Story by Brandon Bonaparte
It didn’t go the way GCU wanted it to on Saturday afternoon.
Coming in with the third-ranked offense in the country, the Iowa Hawkeyes had no shortage of points, taking care of the Lopes 86-74.
There are over 350 Division I basketball teams in the NCAA. Out of these 350 teams, only 68 make the NCAA Tournament, with the field being largely comprised of teams from Power Five conferences and the Big East.
Though a disappointing results for Lopes fans, the buzz around the first round matchup was palpable for GCU and on display for the entire nation.
240 GCU Havocs, superfans of the team, poured into the arena before the games’ tip-off.
— Lope Nation (@GCULopeNation) March 20, 2021
— Brad Brown (@BradBrownTV) March 20, 2021
Aside from fans of the school, GCU’s presence in the tournament was felt all throughout the Valley. In the month of March, it wasn’t a college from Tempe or Tucson making headlines in Arizona; it was a little-known private school from Phoenix.
“This is a special place. I think it’s the best kept secret in college basketball,” said GCU coach Bryce Drew.
The Lopes’ Twitter was flooded with mentions on Saturday, ranging from professional teams in the area to No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) March 20, 2021
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) March 20, 2021
— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) March 20, 2021
𝐵𝓇𝑜𝓉𝒽𝑒𝓇𝓁𝓎 𝐿𝑜𝓋𝑒 🤝
— Baylor Basketball (@BaylorMBB) March 20, 2021
The NCAA Tournament truly is a tournament of losers, with only one out of the 68 teams ending the season on a high note. Through all of this, GCU captured national attention for its school, even if it only lasted a couple of hours. It’s only the beginning.
In 2009, I was introduced by then-head coach Russ Pennell to @gcu President Brian Mueller and C.O.O Stan Meyer and heard their vision. 12 years later @GCU_MBB has the right facility, coach, and fan support for continued success. Today was another building block.
— Brad Cesmat (@bradcesmat) March 21, 2021
A Season In Review
GCU finished the season 17-7, including a 9-3 conference record in the WAC. The Lopes started off the season hot, capturing 4 straight wins.
The next three games tested GCU, matching the Lopes up with powerful non-conference teams. GCU dropped all three games in competitive fashion, including a one-point loss to in-state neighbor Arizona State.
By the time conference play rolled around, GCU was on a tear. The Lopes didn’t lose in January, notching eight wins and sweeping WAC juggernaut New Mexico State.
— Grand Canyon Men's Basketball (@GCU_MBB) January 31, 2021
However, in the next few weeks, GCU would experience major COVID-19 roadblocks.
Earlier in the season, from Dec. 23 and Jan. 8, the Lopes didn’t play due to the virus. On Jan. 30, GCU beat new Mexico State 65-53.
After this game, another COVID-19-related problem would hinder GCU. Once more, the Lopes would experience extended time without games, not playing again until Feb. 19. GCU stumbled through the rest of the season with a 3-3 record.
The early-season efforts of GCU paid off as they entered postseason play, though. As the No. 1 seed, the Lopes rebounded for the WAC Tournament, taking out Seattle and New Mexico State en route to its first conference title and NCAA Division I Tournament birth.
GCU’s 2020-2021 season was historic in every aspect. This means the 2021-2022 campaign will likely be the most anticipated in school history, as the team looks to build and ascend even more.
Here are some key names returning next year:
Redshirt sophomore forward Gabe McGlothan
Sophomore guard Jovan Blacksher
Freshman guard Chance McMillian
Freshman guard Jayden Stone
Unless they would be approved by the NCAA for an extra year of elgibility, the Lopes will also lose both of their patented big men, with Asbjorn Midtgaard and Alessandro Lever finishing up their senior year. Starters Mikey Dixon and Oscar Frayer would also appear to have played in their last game in purple and white.
GCU will welcome 2021 three-star guard Jalen Blackmon from Marion, IN. The Lopes will look to lock and reload next season, as four players out of their starting five will not be on the team next year.
It won’t be easy, but Bryce Drew and GCU have their mind set on another appearance in the Big Dance. In a season with so much adversity, the Lopes managed to do something special.
“For GCU and their first time in the NCAA tournament,” Drew said, “hopefully this will give a taste in our players mouths again that they’re going to want to be successful and come back and work even harder.”