After a six month hiatus, college basketball opening night is finally here. For mid major fans, the season is starting off with a bang as two solid mid-major programs square off on opening night. South Dakota State has been a mid major powerhouse over the last five years, while GCU is one of fastest rising programs in the country.
Grand Canyon is notoriously known for playing in front of a raucous student section, but Tuesday they will travel to a hostile environment at Frost Arena where they will try to attempt to end South Dakota State’s 20-game home winning streak, which is the longest active home winning streak in the nation among NCAA. While most of America’s televisions will be fixated on election night coverage and the Champions Classic, true basketball fans will be tuning in while streaming this great mid major matchup on ESPN 3.
Both schools will begin the most anticipated seasons in school history. Both teams are favorites to win their respective leagues, and each have loaded rosters that are talented enough to do damage in March. South Dakota State is looking to go to the NCAA tournament for the fourth year in a row and are expecting to make a deep run come March. Former NBA star Dan Majerle is looking to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history in just their second season of post season eligibility. Both teams have an opportunity to begin their seasons with a statement win on opening night.
South Dakota State came in third in our preseason Top 25 poll. The Jackrabbits have been one of the most dominant mid-majors in college basketball the last few years, and Coach TJ Otzelberger returns his most talented roster. The Jackrabbits are led by the legendary Mike Daum. Daum is arguably the nations best returning senior and has a chance of becoming the National Player of the Year.
The Jackrabbits also return the Summit League Freshman of the Year David Jenkins Jr., who is hoping to build off his astounding freshmen season where he averaged 16 points per game. In addition to Daum and Jenkins, the Jackrabbits return a core group of last year’s team.
The Grand Canyon Antelopes may be the most interesting basketball team in the country this season. The Antelopes are lead by former NBA All-Star and Sun’s Legend Thunder Dan Majerle. Leading the Lopes through their entire five year Division I existence, Majerle has captured 103 wins over his tenure, which is 20 more wins than any other NCAA program has had during its first five seasons. In addition, the Lopes carry the 22nd best winning percentage over the last three season after achieving three consecutive 20 win seasons. The Lopes fell one game short of reaching the NCAA tourney in their first post season eligible season. This season, GCU has lofty expectations after being selected as the one of the preseason contenders for the top spot in the WAC.
In 2018-2019 the Lopes bring back a solid mix of returners while adding talented newcomers. Like Mike Daum, GCU is lead by talented big man of their own in Italian sensation Alessandro Lever. Last year’s WAC Freshmen of the Year and this year’s conference preseason POY led the Lopes with 12.2 points per game last year. The talented sophomore should be improved and is poised for a break out year.
GCU also adds talented power 5 transfers in forward Micheal Finke and guard Carlos Johnson. Finke is a grad transfer who was a two year starter at Illinois and will bring a physical presence to the Lopes front court. By transferring to GCU, Finke gets to play with his younger brother Tim who joined the Lopes as a top rated 4- star guard. Johnson returned home to Phoenix after being a rotational player at Washington. Johnson and Finke seemed to fit together in the Lopes exhibition game where they combined to score 31 points. The Lopes will need their transfers to have big time performances in order for the Lopes to have a shot of claiming a big upset victory.
Prediction: If there was an official Vegas line for this matchup, Jackrabbits would be about a 6.5 point favorite for this opening night contest. The Lopes matchup to the Jackrabbits talent wise, but the experience and toughness of SDSU will be too much for the Lopes. GCU’s newcomers are still learning out to play together defensively. There is no time for growing pains when trying to guard Mike Daum. The Lopes will keep this game tight, but the Jackrabbits will pull away late in the second half. The Jackrabbits are on a mission this season, and they are gonna start off strong with a victory against a very good Lopes team. Final score 69-64 SDSU.