Saturday, March 21, 2015

The NBLC and March Madness (Part 1)

 Spring has sprung, and the best part of the season has come with it, March Madness. So while watching my bracket burst in to flames (thanks Iowa St) a thought popped in to my head. How many of these players might I see in the NBLC one day? I had recognized some players from their college careers make it to the league, but just how many had been a part of the madness? So I decided to look into it, and imagine my surprise to find out that the NBLC’s ties to the big dance reached back as far as 2001. Starting from there, here is a look at the impact current NBLC players have had on March Madness.


All the way back when LeBron James was a high school sophomore, the Saint John Mill Rats Tyrone Levett was playing for Alabama St. Coming off a SWAC Championship, the Hornets got the misfortune of playing Tom Izzo and the Michigan St. Spartans. Like most #1 vs. #16 games, it wasn’t particularly close. The Hornets were only down 4 at the half, and while Levett, the Hornets leading scorer that year, did his best, posting 17 points, but the Spartans, with NBA talent like Zach Randolph and Jason Richardson on the roster, were too much, winning 69-35.


Skip ahead 4 years to the 2005 tourney, featuring 3 future NBLC players. Things didn’t go so well for London’s Darnell Lazare, Mississauga’s Doug Thomas and the Storm’s Mike Williams. All three were at fairly early points in their careers (Lazare was a sophomore, while Thomas and Williams were freshman) so their impacts were rather small, but all three had their seasons ended by a 1st round loss.

Williams suffered the toughest loss, as his #8 Texas Longhorns only lost by 4 points to the #9 Nevada Wolfpack. Williams was only able to contribute 4 rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench, but did well to hold Nevada’s star player, Nick Fazekas (an eventual 2nd round NBA draft pick) to only 10 points, but point guard and future NBA player Ramon Sessions picked up the slack, and the Wolfpack won 61-57.

Doug Thomas and his #10 Iowa Hawkeyes also fell that year to #7 Cincinnati. It was an interesting coaching battle, as Cincinnati’s Bob Huggins (now at West Virginia) and Iowa’s Steve Alford (now at UCLA) faced off, with Huggins getting the edge. Thomas came off the bench to play 23 minutes, providing 5 points and 9 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough as the Hawkeyes lost 76-64.

Lazare suffered the biggest upset of the three, as his #6 LSU Tigers took on #11 Alabama-Birmingham. Lazare only played for 1 minute, which was merciful, considering the 41 to 29 first half. LSU never recovered, falling 82-68.


2006 saw the return of all three players from the previous tournament, as well as the addition of Windsor’s Tony Bennett.

We’ll start with Douglas Thomas, who was SO CLOSE to reaching the second round. How close? This close.

In one of the biggest upsets of all time, #14 Northwestern St toppled #3 Iowa 64-63. Thomas had 7 points and 4 rebounds in the loss.

Things were far better for Bennett and his Bradley squad. While everyone remembers the George Mason squad that made the Final 4 that year, Bradley had a little Cinderella story of their own, managing to beat #4 Kansas and #5 Pittsburgh on their way to the Sweet 16, with Bennett starting every game. Here's the Kansas upset (Bennett is #5).

The clock eventually struck midnight when Bradley was forced to take on coach John Calipari and his #1 ranked Memphis Tigers. Bradley managed to stay within 5 points at the half, but couldn’t hold on, losing 80-64. Bennett would manage 9 points before fouling out.

Williams and Lazare actually faced each other in the Elite 8, with Lazare’s #4 LSU getting the better of Williams’ #2 Texas team. Williams only played 8 minutes, as some sophomore named LaMarcus Aldridge had passed him on the depth chart, and the Longhorns fell 70-60 in overtime. You can watch that classic here.

LSU didn’t keep the run going however, falling to a loaded UCLA team (Alumni include Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison, Jordan Farmar, Luc Mbah a Moute and Ryan Hollins, all still in the NBA). Lazare again came off the bench, playing 18 minutes, as the Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Tyrus “Big Draft Bust” Thomas led Tigers fell 59-45.


Significantly less players from the 2007 tournament went on to the NBLC, with only Moncton’s Chris Matthews going on to the league. Matthews only saw action in the 2nd round, where his Washington St. Cougars fell to Vanderbilt in a double OT thriller. Matthews only played 8 mins off the bench. You can find the highlights here. (This is might be my new favourite random video. HOW SWEET IT IS! Remember Fort Minor???).

That takes us up to 2008, where a whooping EIGHT different NBLC players competed.  I’ll be back with Part 2 on Tuesday. Don’t forget that while March Madness is great, there’s also a great NBLC playoff happening! Be sure to check them both out.