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Journey to Division I: Barstool's Season Inside Grand Canyon University Basketball

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This will be a season-long blog featuring Grand Canyon University. We will have weekly journal entries bringing you inside access to Grand Canyon University during their first year eligible for postseason at the Division I level. The blogs will be bringing you weekly experiences from the team, staff and fans. 

When it comes to college basketball everyone knows Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, etc. They even know the mid-majors like Gonzaga and St. Mary’s. However, come March there’s always a team or two that seems to come out of nowhere to become a national story and fan favorite. They want that team to win. They want to see them pull off the upset and want to know more about their story. It happened with Florida Gulf Coast. It happened with VCU. It happened with Butler and Valparaiso back in the day.

What if I told you there was a team like that and you didn’t have to wait until March to start cheering for them? That would be the Grand Canyon University Antelopes, who are in their fifth year in Division I but are now eligible for the WAC and NCAA Tournaments for the first time.

Grand Canyon is a unique college and not just because of the name. They are a private, Christian college in Phoenix with an enrollment of 75,200 people. That’s a huge number, so why haven’t you heard of them? Probably the fact 60,700 are online students as GCU is a huge online university – think University of Phoenix but with an actual campus of around 19,500 students and a really good basketball program. If that wasn’t crazy enough, the enrollment on campus was just 1,000 less than a decade ago. This is one of the fastest growing colleges in the country.

But, obviously we’re here to focus on the basketball team and I’m sure you want to know why you should care about Grand Canyon University? Well for starters, the head coach is Dan Majerle, which should make everyone who grew up in the 80s and 90s get on board. While he was a solid pro, he may be a better head coach. He’s been in charge of GCU since they made the move to Division I and has gone 81-46 in his first four years. That’s simply unheard of for a team transitioning into a Division I program. They’ve never finished worse than third in the WAC and have never had a losing season.

While I can try my best to entice you and talk about stats, perhaps Thunder Dan’s message could do it a little bit better.

That not enough to get you on board? How about they might have the rowdiest home court advantage in America. They sell out GCU Arena every game and made Rick Pitino say after a Louisville 79-70 win last year, “You got something special here, really special. When you have this type of enthusiasm, it made us a much better team tonight. Whether we go to Duke, Kentucky, nothing was as tough as that environment tonight.” 

GCU’s student-section is known as the Havocs and is a little different than most student sections. They work direct with the university and have marketing meetings to help come up with ideas for every game. Over the last few years, the Havocs and the university have been able to turn the arena experience into a party. There’s streams, a DJ playing EDM music and naturally choreographed dancing. While other schools worry about donors and season-ticket holders, GCU is about the college atmosphere and that’s what we love here at Barstool.

We’re going to get more in depth with the roster as we get a little closer to the season, but this is a team that will compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. They return Joshua Braun, who was 2nd on the team last year with 17.5 points per game. They add Casey Benson, a grad transfer from Oregon who saw plenty of playing time on a Final Four team. There are five different counties represented on the roster, with players from the US, Australia, Italy, Finland and Senegal.

This is a program that will get in your shorts defensively, ranking 90th in the country last year in DRtg. They also like to play up tempo, averaging less than 17 seconds per offensive possession, which means they are fun to watch. Throw in more experience and another big time guard in Benson and they could become even faster  this year. There are plenty of good stories on the roster that you’ll want to cheer for this team.

This series will start with Friday’s Midnight Madness for the Lopes. I’ll more journal style going forward catching up with the team and what’s been going on with them. We’ll have videos and quotes from people around the program. We’ll be updating you on this team in the hope that Stoolies adopt GCU as their favorite mid-major.