Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) - Seldom do you associate freshman youth with
staunch defense in NCAA basketball, but the Texas Longhorns have risen to the
top of college polls relying on such a combination, winning eight straight
games and 14 of their last 15 contests.
The rookies making an impact for the No. 3-ranked Longhorns (20-3) are Tristan
Thompson and Cory Joseph ... both natives of the Greater Toronto area.
It seems for the past few years, the Toronto tandem has been the faces of the
future for Canadian basketball. The dynamic duo are regarded as trend setters
in hoops circles, with their decision to attend prep school in the United
States as opposed to playing high school ball in Canada now becoming an
assumed blueprint for success for aspiring players in the Great White North.
After they won back-to-back National High School Invitational championships
with Findlay Prep en route to a 62-2 record over the course of two years at
the Las Vegas school, expectations were high heading into this season. Some
observers wondered whether the Canadian duo might crumble under the scrutiny
of playing for a big-name program.
Quite the opposite has occurred at Texas as they have shown flashes of what
scouts have raved about over the years.
Both players are a fixture in the starting lineup and log heavy minutes,
trailing only star Jordan Hamilton in minutes per game.
Individually, Joseph and Thompson bring different elements to the table -
Joseph runs the offense like a veteran floor general while Thompson unleashes
a relentless assault on the rim.
Joseph has shown why coming into the season he was one of the more highly
recruited point guards in the country.
Though he might not be the flashiest player, the Pickering, Ontario, native
has effectively run the Longhorns' offense - averaging a team-leading 2.9
assist - all while hitting timely shots, as his game winner against North
Carolina can attest.
Thompson, the 6-foot-8, long-armed athlete, continues to improve his
relatively unpolished offensive game while displaying why his trademark
The Brampton, Ontario, native has been a dominant shot blocker, averaging over
two a game, and rebounder, pulling down a team-high 7.5 per game. All this
while averaging 12.8 points - good for second on the team - and delivering
His 17-point, 15-rebound showing against Michigan State in East Lansing - a
Texas win which ended the Spartans' 52-game home winning streak - sparked
Spartans coach Tom Izzo to tell reporters after the game, "We got beat by a
better team ... I think this is the most-talented team we've played so far."
The Spartans had already faced top-ranked Duke and Connecticut at that point.
Yet for all of their individual accolades, the biggest impression left by the
Canadian contingent is on Texas' defense.
Getting solid perimeter defending from Joseph while Thompson meticulously
patrols the paint, the Longhorns have emerged as one of college basketball's
top defensive clubs. They have held opponents to 60 ppg - good for 17th
in Division I - and outscore opponents by 16.4 ppg, the sixth-largest margin
of victory in the nation.
But most impressively are their opponents' shooting percentages. The Longhorns
are allowing only 36.4 percent from the field and 27.7 from 3-point range ...
worthy of second and fifth in the nation, respectively.
The penchant for defense isn't something the duo picked up this season at
Texas; it's been a staple of their careers dating back to Findlay, where both
of the championship teams were known for their stellar 'D'.
Undefeated in Big 12 Conference play (8-0), the Longhorns are in prime
position to be sitting in a regional No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament next
Having defeated six Top 25 teams, Texas has a resume as decorated as any other
squad in Division I. Along with wins over ranked opponents, there are the
statement victories like the aforementioned dethroning of the Spartans and the
stopping of No. 2-ranked Kansas' 69-game home winning streak.
Even in its losses to ranked opponents, Texas has shown poise, falling to
Pittsburgh and Connecticut by a combined three points.
If the Longhorns can continue their strong play of late into the month of
March, we may find the names of two Canadian kids amongst the elite players in
the NCAA tournament.
The Sports Network