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NCAA First Round Preview : Zags vs. Grand Canyon

No. 3 takes on No. 14 in the First Round

Grand Canyon Antelopes v Southern Utah Thunderbirds Photo by Louis Grasse/Getty Images

The NCAA Tournament fully begins today with a packed slate of 16 games, but we’ll have to wait a little longer to see Gonzaga in action. The Bulldogs will open their quest for a third Final Four tomorrow when they take on Grand Canyon in Denver.

The No. 3 seed Zags will be playing a tournament game in Denver for the first time since 2016, when they defeated Seton Hall and Utah en route to a Sweet 16 berth. They are 3-1 all-time in March in the Mile High City, so let’s hope for some more good juju this weekend.

Meet the opponent

Grand Canyon Antelopes (24-11, 11-7 WAC; NET #104, KenPom #108)

GCU enters the Big Dance fresh off a dominant 84-66 win over Southern Utah in the WAC title game. Bryce Drew’s squad is in the midst of a six game winning streak that also saw them take down WAC regular season champs Sam Houston State in the semifinals.

The ‘Lopes have upset potential thanks in part to their three-point shooting. They led the WAC with nine makes from deep per game and feature four players shooting better than 40% on the season. They are led by sophomore guard Ray Harrison, the WAC tournament’s most outstanding player. Harrison scored 31 points, going 5-7 from three, in the final against Southern Utah, and finished third in the WAC with 17.7 points per game.

What to watch for

Keep up the momentum: The Zags have been rolling lately, particularly on the offensive end. The steamrolling of Saint Mary’s in the WCC title game was Exhibit A, showcasing how fluid and efficient this team can be on the scoring side of the ball. While GCU isn’t Saint Mary’s, they rank similarly to to LMU in KenPom and the NET rankings, which carries its own significance.

Defend the three: The ‘Lopes are potent from deep and have multiple players that can drill shots. They don’t (and can’t) rely heavily on their size to create looks, so eliminating their strength on that end could make for smoother sailing for the Zags.

Size advantage: Yvan Oudraogo is GCU’s only player 6-7 or taller who averages at least 15 minutes per game. That lack of size is something Gonzaga, and particularly Drew Timme, can take advantage of. Timme can take on most post defenders one-on-one, so the lack of a second paint presence could spell problems for the Lopes, especially if Oudraogo finds foul trouble.