University of Arizona

Lauri Markkanen

We're not sure how big March Madness is in Finland. But putting aside anyone who happens to have a certain partisan interest based on their brackets, Arizona might be the school that most Finns are rooting for.

Consider the responses from two Finns in the NHL, Patrick Laine of the Winnipeg Jets and Erik Haula of the Minnesota Wild, when asked for their picks in the NCAA basketball tournament:

Lauri Markkanen

Laine: "Arizona is going to win. They have the Finnish player on their team. I don't know him, but I hear he is pretty good."

Haula: "I'd like to see Arizona do well. There's actually a Finnish kid on Arizona, so I'd like to see them do well."

That Finnish player/kid is a 7-foot freshman named Lauri Markkanen, who is second on the team in scoring with a 15.7 average. Markkanen had 20 points and six rebounds Thursday as Arizona dispatched North Dakota in the first round 100-82.

He is projected to be a top-10 pick in the NBA draft this year.

While Finns have been a fixture in the NHL for decades with scoring dynamos like Jari Kurri and Teemu Selanne, Markkanen would be just the second player from Finland to compete in the NBA.

Hanno Mottola played two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks after helping Utah reach the 1998 NCAA championship game against Kentucky.

If Arizona can make it to the championship game this year, the Wildcats could face the alma mater of Markkanen's dad. Pekka Markkanen, who was listed at 6-10, averaged 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds in 1989-90, his lone season at Kansas. The Jayhawks are the No. 1 seed in the Midwest. Arizona is No. 2 in the West.

A highlight of Pekka's career was helping limit Shaquille O'Neal to 10 points as the Jayhawks won at LSU in the Preseason NIT.

"I blocked his shot twice," Pekka told the Kansas City Star of his encounter with Shaq, "but he also blocked me. That's the only game where I scored zero points."

Lauri has inside and outside skills: