Toronto Raptors’ March Madness history from Anunoby to Watson

Fred VanVleet #23 and OG Anunoby #3 of the Toronto Raptors. (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images)
Fred VanVleet #23 and OG Anunoby #3 of the Toronto Raptors. (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images) /
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Toronto Raptors
Kyle Lowry #1 of the Villanova Wildcats. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry with the Villanova Wildcats in 2005 and 2006

It should come as no surprise that “North Philly’s Finest” led Philly’s team to success in the NCAA Tournament.

Lowry took Villanova to the Big Dance in both of his seasons with the Wildcats, first as a five seed in 2005, and then a one seed in 2006.

Lowry seemed a little nervous in ‘Nova’s 2005 Round of 64 win over No. 12 New Mexico (2/6, eight points), but he found his form in time for #4 Florida. Lowry dropped 15 points on 7/11 shooting to score the upset over a Gator team that featured the likes of Al Horford and Joakim Noah.

But just like Anunoby and Baynes, Lowry ran into another first-ranked North Carolina team. Despite a 7/10 night, the Heels took out the Wildcats, 67-66.

And Lowry took that personally. The following year, Villanova stormed through the regular season and entered March Madness as a one seed. After handily beating No.16 Monmouth and No. 8 Arizona, Villanova squeezed by No. 4 Boston College in OT on a game-winning goaltending call (Lowry provided the assist).

In the Elite Eight, the Wildcats were reunited with Florida. Lowry had an off night (1/9, three points), and the third-ranked Gators advanced to the Final Four, where they’d beat cinderella No.11 George Mason and No. 2 UCLA to cut the nets down in Indianapolis.

Matt Thomas with the Iowa State Cyclones from 2014 to 2017

In elite company as a player who led his team to the NCAA Tournament in all four of his collegiate years, Thomas was never on a team with a tournament ranking lower than fifth.

In his freshman year, Thomas saw erratic minutes for an Iowa State team that would enter March Madness as a three seed. After trouncing No.14 North Carolina Central in the Round of 64, Thomas did what a host of other Raptors haven’t been able to do to this point: beat North Carolina. The ‘Clones dropped the sixth-ranked Tar Heels 85-83 to advance to the Sweet 16, where they were knocked out by the same seventh-ranked Connecticut team that dispatched Bembry and St. Joseph’s.

Next year, Iowa State returned as a three seed, but fate denied us a matchup between Thomas and Norman Powell’s UCLA Bruins (we’re getting there). The Cyclones got upset by No.14 UAB in the Round of 64.

In 2016, Thomas began shooting the three at an absurd rate. He knocked down the long ball at a 43 per cent clip, and brought Iowa State into the tournament as a four seed. After taking out No.13 Iona in the first round, Thomas buried No.12 Little Rock under four threes in the Round of 32. A Sweet 16 matchup with top-ranked Virginia proved to be too tall an ask, and the Cyclones were sent packing.

For his salvo to the NCAA Tournament, Thomas somehow improved his three-point shooting. Now sitting at 44.5 per cent, his run through the tournament further proved to scouts that he had the clutch gene. He went 3/5 from deep in No. 5 Iowa State’s first round win over No.12 Nevada, and went 9/11 from the field in their Round of 32 loss to No.4 Purdue.