Defending Champs Find a Challenge in Canada

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There's been a lot of chatter throughout the past few college hoops seasons about expanding the size of the NCAA Tournament field. But maybe that approach needs to be updated -- instead of adding a bevy of marginal mid-major teams, how about dropping a Canadian college squad or two into the field?

Alright, we're probably a long way from that being a realistic possibility. Still, there is some talent north of the border. Defending NCAA champion Kansas led a contingent of American teams into Canada for exhibition games from Aug. 25-Sept. 3, and Jayhawks' coach Bill Self came away impressed:

"Absolutely the top Canadian teams can be competitive in the NCAA, although maybe not at the [highest] level," Self said. "Carleton could be competitive in a lot of leagues in the NCAA, there's no doubt about that."

Before you assume that Self has been -- oh, I don't know -- hanging out with Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur, check that scoreboard from Saturday night.

Kansas 84, Carleton 83.

And the mighty Ravens missed a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer that would have brought the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (aka "The Canadian NCAA") an impressive victory.

In all fairness, there are a few points to keep in mind before someone writes Carleton into the preseason top 25:

-- The Jayhawks return exactly zero players from their 2006-07 starting five, so the team that headed to Canada looked a wee bit different than the March Madness version.

-- Carleton, until a loss in last year's national tournament, had won five straight CIS championship.

-- Kansas played a double-header on Saturday, beating McGill University by five in the morning, changing venues and then taking down the Ravens.

The Jayhawks did fair better than

some of the other American teams

. Carleton actually took down Buffalo and South Alabama, and smoked Northeastern by 30 (might want to hold off on those tournament ticket order forms, Huskies' fans). Elsewhere, McGill actually took down


, 88-83.

Even for Northeastern or Virginia, though, it's hard to argue against the merits of the trip. NCAA basketball teams can venture off U.S. soil for exhibition games once every four years, and it's a boost when they do, both for the hosts and the visitors. The Canadian teams get to play some top-notch competition,

while the Americans get ahead of the NCAA curve


"The great thing about this trip is it's a jump start to the season for us," said (South Alabama head coach Ronnie) Arrow. "We're going to be further along when we start back in October. We've been able to practice 10 times, and playing these games will help get the new guys accustomed to what we want them to do."

And for a bunch like Kansas, which is both trying to completely rebuild and defend a national title, a few extra practices and games could go a long way come November.

The Jayhawks open their real exhibition slate on Nov. 4 against tiny Washburn, and you have to imagine that Carleton gave KU more of a battle than the Ichabods will. Tip of the hat to Washburn's moniker, however; it is challenged in "What the heck?" stature only by Kansas's last foe on the Canada trip: The Ottawa Gee-Gees (insert Bee-Gees cover band joke here).

All told, the American teams finished this year's exhibition jaunt to the Great White North with a 46-9 record. Not great for the Canadians, but there's something to be said for those nine victories.

Respect from the coach of the defending NCAA champs has to count for something too.

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