The Bryce Drew era of Grand Canyon University men’s basketball begins with a 2020-21 schedule that potentially features six nonconference opponents who won 19 or more games and a GCU Arena return visit from San Diego State. The Lopes are scheduled to play 17 home games and begin WAC competition Jan. 2 after potentially facing seven nonconference programs that have made one or more NCAA tournament appearances in the past decade, according to a press release.
“I really like how the nonconference prepares us for the conference season,” Mr. Drew said in a prepared statement. “We have a variety of styles of play that we’ll face in nonconference that should prepare us for the league.” The Lopes are scheduled to open the regular season at GCU Arena on Nov. 10 against Embry-Riddle, an in-state NAIA program from Prescott. The GCU home slate commences with a Nov. 13 visit from San Diego State.
San Diego State returns eight players from last season’s 30-2 team that ended the season ranked No. 6 in the AP poll and No. 4 in the NCAA computerized rankings. The Aztecs have won the Mountain West Conference regular-season and/or tournament championship in eight of the past 11 seasons. The programs will meet for the fourth time in six seasons with GCU holding a 2-1 edge, including a 76-72 victory at GCU Arena in 2016-17.
A previously announced Dec. 13 visit from ASU was canceled because of the recent Pac-12 decision to delay all sports competition until 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.“We have some really great home games from a fan perspective,” Mr. Drew said. “Those are really great opportunities for our home fans and our team. “There will be great challenges. We have returners who have some experience. Hopefully, they’ll set a great tone for our younger guys as we get closer to that tough nonconference competition.”
The Lopes will test themselves outside Phoenix with games at Nevada and San Diego as well as a Thanksgiving holiday tournament in Las Vegas. GCU plays Nov. 23 at San Diego before the Nov. 26-27 tournament at Orleans Arena, where it will return in March for the WAC Tournament. The Lopes face Santa Clara, coming off a 20-13 season, with DePaul and New Mexico also playing to set up a second card that matches up the winners and losers of the first two games. DePaul opened last season at 10-0 with a win against Texas Tech while New Mexico was 13-2 entering the new year.
“I’m very excited for that,” Mr. Drew said. “There are really good teams in there so we’ll get two quality games. With any tournament that you go into, the goal is to win. It’ll be great to get in the same building that our conference tournament is at to play in a tournament on the same floor.” GCU returns to Nevada on Dec. 11, where the Lopes will face Wolf Pack head coach Steve Alford’s team that went 19-12 last season after three consecutive Mountain West Conference championships.
“We definitely want to play a challenging schedule,” Mr. Drew said of facing Division I opponents who won more than 53% of their games last season. “We want to give our players a chance to play against some of the best players in the country and we want to be able to have a position in the future to possibly get an at-large NCAA tournament bid.” GCU will play at Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix again for the Jerry Colangelo Classic on Dec. 19.
The Lopes will play San Francisco after Phoenix native and head coach Todd Golden led last season’s Dons to a 22-12 record, which matched the program’s most wins in a season since 1985. A visit from Denver closes out GCU’s nonconference slate under the direction of fifth-year head coach Rodney Billups, the younger brother of former NBA star Chauncey Billups. Another NBA alumni, former Phoenix Suns interim head coach Lindsey Hunter, will be at GCU Arena on Dec. 1 with his Mississippi Valley State squad. Tarleton State and Dixie State enter the conference this season and change the WAC schedule.
Travel partner pairings include Dixie State/Utah Valley, UT Rio Grande Valley/Tarleton State, Seattle U/California Baptist and GCU/New Mexico State with Chicago State being a standalone for the conference. That means the Lopes games with the Aggies, the three-time defending regular-season WAC champions, will be the only contests of the week for each site — at GCU Arena on Jan. 16 and at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico on Feb. 13. “I’m excited to get rivalry games on our home court, where I know our fans will be out and cheering loud,” Mr. Drew said. “Even from a crowd perspective, they can focus on one game for the week.”