Thanksgiving starts early in the Southwest for four teams as the Arizona Tip-Off gets underway.
- DePaul (1-2)
- Grand Canyon (2-0)
- San Francisco (2-1)
- South Carolina (3-0)
First round (Friday, Nov. 17)
- Grand Canyon vs. San Francisco – 9 p.m. (CBSSN)
- DePaul vs. South Carolina – 11:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Third Place (Sunday, Nov. 19)
- 4:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Championship (Sunday, Nov. 19)
- 7 p.m. (CBSSN)
The Antelopes of Grand Canyon, in Phoenix, are the only team within 750 miles of Glendale. They’re also the heavy WAC favorites and the 2nd-highest rated team in the field in terms of KenPom ratings. The ‘Lopes are led by guards Rayshon Harrison and former Kansas Jayhawk Tyon Grant-Foster, but the supporting cast, consisting of Sydney Curry, Gabe McGlothan, Collin Moore, Isaiah Shaw, and Duke Brennan, to name a few, is the best depth in the WAC.
The team has been impressive in two low-major victories so far, with 20+ point wins over Southeast Missouri State and Northern Arizona. The Antelopes have cleaned the glass well, ranking 39th in the country in total rebounds per game through two games played. However, one area of potential weakness is guarding the perimeter. Despite two lopsided wins, the Antelopes are allowing their opponents to shoot 41.0% from deep. This could be a potential Achilles heel in Glendale this week.
The Dons (contender for best nickname in DI are entering their 2nd year under Chris Gerlufsen, and they’re 2-1 to start the season with wins over non-DI Bethesda and low-major St. Francis (PA) and a close loss on the road to Boise State. The trio of forward Jonathan Mogbo from Missouri State, lengthy guard Mike Sharavjamts from Dayton, and returnee point guard Marcus Williams are all averaging double-figures through three games, while Isaiah Hawthorne, Malik Thomas, and Stefan Todorovic are right behind, all averaging between 9.3 PPG and 9.7 PPG.
The Dons, through 3 games, have been close to automatic from inside the arc, ranking 4th in D-1 with a 70.1 2PT%. The quartet of Mogbo, Hawthorne, Todorovic, and Justin Bieker have combined to shoot 32-of-34 from two-point range for a 94.1 2P% between the four players so far. San Francisco only shoots 36.0 twos per game so far, however, ranking 217th in that category compared to their 96th ranking nationally in 3PA per game. It may serve the Dons best to scoot inside the arc and play to their strengths this week.
DePaul has not quite had success as a program in a while, and they hold the longest Power 6 tournament drought, having not made the tournament since 2004. This year, they haven’t looked particularly impressive, and they’re ranked 73 spots below the next-highest rated team in the field, San Francisco, in the latest KenPom rankings. However, they have played 3 mid-majors picked in the upper half of their respective conferences, so the Blue Demons’ 1-2 record, with losses to PFW and Long Beach State and a win over South Dakota, is a bit misleading. They’ve played the 5th-hardest schedule in the Big East so far, according to KenPom.
They’re led by Jeremiah Oden and almost a handful more of double-digits scorers. Chico Carter Jr., Elijah Foster, Caleb Murphy, and K.T. Raimey are all averaging between 12.7 PPG and 10.7 PPG. Raimey has been especially efficient off the bench, leading the team in box plus/minus and points per 40 minutes. The Blue Demons are only averaging 4.0 SPG so far, so they’ll have to improve in that aspect.
South Carolina is off to their first 3-0 start since 2019, but winning the Arizona Tip-Off would have the Gamecocks en route to their best start since the 2016-2017 Final Four team. Despite a 12th-place finish in the SEC last season and the loss of star freshman GG Jackson to the NBA, the Gamecocks improved over the offseason as Lamont Paris reloaded in the transfer portal with veteran additions. Ta’Lon Cooper, B.J. Mack, and Myles Stute have thrived at their new school, all averaging 11+ PPG for the Gamecocks. Returnees Meechie Johnson and Jacobi Wright are also averaging 10+ PPG to give the Gamecocks 5 double-digit scorers so far. Yes, it’s a small sample size with 2 of 3 games against low-major competition, but South Carolina only had 4 players even with an average of 8 PPG last year. The offense has taken major strides, especially shooting-wise.
The Gamecocks are shooting 43.9% from deep so far, a huge improvement from last year’s mark of 32.3%, which ranked 281st last year nationally and near the middle of the SEC. The additions of Stute and Cooper are part of the force driving that number up, while Jacobi Wright currently leads the team in 3PT% in a small sample size, shooting 4-of-5 from deep this year. Ta’Lon Cooper has been ultra-efficient so far as a distributor, posting a 17:1 assist to turnover ratio. He’s key to the Gamecocks’ shooting efficiencies, and almost 50% of his assists have been on three-pointers.
Arizona Tip-Off Predictions
First round: Grand Canyon vs. San Francisco
West coast mid-major matchups are always fun. They’re especially fun with two competitive teams in an MTE. It’ll in all likelihood be a close game, with some great individual matchups. The depth and offense of Grand Canyon will be the deciding factor in this game. Rayshon Harrison and Tyon Grant-Foster are great on their own, but it’ll be a huge task for San Francisco to contain both.
The Dons are shooting 37.7 from deep, a fine number the Antelopes might have trouble with defending on court. After all, Grand Canyon is giving up the 19th-highest percentage from the perimeter, (41.0%) and someone’s going to make them pay eventually. But Friday, the ‘Lopes have the advantage, and they steal the ball at a high clip, while San Francisco is averaging 14.0 turnovers per game through three games. Grand Canyon wins, but it’ll be close.
Grand Canyon wins
First round: DePaul vs. South Carolina
DePaul’s 2023-24 starting lineup averaged almost as many minutes for South Carolina last year as South Carolina’s 2023-24 starters did. That’s what happens when South Carolina’s lead point guard transfers to the Blue Demons and the Gamecocks bring in 4 new starters. The two programs, however, are trending in opposite directions. DePaul hasn’t secured a winning season yet under Tony Stubblefield, and hasn’t as a program since the 2018-19 season, while Lamont Paris seems to be building the South Carolina program up from the ashes after a tough end to the Frank Martin era.
This year, South Carolina seems much-improved, especially on offense and shooting the ball. Can DePaul defend a roster that has four of five starters capable of shooting from deep at a high clip? Through three games, the Blue Demons are not defending the perimeter at a high rate, ranking 263rd nationally while allowing opponents to make 34.7% of their shots from deep. When combined with South Carolina’s prowess from three-point range, (43.9%) this game has the potential to get out of hand quickly. Even when not playing their best games (Virginia Tech and VMI), South Carolina has shown the ability to grind out wins, something DePaul has yet to do. The Gamecocks should win this game.
South Carolina wins
Third place: San Francisco vs. DePaul
San Francisco is the more talented team in this hypothetical matchup, and it should show on the court. Getting motivated for a consolation game two days after the first game was played can be tough sometimes, (I wouldn’t know, personally) but San Francisco can build some momentum going into their games against IPFW and Minnesota, both of which they can win.
The trio of Mogbo, Marcus Williams, and Mike Sharavjamts is too much for DePaul to handle, and while the Blue Demons should have an easier time with San Francisco than the Gamecocks, it’ll still be an uphill battle, especially in the inside. San Francisco will walk (probably drive) home with a third-place finish in Glendale.
San Francisco wins
Championship: Grand Canyon vs. South Carolina
This is a matchup between two teams that are a lot closer in terms of skill level than some may realize. That’s not a slight against South Carolina at all, but rather an indication of the amount of talent that Bryce Drew has brought in to Grand Canyon. The potential defensive matchup of Grant-Foster vs. Zachary Davis (if Davis is healthy) will be fun to watch between the two lengthy (6-7 and 6-8) guards.
If Grand Canyon has a fanbase, they’ll have a home-court advantage, given they’re a 12-minute drive from Glendale. But this Gamecock team can exploit the GCU Achilles heel, that being perimeter defense. If Myles Stute and Meechie Johnson are both hitting their shots, there’s a small list of teams in America that can stop the ‘Cocks. Grand Canyon is not one of them. If the shots aren’t falling for the Gamecocks, they can turn to B.J. Mack down low. Guarding Harrison and Grant-Foster will be difficult, but the Gamecocks have the size in the backcourt to do so properly. South Carolina will lift the trophy (is there a trophy?) in Glendale this weekend.
South Carolina wins