It’s safe to say that the 2019-20 season has been a disappointment for Grand Canyon thus far. The Lopes are 4-7, have three home losses, a loss to an NCAA Division II school, and no consistency.
Add in a semi-home loss at the Talking Stick Resort Arena to Liberty, and four of the seven losses have come in Phoenix. Yes, three of the losses are to teams ranked in the KenPom Top-100. San Diego State (32), Illinois (37) and Liberty (71) are all decent losses.
However, the consistency hasn’t been there and it’s showed at times. Perhaps the Lopes are really missing senior forward Oscar Frayer. Or perhaps Dan Majerle and his staff were banking too much on having TCU transfer Jaylen Fisher available immediately.
Regardless of whatever it may that has GCU off to one of its worst starts since joining the WAC, things have to change. Unfortunately, that task won’t be easy on Wednesday night when the Lopes host Northern Iowa of the Missouri Valley Conference.
The Panthers are 9-1 and coming off a road win at Colorado last Tuesday. It is the second win over a Power 6 team for the Panthers, who beat South Carolina on Nov. 27.
Northern Iowa also has a win over a fellow WAC team in CSU Bakersfield. The Panthers beat the Roadrunners 67-55 on Nov. 13. AJ Green leads Northern Iowa in scoring at 15 points per game while Trae Berhow also averages double figures with 14.5 points per game. Berhow ranks sixth in the nation for 3-point shooting percentage at 55.2%
“They’ve got guys a lot of guys back and guys who can really shoot it and they’re good defensively,” GCU head coach Dan Majerle said. “Green is really good.”
The bench is kind of slim for head coach Ben Jacobson who is in his 14th year at Northern Iowa. Only six players average 20-plus minutes on the floor and only six players have played in all 10 games for the Panthers.
Grand Canyon will rely heavily on junior Alessandro Lever who reached the 1,000-point plateau on Sunday in the Lopes’ loss to Liberty. The Lopes are 0-11 when Lever fouls out but 46-22 when he is able to finish a game. Look at it this way, Grand Canyon outscored Liberty 40-33 when Lever was in the game. But when he fouled out, Liberty took over.
“He’s been good, but guys are going to keep attacking him and he’s got to do a better job of not picking up fouls,” Majerle said. “He’s got to be a little more resistant and go straight up with his hands up when guys go up. He has to stay out of foul trouble because we haven’t been as good without him. A lot of our stuff goes through him in the post. We’re not shooting the ball very well, so it’s hard to score when he’s off the floor.”
Lever is averaging 14.7 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor.
“I put myself in foul trouble again and I should stop doing that,” Lever said. “I am working on it in practice to put myself in better situations. I’ve got to learn from my mistakes and be more responsible on defense. I need to take contact with my chest instead of putting my arms out and, when I jump, jump with two arms out instead of keeping one arm down.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. MT and can be streamed on ESPN 3.