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Preview: Grand Canyon hopes to upset unbeaten Nevada

Thank the Lopes for the Jerry Colangelo Classic

NCAA Basketball: Grand Canyon at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The Grand Canyon Antelopes have a fantastic opportunity when they participate in the second game of the Jerry Colangelo Classic as the virtual home team against the No. 6 Nevada Wolf Pack. The Lopes will travel just seven miles to Downtown Phoenix where they will play their biggest game of the season. GCU’s famous student section, the Havocs, will file into the arena in large numbers and the Lopes will have a significant home court advantage.

Many college basketball fans may wonder why a team like Grand Canyon would be in a nationally televised event with the likes Gonzaga, Tennessee, and Nevada. However, Grand Canyon is the reason this exists at all. The Basketball Hall of Fame chairman and tournament eponym Jerry Colangelo is a senior advisor to GCU president Brian Mueller, and the GCU business school is named in his honor. Colangelo has had a huge impact in transforming college basketball’s most interesting mid-major program. He brought former NBA star Dan Majerle to coach the team six years ago. Since then, the school has had the 22nd-best winning percentage in the country and has developed one of the most boisterous and exciting in-game atmospheres in college basketball.

Thunder Dan is returning home, and the former Suns star is familiar with playing in big games at Talking Stick Arena. The Grand Canyon head coach name and face is displayed on the north end corner of the rafters in the Sun’s Ring of Honor. Majerle played eight seasons with the Suns, making three All-Star appearances. He was a huge contributor on the Suns’ 1993 NBA finals team. However, leading the Lopes over a victory against Nevada may be a tougher task than trying to guard Jordan in the Finals.

The Lopes will hope to honor Colangelo with a great performance against a good Nevada team. The Wolf Pack are coming off a Sweet 16 performance and they are enjoying their best start in program history. Nevada is 9-0 and it has gotten quality wins against BYU, USC, Arizona State, and Loyola University Chicago.

This Nevada team has strived off of long runs in different stretches of games. Coach Eric Musselman has one of the most interchangeable lineups in college basketball, and they are still trying to mesh. The Wolf Pack seem unstoppable when Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins are playing. In their last matchup against Arizona State, the Wolf Pack trailed by double digits for a majority of the first half, and partially into the second. But that’s the scary part about this still-unbeaten Nevada team: It is impossible to bury them, and they can run anyone out of the gym when they turn it on.

Moreover, this is an interesting matchup because GCU and Nevada are built in similar ways. Both teams have done well in recruiting over the past two seasons and they both have brought in a lot of transfers. GCU and Nevada are among the deepest teams in the country and both coaches go into their benches often. Both programs emphasize strong man-to-man pressure defense and they try to utilize their length as an advantage. Musselman and Majerle are both intense and it should be a great coaching matchup. The Wolf Pack have a significant advantage due to superior talent, but a clash of old-school hustle basketball will be entertaining to watch.

Grand Canyon is set up for a perfect spot to upset the sixth-ranked Wolf Pack. Nevada will be playing its third straight game away from home and its second game in less than 48 hours. The Wolf Pack’s game against ASU ended at midnight Arizona time. Having to travel to play two games in two different states is a tough task for any college basketball team. Nevada will have to face a tough Lopes team in a semi-hostile environment that might as well be a road game. After playing two Pac-12 opponents and avenging their loss to the team that beat them in the Sweet 16, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wolf Pack overlook the Lopes. GCU has the depth and talent to compete with Nevada. The Lopes had a good Seton Hall team beat until a two-minute collapse cost them the game. The Lopes got their mojo back after a big victory against Boise State.

Here’s how to watch:

Time: 5:30 p.m. ET/2:30 p.m. PST
Stream: WatchESPN