Grand Canyon is a program on the rise heading into March Madness matchup with Alabama

Sat, Mar 23, 2024

Grand Canyon is a program on the rise heading into March Madness matchup with Alabama

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Grand Canyon has been viewed for several years as a potential mid-major powerhouse.

It has money, in part due to a strong donor base and an administration willing to invest.

Its fans - the "Havocs" - are already well known and getting even more notoriety.

And now the Antelopes have an NCAA Tournament victory after taking down Saint Mary's in the first round - an important resume piece for a program hoping to become a basketball power.

"We get a lot of players from high-major schools that come, and a lot is because of our school and what our school has to offer," Grand Canyon coach Bryce Drew said. "Our facilities are terrific. Our fan base is terrific. Living in Phoenix isn't too bad. There's just so many positives."

Grand Canyon would like to make some more noise in this tournament, but doing so would mean toppling No. 4 seed Alabama in the West Region second round on Sunday.

The other West matchup on Sunday will take place in Memphis, Tennessee, where No. 3 seed Baylor - coached by Drew's brother, Scott - faces No. 6 seed Clemson.

The Antelopes (30-4) have been climbing toward this level of attention. When the school made the move to Division I, it was clearly trying to join the ranks of the West's mid-major stalwarts like Saint Mary's and Gonzaga, whose campus is a mere 1 1/2 miles from where Friday's win took place.

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Transfers and NIL money for players also make it easier for an emerging program to become competitive quickly. Grand Canyon has contributors who started their careers at schools including DePaul, Oregon, Georgia State and Arizona State.

It's not the same as what Alabama coach Nate Oats experienced in his first head coaching stop at Buffalo.

"If you're at a place like a Grand Canyon, some of these kids are coming back from some really good programs," Oats said. "They've got some transfers - it's not like these programs missed on them, they just went somewhere and had an NBA player playing in front of them, and they couldn't get enough minutes and want to play, and now they're going to come back down and now they're looking like they belong at the high-major school that they went to initially.

"It's a lot easier to do that recruitment with some of the resources."

Whether Grand Canyon has enough firepower to hang with Alabama (22-11) is the question. The Crimson Tide were already the top scoring team in the country before they dropped 109 points on Charleston in the first round. Charleston was willing to play fast, but couldn't keep up with the Tide.

"I don't know if this will be first to 100 or not, but it should be an entertaining game because they've got athletes. We like to get up and down," Oats said. "They've got some big-time scorers, and there's going to be some plays - I'm guessing there will be quite a few highlight-reel plays on both sides."


Baylor tied a program record in the first round by knocking down 16 3-pointers. Clemson just had its best performance defending the 3 in the NCAA Tournament.

Something will give Sunday with a Sweet 16 berth in Los Angeles on the line.

Sixth-seeded Clemson (22-11) held New Mexico to 13% shooting beyond the arc Friday night, giving up just three on 13 attempts. Coach Brad Brownell noted his Tigers had days to practice and study New Mexico's shooters, which they don't have with only a day between games to prep for the third-seeded Bears.

"We've got to duplicate it against a really talented team that's a little more dynamic from the 3-point line," Brownell said. "They certainly shoot the ball better than New Mexico did."

Baylor (24-10) and coach Scott Drew are trying to snap a two-game skid in the second round. These Bears are the only team in the country with six players averaging in double-figure scoring. Their balance makes it tough to focus on any one shooter.

Drew said one of the last things a coach can control is whether the ball goes in from 3-point range. His Bears rank in the top 10 nationally in 3-point shooting at 39.4% and set a program tournament record by scoring 92 points in their opening win over Colgate.

"You pray it does," Drew said. "I think we're going to run our offense how we run it. As long as we're getting high-percentage shots, we'll live with the results. And hopefully we do a good job getting offensive rebounds when we miss."


AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.


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