The Athletic: Grand Canyon a favorite upset pick to break brackets in 2024 NCAA Tournament

Mar 18, 2024, 5:38 PM | Updated: Mar 19, 2024, 9:00 am

Grand Canyon...

The Grand Canyon Antelopes celebrate defeating the Texas-Arlington Mavericks 89-74 in the championship game of the Western Athletic Conference basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on March 16, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images)

(Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images)

The NCAA Tournament’s 12-seed versus 5-seed matchup has always been a hotbed for upsets. Since the field expanded in 1985, there have been 53 upsets by 12 seeds.

According to The Athletic’s Peter Keating and Jordan Brenner, the No. 12 Grand Canyon Antelopes will have a 30.4% chance of defeating their No. 5 opponent, Saint Mary’s.

Keating and Brenner rank a GCU upset as the fifth most likely out of the entire field this year using their “Slingshot” model.

As always, Slingshot looks at teams separated by at least 5 seeds, estimates their basic strengths, adjusts those power ratings according to how closely each team fits the statistical profiles of past Davids or Goliaths, and then modifies them again to account for matchups.

The most likely on their list is an upset for No. 11 New Mexico over No. 6 Clemson, which has a 57.8% chance of happening.

1. No. 6 Clemson Tigers vs. No. 11 New Mexico Lobos

Upset Chance: 57.8 percent

2. No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks vs. No. 11 Oregon Ducks

Upset Chance: 43.2 percent

3. No. 6 Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. No. 11 NC State Wolfpack

Upset Chance: 38.2 percent

4. No. 5 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. No. 12 McNeese State Cowboys

Upset Chance: 30.8 percent

5. No. 5 Saint Mary’s Gaels vs. No. 12 Grand Canyon Lopes

Upset Chance: 30.4 percent

History gives GCU a better chance than the projection model for its matchup. The lower seed of the 12-versus-5 matchup is 53-99, which equates to a 34.8% shot of winning.

A 12th-seed win over a fifth-seed didn’t happen in 2023, but two upsets occurred in 2022. Richmond defeated Iowa, while New Mexico State surprised UConn.

GCU’s No. 12 seed is the highest in program history, and this is the third time it reached the Big Dance in the last four years. However, GCU is still looking for their first NCAA Tournament win.

The Antelopes lost as a 14-seed last season to No. 3 Gonzaga while losing in 2021 as a No. 15 to No. 2 Iowa.

Saint Mary’s is no slouch. It won this year’s WCC Tournament and went 15-1 in conference play. With five wins over Quad 1 teams, the Gaels rank 16th overall in the 2024 NET Rankings.

Five separate Gaels average over 10 points with Aidan Mahaney leading in points per game with 13.2. Augustas Marciulionis, who averages 12.4 points per game, complements Mahaney to create a lethal backcourt.

Saint Mary’s has shown its blemishes this season in losses to opponents such as Missouri State and Weber State, but it has two wins over Gonzaga and has only lost once in 2024.

Before falling to Gonzaga in the final regular season game of the season, the Gaels’ last loss occurred on Dec. 23, 2023, to Missouri State.

GCU boasts a 29-4 record this season and won the WAC title Saturday with an 89-74 win over UT Arlington. The Antelopes are led by WAC Player of the Year Tyon Grant-Foster, who averages a conference-high 19.8 points per game.

Senior guard Ray Harrison and senior forward Gabe McGlothan return from last season’s team. Fifth-year senior guard Jovan Blacksher has provided a boost and like McGlothan was also on the 2021 NCAA Tournament squad.

GCU is far from perfect, ranking 50th in the NET ratings and only having one quad 1 win, but this could be the Antelopes’ best shot at finally making their mark in the NCAA Tournament with a upset.


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