The Grand Canyon State

With the 2023-24 college basketball season already one-third complete, non-conference schedules are drawing to a close and conference battles loom on the horizon. This week, we’re venturing to the Grand Canyon State to spotlight two rising contenders: the Pac-12’s Arizona Wildcats and the WAC’s Grand Canyon Antelopes. Both have established themselves as favorites in their respective conferences with dominant game play and promising numbers. 

Arizona Wildcats

The Arizona Wildcats are a force to be reckoned with, occupying top five spots in every major ranking: AP Poll, Coaches Poll, NET, and KenPom. Despite their lone loss to the Purdue Boilermakers, their 8-1 record reflects their impressive performance. The journey ahead presents opportunities to continue to bolster their non-conference tournament resume, with Alabama Crimson Tide and Florida Atlantic Owls looming before Pac-12 play commences.

Arizona’s dominance is not simply subjective; it’s statistically demonstrable. They average a nation-leading 92.9 points per game on 75.2 possessions, scoring quickly and efficiently. A staggering 66% of their shots and 68% of their scoring occur within the first 15 seconds of the shot clock.

Defense fuels this aggressive offense. The Wildcats’ pressure generates 21.2 points per game off turnovers (top 1% in the NCAA), with 64.5% of those shots coming in the paint. They capitalize on this paint dominance, scoring 42.6% of their points at the rim and attempting over 45% of their shots within the charge circle. Their 46.2 points in the paint per game rank second in the nation, a staggering gap compared to the NCAA average of 33.1.

Arizona’s rebounding and assist numbers further paint a picture of a well-rounded team. They rank ninth in rebounds (43.9 per game) and lead the nation in assists (21.9 per game). Their starting lineup, featuring Love, Larsson, Boswell, Ballo, and Johnson, exemplifies their collective strength. As a unit, they shoot 55.6% from the field, 41.5% from three, and generate 31 more free throws than their opponents combined in 115 minutes together. This dominance translates to an impressive 1.3 points per possession and a 35-point advantage over opponents per 100 possessions.

Arizona’s numbers speak volumes. Their offensive firepower, defensive tenacity, and team cohesion paint a picture of a team poised to conquer the Pac-12 and contend for a national championship. 

Grand Canyon Antelopes

The Grand Canyon Antelopes are off and running this season, sporting a stellar 10-1 record and already boasting two conference wins. Their lone blip came against a formidable South Carolina team in the Arizona Tip-Off championship. This Antelopes squad has already etched their name in GCU history by toppling the #25 San Diego State Aztecs before a standing-room-only home crowd, marking the program’s first-ever Top 25 victory. This electrifying start has the Lopes receiving Top 25 votes as they round out the non-conference season with their sights set on further achievements.

Grand Canyon’s offense has been fueled this season by getting to the foul line and dominating the boards. They rank #2 nationally in offensive free throw rate, a staggering 50.8% compared to the national average of 33%. Their average of 28.6 free throw attempts per game rises to 36.5 per in conference play. Remarkably, they’ve made more free throws (208) than their opponents have attempted (194) this season, connecting at a rate of 72.7%.

Dominating the boards is another Antelope trademark this season. They average 40.3 rebounds per game, with 13 coming off their own missed shots. This translates to a top-15 offensive rebound rate (38.6%) and an average of 13 second-chance points per game.

Defensively, the Lopes are locking down opponents, holding them to a mere 40.6% from the field and a dismal 51.1% at the rim (top 2% in the NCAA). This defensive tenacity is reflected in their points per possession allowed: teams struggle to crack a 1.0 PPP in any shot clock segment, exemplified by an extremely low 0.62 PPP after deadball situations.

Grand Canyon’s second-half lineup, featuring Ray Harrison, Tyon Grant-Foster, Collin Moore, Duke Brennan, and Gabe McGlothan, has been a spark plug down the stretch of games. This group logs 37% of second-half minutes, boasting a stellar 1.381 PPP and outscoring their counterparts by 38 points in that span. Their offensive efficiency shines through with 51.1% shooting from the field and 40.5% from beyond the arc.

With two non-conference matchups remaining against Sam Houston State and Louisiana Tech, the Antelopes are poised to finish the calendar year with a flourish.

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