Care to dance? Arizona, GCU prepare for 1st round of NCAA men’s basketball tournament

Brett Lapinski
10 Min Read

It’s that time again. The most anticipated Sunday in college
basketball has passed, and roughly two and half weeks of iconic games,
breakthrough performances, Cinderella stories and millions of busted
brackets lie ahead. The 2024 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament
is officially here, and Selection Sunday has left us with plenty of
storylines to ensure some madness this March.

With the Valley hosting the Final Four on April 6 and the title game
April 8, two teams have a shot to represent the Grand Canyon State. The
University of Arizona and Grand Canyon University are the only teams
from Arizona in this year’s tournament and both find themselves nestled
into the West Region of the tournament.

“I feel good,” Wildcats coach Tommy Lloyd said Sunday. “ I think
we’re well-rested. I know we’re definitely healthier than we were last
year. I think we’re ready to be in attack mode.”

Headlining both the Big Dance and the East Region, the reigning
champion UConn Huskies breezed through the regular season and Big East
Tournament to solidify themselves as the undisputed No. 1 seed. Four of
the Huskies’ starters have championship experience, and senior guard
Tristen Newton is a triple-double threat on any given day.

Rounding out the No. 1 seeds are a trio of teams led by their respective conference’s player of the year.

The Houston Cougars (30-4) pounce into March Madness atop the South
Region with elite two-way guard Jamal Shead leading the way and look to
finish off their first season in the Big 12 with a bang.

The Purdue Boilermakers (29-4) sit atop the Midwest Region on the
back of their 7-foot-4 monster center senior Zach Edey, who led the
nation in scoring at 24.4 points per game. The Boilermakers come into
this year’s tournament looking to prove the doubters wrong and follow in
the Virginia Cavaliers’ footsteps by winning the nNational
cChampionship the year after losing to a No. 16 seed.

Senior guard RJ Davis and the North Carolina Tar Heels (27-7) head
the West Region and seek redemption for their heartbreaking 2022
championship loss to Kansas.

Fellow senior guard Caleb Love is also seeking that same redemption,
except he’d be doing it with another team. Love transferred from North
Carolina to the University of Arizona for his senior year, and the
Pac-12 Player of the Year has the Wildcats (25-8) rocking the West
Region’s No. 2 seed. The Wildcats hovered around a potential No. 1 seed
the entire year due to the scoring of Love and dominant rebounding of
senior center Oumar Ballo, but a Pac-12 tournament loss to Oregon put
that to rest. Even though Houston, Purdue and North Carolina suffered
the same fate as Arizona in their conference tournaments, their resumes
proved to outweigh the Wildcats’.

“We always factor in the entirety of the season,” said Charles
McClland, chair of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. “Houston,
UConn and Purdue were always on our board. It came down to six teams
vying for a first seed, and Arizona was one of them. Outside of the
conference, they had some really strong wins, but overall we felt that
Arizona fell to a No. 2 seed when looking at all the metrics.”

Nevertheless, Arizona has a first-round date with No.15 seed Long
Beach State on Thursday. This comes just one year after the Wildcats
were stunned by a No.15 seed, and Long Beach State is one of the hottest
teams in the country right now, winning the Big West Championship a
week after coach Dan Monson learned he was being let go at the end of
the season.

Barring any upsets, the Wildcats have a chance to be part of one the
biggest storylines of the tournament — an Elite Eight matchup versus
North Carolina. Fans might say it’s just part of the “script,” but Love
facing his former team for a trip to the Final Four is what the
tournament is all about. It’s not called March Madness for nothing.

While the top seeds the tournament, the tournament darlings are always the double-digit seeds.

The No. 11 seed Oregon Ducks (23-11) made a huge splash winning the
Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament, and senior center N’Faly Dante is
red hot coming off a 12/12 performance in the Pac 12 championship.
Fellow No.11 North Carolina State (22-14) is just as hot, running the
table in the ACC Tournament while upsetting Syracuse, Duke, Virginia and
North Carolina. The alpha of the Wolfpack is senior guard DJ Horne, who
watched his potential No. 11 seed run with Arizona State last year end
on a buzzer-beater in the Round of 64 versus TCU.

The No.12 seeds all pose serious threats to their No. 5 opponents.
James Madison and McNeese State enter March Madness with 30-plus wins
each. The Dukes can put up points at will while the Cowboys are coming
off a historic school turnaround under TCU transfer senior guard Shahada
Wells and former LSU coach Will Wade, who both have tournament

For Grand Canyon University, the Antelopes enter the Big Dance just
below the 30-win mark at 29-4, and the WAC champions are hoping the
third time’s the charm for the March Madness appearances. The 12th seed
is the highest ever for the Antelopes, but a tough task in St. Mary’s
awaits them on Friday.

“They’re a really physical team,” GCU coach Bryce Drew said. “They
execute very well and in the second half of the season, they have been
playing outstanding basketball. They are one of the hottest teams in the

The Antelopes pose an electric offense, scoring nearly 80 points per
game, but the Gaels play slow and are stout on defense, allowing only
58.7 points per game, which is second best in the country.

Drew has been at the helm for each of the Antelopes’ three tournament
appearances, but it’s the Antelopes’ first time with senior standout
guard Tyon Grant-Foster. . During the 2021-22 season, Grant-Foster
played a paltry 15 minutes for DePaul before two heart surgeries forced
him to miss 16 months of basketball. Now, he’s the main man for GCU
averaging 19.8 points per game, and earning WAC Player of the Year

“He’s a warrior,” forward Gabe McGlothan said. “If he has his mind
set on something, he’s going to go take it. I’m just so proud of him.”

With the addition of backcourt mate Ray Harrison’s scoring ability
and McGlothan‘s superb three-point shooting, the trio poses a massive
test for the Gaels’ defense.

“It takes every single one of us,” McGlothan said. “No one is going
to go out there and win a game all by himself, so we all got to lock in
from this moment until Friday.”

Drew is no stranger to big-time upsets during his playing days, but
as coach, he pushed heavy favorites Iowa (2021) and Gonzaga (2023) to
the brink. The third time may just be the charm for Drew, and if the
slipper fits, a Love and UNC reunion might be replaced by a battle for
Arizona in the Elite Eight.

“This team has been really motivated all year,” Drew said. “We’ve had
a lot of goals, and there are more goals that this team wants to
accomplish. With some of the guys going last year, they have the
experience of knowing what to expect and the familiarity of getting in
the tournament. I think that experience will help us.”

While we await the fates of both Arizona and GCU, the NCAA Tournament
kicks off Tuesday at 3:40 p.m. with a First Four matchup between No. 16
seeds Wagner and Howard.

Source link
Brett Lapinski ,
Sports news | , 2024-03-19 14:25:18
Tags: local, arizona, sports, basketball, breaking, Cronkite News, gcu, march madness, ncaa, tommy lloyd, ua, Care to dance? Arizona, GCU prepare for 1st round of NCAA men’s basketball tournament, , Tucson, Tuscon, TucsonSentinel, Tucson Sentinel, TusconSentinel, Tuscon Sentinel, Sentinal, TucsonSentinal, Tucson local news, Tucson news, University of Arizona, UA, Arizona news, Ariz., AZ, Arizona, Marana, Oro Valley, Green Valley, Sahuarita, Pima County, Mexico, Nogales, immigration, Border Patrol, Tucson Citizen,

Share this Article
Leave a comment