GRAND CANYON UNIVERSITY

GCU, ASU neck and neck in CBS Sports’ men’s basketball top-100

Oct 27, 2022, 9:48 AM

Jovan Blacksher Jr. #10 of the Grand Canyon Antelopes on the court during the first half against th...

Jovan Blacksher Jr. #10 of the Grand Canyon Antelopes on the court during the first half against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the first round game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Indiana Farmers Coliseum on March 20, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Grand Canyon State will have a strong say in the college basketball ecosystem this year.

The Arizona Wildcats are widely regarded as a top-25 team and come in ranked No. 17 in The Associated Press preseason poll for men’s basketball.

In the Valley, the Arizona State Sun Devils and Grand Canyon Antelopes have NCAA Tournament aspirations and reasonable ones.

For CBS Sports, Matt Norlander’s annual preseason ritual of ranking the entirety of college hoops was cut down to a top-100 (and one) this season, and those three Arizona universities made the list. Arizona came in 19th, but more interestingly, Norlander has GCU just ahead of ASU, at 79th to the Sun Devils’ 80th.

Last season the WAC’s top five teams had either four or five losses in league play. More of that could be in store for 2023, and there are six teams feeling prideful about their chances of taking the conference. But because of its aggregation of talent and its depth, I’m going to pick Grand Canyon to run like some Antelopes out of control.

Of reasons to believe the Antelopes can make a run under coach Bryce Drew, who has a 40-15 start in two seasons at GCU, Norlander points to returning guard Jovan Blacksher, plus perimeter transfers Rayshon Harrison from Presbyterian and Noah Baumann from Georgia.

Blacksher averaged 15.8 points, 4.0 assists and 1.7 steals last season as a junior, shooting 39% from three.

The 6-foot-4 Harrison averaged 17.1 points but also 3.0 assists for Presbyterian a season ago. Throw in the 6-foot-6 Baumann, a high-volume 41% three-point shooter, and there’s plenty of floor spacing and playmaking between that trio.

Grand Canyon was projected in the WAC preseason poll to win the conference.

As for the Sun Devils, there’s a lot that could swing the team. First on that list is the health and production of Marcus Bagley, a one-time NBA Draft prospect who has played in only 15 games his first two years in Tempe.

Marcus Bagley, a big season would appear to be awaiting you. Bagley should be ASU’s best player. Hurley also has D.J. Horne back after averaging 12.1 points in the backcourt. The big transfer is Desmond Cambridge, who scored 16 a night at Nevada. Yet another tough Pac-12 read. Hurley might need to make the NCAAs to stick around for Year 9.

Bagley has averaged 10.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game in his small sample of appearances at ASU.

The Sun Devils were picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12, a relatively confident vote by media pollsters for a team with a decent amount of turnover amid a muddled conference.

And as for the rival Wildcats, two returning starters have opportunities to grow after losing three teammates to the NBA.

Azuolas Tubelis is U of A’s best player, a talented option at center who will be flanked in the frontcourt by Oumar Ballo, a senior who was recruited by Lloyd to Gonzaga. Ballo has his limits but there are flashes of fun talent. Guard play is where Arizona should remain fun and competitive as hell: Kerr Kriisa is a nasty trash talker who takes junk from no one, and Texas transfer Courtney Ramey could be a sweet complement in playing style. The guarantee breakout player: Pelle Larson has looked great all offseason and should be a go-to choice for offense.

Tubelis averaged 13.9 points to go with 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game last season.

Kriisa finished at 9.7 points and 4.7 assists while shooting 33.6% from three-point range.

And Larsson figures to move into a starting role after averaging 7.2 points, shooting at a 48% clip overall and providing strong perimeter defense last season.

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GCU, ASU neck and neck in CBS Sports’ men’s basketball top-100