Grand Canyon is struggling. There are no ways to soften that information. At 5-11 overall and 0-2 in WAC play, things have gone from bad to worse in Phoenix. On Saturday night, the Lopes lost their fifth home game of the season. For what some have dubbed “the best atmosphere in college basketball”, that is not a good sign. On the season GCU is 4-5 at home. And, if we are being honest, technically it is 4-6 as GCU played Liberty at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Dec. 8.
So, for the team picked to finish second in preseason WAC polls, it begs the question: is head coach Dan Majerle on the hot seat?
A home loss to Division II Davenport to begin the season and back-to-back losses to open WAC play say a lot. And Majerle’s comments following Grand Canyon’s loss to California Baptist Saturday night in Phoenix might add fire to the question, as well.
“You have a crowd like this, we’re 5-10 and 0 in the WAC, and we show up with that kind of effort to start,” Majerle said. “It starts with me. I’ve done a terrible job with this team. I’m the leader of this team. it’s on me. This is my fault. This whole year has been my fault. We have to keep fighting.”
For a school that spent $4.3 million on the basketball program in 2017, winning is of the utmost importance. Yes, GCU has won 128 games since joining the WAC in 2013-14. But, the Lopes haven’t won a WAC regular season. And in the two seasons GCU has been eligible for the WAC Tournament, the Lopes have made it to the Championship game. However, New Mexico State dominated the Lopes in both appearances.
On May 27, 2015, Majerle, along with GCU baseball coach Andy Stankiewicz, signed a 4-year extension that runs through 2020. On that day, then-GCU Athletic Director Mike Vaught said of the extension, that it was important to lock both of those coaches up not only because of what their name recognition brings to the school but because of how they’ve proven themselves since GCU began the move to Division I two years ago.
Coming into 2019-20, GCU had what some considered the best team under Dan Majerle. With transfers Isiah Brown and Mikey Dixon eligible and the hype surrounding TCU transfer Jaylen Fisher, that thought seemed clear. Carlos Johnson, Alessandro Lever and Oscar Frayer were all set to return. And, according to Majerle at WAC Media Day, Lever was in the best shape of his life and set to have a big season.
But, as it has been shown, games aren’t played on paper. Both Fisher and Frayer are done for the season due to academic issues. And team chemistry has been an issue all season long. And it doesn’t matter how many team meetings the players have. According to Majerle, following the CBU loss, the players held a meeting for the 16th time this season.
“If you have 16 team meetings in half a year, it means you’re a bad team,” Majerle said. “The meetings are over, fellas … they have nobody to look at but themselves … It’s on me. It’s on me. But they have to look in the mirror. Those guys have to look in the mirror. They have to figure it out. I’m doing a piss-poor job with this team. I’m doing a bad job, period. It’s on me.”
Grand Canyon began the 2019-20 season with a KenPom ranking of 131, second best in the WAC. However, the Lopes have dropped over 100 spots to 239. Compare that with the Lopes finishing 2018-19 with a KenPom ranking of 111. Things have really gone downhill in a hurry for the Lopes in 2019-20.
Grand Canyon gets potentially somewhat of a respite as the Lopes travel to Chicago State on Thursday. But then, Saturday, the Lopes encounter Kansas City who is one of the much-improved teams in the WAC this season.
If the Lopes continue to struggle, that seat Dan Majerle is sitting on might continue to get hotter. Perhaps a major turnaround will cool it down. But, for now, with the resources Grand Canyon puts into its men’s basketball program, it’s safe to say that seat is undeniably warm.