AMES, Iowa — The great Canadian Invasion will be on display Monday night when No. 15 Kansas faces No. 8 Iowa State (8 p.m. on ESPN).
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
All across America, Canadians — and specifically kids from the Toronto area — are impacting college basketball’s elite programs. And two of the best will face off at Iowa State: Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins — perhaps the best talent in the current wave of Canadian hoopers — and Iowa State senior Melvin Ejim both lead their respective teams in scoring and could battle for All-Big 12 honors.
Ejim, a 6-foot-6 forward from Toronto, is averaging 18 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, while Wiggins, who grew outside of Toronto in Vaughan, is the league’s top scoring freshman at 15.7 points per game.
(From earlier this year: Here’s a deeper look at Wiggins’ Canadian roots.)
They’re not the only Canadians playing important roles in the Big 12 race: Iowa State sophomore guard Naz Long grew up in the Toronto area and played on the same AAU program as Wiggins. Baylor shooting guard Brady Heslip is from Burlington, Ontario, just outside Toronto. And Baylor point guard Kenny Chery is from Montreal.
Nationally, the list goes on and on: Syracuse freshman guard Tyler Ennis is from Brampton, Ontario, the same hometown as last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Bennett. His older brother Dylan plays a key role for Villanova. And Michigan’s Nik Stauskas is also from the greater Toronto area.
If you talk to people in Toronto, there are even more players in the pipeline.
“It grew over the years,” Wiggins said. “There’s always been good players in Canada, but now we’re getting the chance to get exposed and showcase our talents to the scouts in America. College scouts. International scouts. NBA scouts. There’s some opportunity.”
So earlier this season, Wiggins was asked to select his All-Canadian team. If he’s playing in the Olympics in 2016, who’s playing beside him? After thinking for a moment, he mentioned NBA players Cory Joseph, Anthony Bennett and Tristan Thompson, then a couple of old AAU teammates in Ennis, Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes (who is sitting out this year) and New Mexico State big man Sim Bhullar.
He didn’t mention former Gonzaga star Kelly Olynyk, a first-round pick last summer, or Orlando Magic power forward Andrew Nicholson, who is growing into a solid player after a sterling college career at St. Bonaventure.
But then again, that’s sort of the point. There are so many good Canadian players these days, it’s hard to keep track of them all.
Here are four more things to know before Kansas travels to Iowa State:
• 2. Iowa State’s defense is a lot better: We’ve probably reached a point where we can just assume that the Cyclones’ offense will be one of the Big 12’s best for as long as Fred Hoiberg is in Ames. This year, Iowa State ranks 16th in offensive efficiency, and few coaches are better at finding and exploiting mismatches.
But here’s the biggest reason for the Cyclones’ 14-1 start. Defense. After ranking 133rd nationally in defensive efficiency last season, according to KenPom.com, the Cyclones now rank 23rd in the country in defense while allowing just 0.94 points per possession. One reason for the better defense? It might be the influence of former Nebraska coach Doc Sadler, who took a job on Hoiberg’s staff after spending last season at Kansas.
It’s safe to say that Sadler probably has a pretty good idea on how to stop the Jayhawks.
• 3. DeAndre Kane’s status: On Monday morning’s Big 12 coaches teleconference, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg maintained that lead guard DeAndre Kane would be a game-time decision after spraining his ankle against Oklahoma on Saturday.
It would be huge loss for Iowa State. Kane, who is averaging 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists, uses 28 percent of Iowa State’s possessions, when he is on the floor. Kane can certainly score, but he also takes pressure off Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang.
• 4. The Jayhawks’ offensive surge: Kansas is coming off its best offensive performance of the season in an 86-60 victory over K-State. The Jayhawks scored 1.34 points per possession while committing just seven turnovers. KU freshman Wayne Selden, who was selected the Big 12 newcomer of the week on Monday, averaged 22 points per game in his first two Big 12 contest. And he finally appears to be finding a comfort level from the outside. After hitting just 12 three-pointers in KU’s first 13 games, Selden is eight of 15 from three in Big 12 play.
• 5. Andrew Wiggins’ defense: On Saturday, Wiggins locked down K-State leading scorer Marcus Foster, a 6-foot-2 guard. At 6-feet-8, Wiggins has shown himself capable of guarding anyone from a 6-foot-2 shooting guard to Duke’s 6-foot-8 phenom Jabari Parker. If Wiggins can stay out of foul trouble, and Kane does indeed play, it seems reasonable to expect Wiggins to get an opportunity to contain Iowa State’s best playmaker.