GRAND CANYON UNIVERSITY
What is the recipe for a potential Grand Canyon upset over Gonzaga?
It’s now two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last three years for the Grand Canyon University men’s basketball program, a great step forward.
Next up is making some noise in the tourney, a gigantic next step out of the Western Athletic Conference given where the Antelopes will traditionally be seeded. After drawing No. 2 Iowa in 2021, it’s 28-5 and third-seeded Gonzaga on Friday.
The ‘Zags lead the country in points per game (87.5) and field goal percentage (52.9%). In addition, they move the ball well and take care of it, too. They are 12th in assists per game (16.6) and 25th in turnovers per game (10.6).
Gonzaga is led by senior center Drew Timme, who averaged 20.9 points and 7.3 rebounds a night as a Second Team All-American.
His experience in March is rather staggering in comparison to GCU and speaks to how much of a staple Gonzaga is in the NCAA Tournament.
This is Gonzaga’s 24th straight NCAA Tournament appearance and its coming off appearances in the Sweet 16 and the championship game, meaning this will be Timme’s 10th career tourney game on his own.
While Gonzaga has been prone to upsets in the past, losing in the second round four straight years from 2011-14, Mark Few’s ball club is 14-0 in the first weekend since 2015 across its last seven NCAA Tournaments.
Despite all this working against GCU, the recipe for an upset is always there, and it has got one.
Winners of a season-high six straight games after taking down the WAC tournament, Grand Canyon grants itself the big boost that every double-digit-seeded team needs in being a capable 3-point shooting team.
Its 38.3% mark on the season ranked 16th nationwide, and the Antelopes were 15-2 this season when it made at least nine triples. That record improves to 9-0 when looking at games with over 10 trey bombs. In Gonzaga’s five losses, the opponent averaged 8.4 made 3s.
And while the Bulldogs are the more formidable offensive force, GCU has proven capable of its own efficiency, posting a 50 FG% or better in 15 games. It won all 15 of those games. Again, focusing on Gonzaga’s five losses, four of them came against an opposition that shot higher than 45%, so some decent level of efficiency has to be there.
On the other end of the ball, Grand Canyon has to manage Gonzaga’s ball movement. Even better, create some, erm, Havoc (sorry).
The Bulldogs’ five defeats totaled up to 55 assists and 63 turnovers, a far cry from those lethal aforementioned assist-to-turnover ratio numbers. Focusing more on the assists, since the 11.0 per loss is a huge drop from the season average of 16.6, Grand Canyon has kept opponents to 11 assists or under in 23 of its 35 games.
Finally, there needs to be some type of individual breakout performance in a grand upset like this, and while preseason WAC Player of the Year Jovan Blacksher Jr. is out for the season after he tore his ACL, GCU guard Rayshon Harrison took on an increased role and league the WAC in scoring in conference play at 21.1 PPG.
After Blacksher’s last game in early January, Harrison broke the 25-point threshold seven times and GCU won all seven games. Dude can explode, and Grand Canyon will need it on Friday.