NCAA Basketball: Lopes Force Way Into Bracket Predictions

Even early on in the conference portion of the Western Athletic Conference, Grand Canyon University (GCU) is beginning to turn some heads. The Lopes currently sit atop the conference with an undefeated record and the tournament in their hearts. Under new head coach Bryce Drew, GCU looks more determined than ever to get to the NCAA tournament. Just last night the Lopes ended New Mexico State’s impressive 31-game regular-season conference winning streak possibly signaling a change in the guard before the WAC expansion next season.

Big Resurgence

Part of the Lopes resurgence has to do with their new addition of Asbjorn Midtgaard who spent the last three seasons playing for the Wichita State Shockers. As of right now Midtgaard leads the nations with a 4.5 percent field goal percentage and is in a three-way tie for 22nd place in rebounds per game with 9.8. Although the numbers are there, the real impact he has is his work ethic which inspires the rest of the team as well.

Head coach Bryce Drew talked about him recently to sports360az.com saying, “When he came in this summer, he set a different tone for our team. You don’t get many seven-foot, 270-pound players who are diving for loose balls at practice. His toughness, his mentality to rebound, has really influenced our team.”

Friday’s game against New Mexico State was the first time all season that the Lopes had been outrebounded in a game. The Lopes came into the game leading NCAA Divsion I teams with a 12-plus rebound edge. In addition to Midtgaard bringing more physicality the team also has upperclassmen leaders in Alessandro Lever and Jovan Blacksher Jr. that really help to set the culture of this team. Also, Midtgaard has maintained his hold on the national lead for field goal percentage at 74.5%. He has a current streak of 11 consecutive made shots. He also ranks 23rd nationally for rebounds per game at 9.8.

Notes on Lopes

Currently, Grand Canyon is sitting at 11-3 with a seven-game winning streak intact. Prior to conference play, the Lopes had games against noteworthy opponents such as Arizona State, Nevada, and Colorado. In these games, the Lopes went 1-3 and only lost by 10 in the largest margin. The Lopes have not been blown out at all this season even against more intense opponents. This is something to watch going forward.

According to Paul Coro, GCU remains the only team in the nation to rank in the top 10 nationally for field goal percentage (fifth at 51.8%) and opponent field goal percentage (seventh at 37.7%).

ESPN projects the Lopes as a 14 seed going against Missouri in round one. If Grand Canyon keeps up their intense high level of play they may be a team that can pull off the upset on a national stage. Go ahead and put Grand Canyon on #Cinderella watch because if the Lopes finally make it there, they will shock certain teams. That is a guarantee. Especially with the level of tournament coaching experience that Bryce Drew has. So if you are filling out a bracket this season or your team happens to be playing them in round one, be sure to not overlook the Lopes.

Follow Corey on Twitter @CoreyDecker11

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