In order to get ready for St. John’s matchup late tonight against the Grand Canyon Antelopes, we talked with Paul Coro of GCULopes.com.
This week, the St. John’s Red Storm (7-1) will be out on the west coast for a pair of games as their non-conference schedule starts to dwindle down. Their first opponent will be the Grand Canyon Antelopes (5-1) in the BBVAA Compass Valley of the Sun Shootout. You can watch the game at 11:30 p.m ET on ESPN, so make sure you have your coffee ready.
Of course, St. John’s is dealing with injuries of their own as guard Marcus LoVett has a sprained left knee and is not expected to play in tonight’s game. LoVett also missed Saturday’s 90-55 win over Sacred Heart:
Marcus LoVett (knee) is getting treatment, and I was told there is a decent chance he could meet team out west to play Friday against No. 20 Arizona State. #sjubb.
— Zach Braziller (@NYPost_Brazille) December 4, 2017
Despite LoVett being out, St. John’s had a second-half scoring surge (54-21) against the Pioneers to get the win. Shamorie Ponds led the team with 22 points and all five starters scored in double figures. Tariq Owens got a chance to start and he had 12 points to go with a season-high 11 rebounds in 20 minutes.
Coming out of the WAC (Western Athletic Conference), Grand Canyon is only in its fifth season as a Division I program—and 2017-18 is the first season that they are eligible for the NCAA Tournament. Their defense has been excellent as they have yet to allow more than 62 points in any game this year.
On Saturday against UC Riverside, the Antelopes took 36 three-point attempts and only made four of them. Despite those struggles from downtown, they still make 7.3 three-pointers per game, which is the fourth most in the WAC.
To get more info on the Red Storm’s next opponent, I reached out to Paul Coro from GCULopes.com to get his thoughts on the team. You can find our Q+A below:
Ricky: What has been your biggest takeaway from the Antelopes so far this season?
Paul: The first four games showed how the Lopes’ identity could be on the defensive end. That slipped in a loss to San Diego and resumed in the next win. The team’s depth contributes to that in two ways. Because Dan Majerle regularly has used 11 players in the rotation, the Lopes tend to put out great effort because their time might be shorter and because there is internal competition for minutes. Some of the team’s best defensive lineups is heavy on reserves because of players like sixth man Gerard Martin, who started last season and was an All-WAC Defensive Team selection.
R: What is the anticipation around the team and on campus for St. John’s coming out west to face Grand Canyon?
P: There is great excitement about this game because of the reputation of St. John’s basketball, the desire to schedule quality opponents, the opportunity to play on national television and the location at the Phoenix Suns’ arena. The GCU student body has earned national acclaim for its student section, the Havocs, and they are expected to be seen and heard in full force for the game against St. John’s. In the program’s first season of Division I postseason eligibility, games like this and later ones against Louisville and Illinois are great barometers for where the program stands on the national scene.
R: How would you describe Dan Majerle as a head coach?
P: Dan Majerle coaches a lot like he plays. He has a great offensive mind with a defense-first mentality. He was known as a tough player who hustled so much that the Suns named an annual team award, the “Majerle Hustle Award.” He brings that same work ethic to the program. His passion is evident with how he coaches in practices and games but also for how much he invests in his players. He is a great ambassador for the university because of how much he believes in what GCU is doing but also because he is such a polished communicator and popular city icon.
R: Joshua Braun is averaging about 16 points per game and is 15-for-37 from beyond the arc. What stands out to you the most about his game?
P: Joshua Braun already was an outstanding player but he dropped 15 pounds in the offseason to help his quickness. He is a stellar perimeter shooter, especially because he gets so much rise in his jump shot that it makes it difficult for defenders to challenge his shots. He also has an above-average post-up game for a guard. He really is “Mr. GCU” because he even won a campus competition for that title once. He is known as one of the nicest students on campus and that personality and his drive earn a lot of respect from teammates.
R: What is the key to an Antelopes win on Tuesday night?
P: The Lopes are having success early this season but they are still finding their way because their style is different this season with senior Casey Benson at point guard. Benson, a graduate transfer from Oregon, sets the table for the team and is a good shooter but he and his teammates and coaches are still adapting to each other offensively. GCU also is working two freshmen, 6-foot-10 starter Roberts Blumbergs and 6-foot-10 reserve Alessandro Lever, into significant roles. The Lopes will need to have better ball care too, especially against a strong defensive team that has thrived with steals.
R: After six games, what concerns you the most about this team?
P: GCU often is playing the role of heavy favorite after being the media’s and coaches’ preseason pick to win the WAC. The home-court environment has become well-known. Between the two, the Lopes will get many teams’ motivated best shots so the Lopes have to be consistently on their game. Blumbergs and Lever are still adjusting to the intensity and physical play of Division I basketball but the experiences of November and December should pay off for conference and postseason play.
R: How would you assess Grand Canyon’s chances in the WAC? Is this the year they make their first NCAA Tournament appearance
P: It is a lot to expect that a program will make the dance in its first year of Division I NCAA Tournament eligibility. The Lopes have been designed for this moment, though. Braun is considered the best player in the conference. GCU added size that it lacked last season and replaced what could have been a hole at point guard with Benson, who led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio two seasons ago and helped Oregon to the Final Four last season. The WAC is annually improving so it will not be an easy path against New Mexico State, Cal State Bakersfield, Utah Valley and others but the Lopes have an experienced, talented backcourt to lead a team with defense and depth to a conference championship.