GRAND CANYON UNIVERSITY

Who is GCU’s NCAA Tournament opponent? Saint Mary’s aims to end ‘Lopes’ Cinderella hopes

Mar 22, 2024, 7:08 AM

Aidan Mahaney of the Saint Mary's Gaels handles the ball...

Aidan Mahaney #20 of the Saint Mary's Gaels handles the ball against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the first half of the championship game of the West Coast Conference basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on March 12, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Saint Mary’s basketball has been the definition of consistency this season.

The Gaels boast a 26-7 record this season with a near-flawless 15-1 record in WCC conference play.

They earned a No. 5 seed and will face the No. 12 Grand Canyon Antelopes in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

They have only lost one game since the beginning of 2024, winning 17 of their 18 games. On March 12, they defeated Gonzaga to win the WCC conference title.

This will be the team’s third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and 10th under current head coach Randy Bennett.

However, GCU has been a popular upset pick. According to a prediction model from The Athletic’s Peter Keating and Jordan Brenner, GCU will have a 30.4% chance of defeating Saint Mary’s. So who are the ‘Lopes facing?

Slow and Steady wins the race

Saint Mary’s takes the air out of the basketball.

They rank 358th in KenPom adjusted tempo, which measures the number of offensive possessions per 40 minutes. There are 362 Division 1 basketball teams in the rankings, and the Gaels fall in the bottom five of pace.

Saint Mary’s has 61.9 possessions per 40 minutes, while their WCC rival Gonzaga has 69.1 possessions per 40 minutes.

Most Saint Mary’s games rarely see a team go over 80 points. The Gaels rank 159th in points scored per game with 74.2. Despite playing at the speed of a glacier, the Gaels rank in the top 50 in KenPom-adjusted offensive (45) and defensive (16) efficiency.

With five Quad 1 wins, Saint Mary’s ranks 16th overall in the 2024 NET Rankings.

Everyone gets a piece of the pie

Five separate Gaels average over 10 points, with Aidan Mahaney leading in points per game with 13.9. Mahaney had 23 points in Saint Mary’s last game against Gonzaga for the WCC Championship.

Augustas Marciulionis, who averages 12.4 points per game, complements Mahaney to create a lethal backcourt.

Senior Mitchell Saxen leads the team in rebounds with 7.5 per game while scoring 11.7 points per game.

Joshua Jefferson and Alex Ducas both average more than 10 points per game. Ducas leads the team in 3-point percentage (44.2%). Jefferson, who complements Saxen down low, averages 6.5 rebounds per game.

There hasn’t been a 30-point scorer in any game the Gaels have played this season, a testament to their offensive philosophy.

Consistency

Saint Mary’s had some trouble out the gate, sporting a 3-5 record after losing to Boise State on Dec. 1.

Since that matchup, the Gaels have only lost twice and won 23 games. The most points an opponent scored on Saint Mary’s in that stretch was 77 in an 82-77 win over Santa Clara on Jan. 31. Its one conference loss came against Gonzaga on March 2. at home.

The Gaels won both the regular season and the WCC title this season. However, three of the seven losses Saint Mary’s has collected have been on neutral sites which is where the NCAA Tournament always takes place.

GCU, like Saint Mary’s, has dominated its own conference. The Antelopes boast 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 is averaging a conference-high 19.8 points per game.

GCU will have to be ready for fierce defense from the Gaels while being patient on their own defensive front.

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