Even with all the ups and downs the past year has provided, GCU Men’s Basketball has found itself on top. For the first time in Division I program history, the Lopes took first place in the Western Athletic Conference, earning regular season and WAC Tournament titles, the latter of which culminated in their selection to the 2021 NCAA March Madness Tournament. There, GCU Basketball was one of 68 teams traveling to the state of Indiana—where the tournament was hosted—to play for a national championship.
The road to a national title was difficult, however, as the Lopes drew a No. 15 seed to the tournament, playing against the No. 2 seed and national power, University of Iowa Hawkeyes. Before the game, all-time statistics suggested that the Lopes had their work cut out for them—No.15 seeds had an all-time record of 8-132 vs. their No. 2-seed rivals going into the tournament1—but the Lopes showed their success this season could match with the likes of the Hawkeyes.
So, what does that success look like? Keep reading below to see how the Lopes have put together a season to remember, and why this year is just a continuation of the prolific history of GCU Men’s Basketball.
Lopes Lead the Western Athletic Conference
Western Athletic Conference play this season came with a unique twist where each team had to play a two-game series in back-to-back days. Even in this updated format, the Lopes finished in first place with a 17-6 overall record and 9-3 in conference play. GCU’s calling card this season was defense as they led the conference in scoring defense, allowing just 61.5 points in conference play.2
That number was also good for being ranked ninth in the country.3 This stout defensive play was proven in the WAC Tournament where the Lopes defeated Seattle University in the semifinals and New Mexico State University in the championship game, 81-47 and 74-56, respectively.
The players that have led the Lopes this season come from a healthy mixture of upperclassmen experience and young talent. Leading the way has been the big inside duo of 7-foot senior center, and sports management major, Asbjørn Midtgaard and 6-foot-10 senior forward, and business management major, Alessandro Lever. Midtgaard and Lever led the Lopes in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage this season, while Midtgaard finished second in the conference in rebounding and first in field goal percentage.2 Getting them the ball has been 5-foot-11 sophomore guard, and sports management major, Jovan Blacksher Jr., who was third in the conference with 5.1 assists per game.2
The coach that oversaw GCU Basketball to their first-ever conference tournament title was Bryce Drew, who comes from a rich basketball career that has seen success in both the college and professional ranks. Drew attended Valparaiso University where he finished with a school-record 2,142 points and later had his No. 24 retired.4 Drew also played six seasons in the NBA and held coaching stops at Valparaiso and Vanderbilt University, earning three separate trips to the NCAA Tournament along the way, before finally becoming the 14th head coach in GCU Basketball history on March 17, 2020.4
A Look at GCU Basketball History
The Division I history of GCU Basketball began for the 2013-14 season when the Lopes joined the Western Athletic Conference. Even before their recent run of success in DI, GCU was a national power at both the DII and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) level of play.
GCU had 10 tournament appearances in DII, including seven straight between 1992 and 1998. In NAIA play, the Lopes were even more successful. GCU took home three national championships in 1975, 1978 and 1988 and held an 18-7 all-time record in the NAIA Tournament.5 Two of those championships were led by Ben Lindsey, the all-time winningest head coach in program history with a record of 362-195.5 Former Phoenix Suns great head coach Paul Westphal coached GCU to their third national title in ’88.
What Is Next for the Lopes?
With this year’s success, the future is promising for the Lopes. Beginning next season, GCU (along with all of college basketball and sports alike) hope to have a full house of purple cheering on the Lopes. When the players return to the court, the Havocs will undoubtedly be the loudest in the crowd, continuing what is already one of best home-court experiences in the country. For all in attendance, they hope to see the Lopes add to their success and gain another WAC championship and NCAA March Madness appearance.
1NCAA, “History of 2 seed vs. 15 seed in March Madness” in March 2021
2WAC Men’s Basketball, “The Automated ScoreBook Conference-Only Statistics” in March 2021
3NCAA Men’s Basketball, “Scoring Defense Statistics” in March 2021
4GCU Men’s Basketball, “Bryce Drew Biography” in March 2021
5Coaches Database, “Grand Canyon Antelopes basketball history” in March 2021
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.