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WAC Preview Commentary: Like it or not, Grand Canyon is college basketball’s biggest story

The Lopes have finally arrived. Or at least have that chance.

NCAA Basketball: Grand Canyon at San Diego State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to Grand Canyon, there are always strong opinions.

But first let’s start with a fact. The for-profit university is finally eligible for the NCAA Tournament after completing its Div. I transition. That means a program with a rock star coach in Dan Majerle has a chance to capitalize on the good basketball that has been brewing in the desert for four Div. I seasons.

And “capitalize” is the important word. Arizona State President Michael Crow has been a constant foil for the Lopes. From his perch just down the street, the administrator has taken a vocal lead against GCU for years.

It continues.

Arizona State’s long-running feud with Grand Canyon University shows no signs of cooling. When asked about the university’s refusal to schedule athletic competitions with its Valley neighbor, ASU President Michael Crow said he doesn’t see it changing anytime soon.

“There’s really been no change,” Crow said at the annual State of Sun Devil Athletics Address on Tuesday at Karsten Golf Course. “The Pac-12 Conference has taken a view — it’s not just ASU — to allow its schools to play or not play Grand Canyon. Eleven have decided not to. One has decided to. The 11 that have decided not to have decided not to because we think that the issues for for-profit status have not been worked out well enough yet. That doesn’t mean that they won’t be worked out. It’s just that they haven’t.”

As the only Div. I for-profit university and with the NCAA Tournament’s searing spotlight finally on the table, get ready to hear more of those strong opinions. Imagine if the Lopes do in fact capture the WAC this season, think Crow and those that agree with him will stay silent?

Think again.

The tournament is the national accelerant on a fire that’s largely been burning locally. But the for-profit issue isn’t the only place you’ll find strong opinions in the Lopes’ universe. The program has a passionate, nationwide fan base that floods Twitter during each game. And they’ve got a rowdy student section that floods the stands, creating the WAC’s most difficult road venue.

SB Nation got in on the secret last year, calling GCU Arena college basketball’s best party.

PHOENIX — This doesn't feel normal.

There are still 15 minutes to go before tip-off, but the place is already packed for a game between the host Grand Canyon Antelopes and a nondescript, .500 Seattle Redhawks team.

"It's a dance party and a family reunion put together," says freshman Israel Barrera, who is standing in the first row after waiting in line for three hours. "It's the best environment in the country."

Many feel that party will only continue to grow. Former New Mexico State assistant Jesse Bopp saw it firsthand last season and came away impressed with the program’s fan support and financial backing.

“When you couple that with their facilities and Dan Majerle’s pedigree as a player and ability to transition into a college coach, I think that’s as good a mid-major job that’s out there,” he said. “I would put that on the quality of job as a Dayton, Wichita State, VCU, Gonzaga, that’s as good a job that exists that’s not in the power five or top-seven conference in the country from an RPI perspective.”

The former NBA star head coach. The purple frenzy. The swirling for-profit controversy. The sleeping giant program potential. Add in the millions of casual eyeballs that come with the NCAA Tournament in March? That’s a recipe for 2017-18’s most compelling FBI-less story. The Lopes just need to get there.

Finally, they can.