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Canadians Thompson and Joseph making Texas-sized impact

11:47 AM, Feb 8, 2011   |    comments
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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 defensive impact.

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 signature performances.

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 month.

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

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