the Pac-12 championship and boasting a top-15-ranked offence. Over a quarter of all brackets had Arizona going to the final four. Instead, 111th-ranked Princeton held Arizona to just 55 points––their lowest all season––breaking millions of brackets in the process. Princeton did not stop there: They beat seventh seed Missouri two days later to become the fourth 15 seed to reach the sweet 16 in March Madness history. Princeton eventually lost to Creighton in the next round, but their incredible underdog run won’t soon be forgotten.
Upset #1: FDU 63-58 Purdue
Sixteen-seed Fairleigh Dickinson pulled off perhaps the greatest upset in March Madness history by beating first-seed Purdue—the second time this has ever happened. On paper, the two teams could not have been more mismatched; Purdue entered the tournament as Big 10 Champions, led by 7-foot-4 Zach Edey, whereas FDU was the shortest team in Division I and ranked 301 out of 363 teams. Despite their advantage, Purdue’s offence struggled the entire game and FDU shot the ball decisively in the second half, allowing them to take the lead and hold on for the shocking victory. FDU lost in the next round, but their victory over Purdue will make them legends in college basketball lore.
In the women’s bracket, ninth-seed Miami took down first-seed Indiana in the second round thanks to Destiny Harden’s clutch basket with three seconds left. On the men’s side, 13-seed Furman stunned fourth-seed Virginia in a thrilling game—Virginia had possession and the lead with five seconds left, but a wild pass led to a Furman victory on a deep three-point shot. Finally, fifth seeds San Diego State and Miami knocked off first seeds Alabama and Houston respectively, making this the first men’s tournament where no number one seed has progressed past the sweet 16.
Canadian #2: Ryan Nembhard
Edey and Marcus Carr entered the tournament as the most recognizable Canadian players, but once the tournament began, Creighton guard Ryan Nembhard stole the show. Born and raised in Aurora, Ontario, Nembhard had a stellar 2022-23 season with Creighton, leading the team in both assists and steals. But Nembhard brought the tournament to another level. In three games, he recorded 13 rebounds and 49 points, including a career-high 30 points in Creighton’s upset win over Baylor. If Creighton makes it to the final four, Nembhard’s hard work will be a big reason why.
Canadian #1: Aaliyah Edwards
University of Connecticut (UConn) forward Aaliyah Edwards took women’s college basketball by storm this season, leading UConn to a second-seed placement in the tournament. Hailing from Kingston, Ontario, Edwards dominated both sides of the ball this season, leading UConn in both points and blocks. Her seismic performances have continued during March Madness—she’s recorded six assists, 11 rebounds, and 47 points while shooting over 80 per cent from the field in two games so far, allowing UConn to cruise through to the sweet 16. UConn’s tournament ended in the next round, but Edwards’ career is just getting started.
Despite riding the bench for most of the season, South Carolina forward and Mississaugan Laeticia Amihere stood out in this year’s tournament. In two games, she’s had eight rebounds and 21 points, making her a big reason why South Carolina is the best team in the women’s bracket. On the men’s side, Carr has played outstandingly well for second-seed Texas: His eight rebounds, 13 assists, and 45 points in three games have been instrumental to the team’s success. Finally, despite their shocking first-round loss, Purdue centre Edey deserves a special mention, as he is expected to be the first Canadian to win the prestigious Naismith College Player of the Year award.