Typically, a three-time national champion wouldn’t be the ideal matchup for a team looking to prevent a fifth, unless those were NAIA titles and the team was in just its second ?Division I season.
After a blowout loss to No. 4 Louisville on Tuesday, IU (7-2) will become Grand Canyon’s first-ever Big Ten opponent ?Saturday evening.
Grand Canyon is in its second season as a Division I program. Last season, its first at the major college level, brought mixed results.
The Antelopes finished 15-15 and lost in the first round of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
Not even the coaching of three-time NBA All-Star Dan Majerle could get the Antelopes above .500 in their first Division I season. This season, Majerle’s squad is 4-5 and coming off a 16-point home loss to ?Idaho State.
Grand Canyon’s four wins have come against three teams currently ranked No. 307 or lower by kenpom.com and one NAIA opponent. IU sits at ?No. 56 in the rankings as of Wednesday.
Despite the obvious mismatch on paper, IU Coach Tom Crean won’t let his team coast through Saturday. The same team that has beaten SMU and Pittsburgh will take the court against Grand Canyon, he said.
“What they’ve got to learn now is that there’s SMU, there’s Pittsburgh, then there’s some teams that maybe aren’t household names to them,” Crean said. “You’ve got to come that way every game.”
Crean stressed the importance of a young team — IU’s roster features no seniors — learning not to play down to its opposition.
“That’s the concern always with any team, but especially a team that hasn’t been through it, with a team that has so many guys that are doing this for the first time,” he said.
Though it’s still early in the season, the Antelopes project as a below-average offensive team. They average just 64 points per game and have turned it over on more than 22 percent of their possessions.
Grand Canyon’s effective field goal percentage, which takes into consideration the added difficulty of 3-pointers, sits at 46.6 percent. By comparison, IU’s mark is 59.8, good for No. 5 nationally.
Grand Canyon lacks the type of inside presence that has given IU trouble this season, a welcome relief after a seven-day stretch that included bruisers like Pittsburgh’s sophomore forward Michael Young and Louisville’s junior forward Montrezl Harrell.
Junior Daniel Alexander is the only Antelope standing 6-foot-9 or taller to receive significant minutes this season. He’ll go up against the combination of IU forwards Hanner Mosquera-Perea and ?Emmitt Holt.
Freshman Holt has emerged in recent weeks as a viable alternative to streaky junior ?Mosquera-Perea inside.
Against Louisville, both big men were overpowered by Harrell, a preseason All-American. That shouldn’t be an issue against Grand Canyon.
On paper, IU has a clear advantage going into Saturday. The Hoosiers were in the same situation two weeks ago against Eastern Washington but still came away with a loss.
Crean said he’ll do all he can to keep his team focused and prepared for even the smallest of opponents. It’s the only way to improve, he said.
“The only way you get there is to come out every game and attack it the same way,” Crean said. “That’s what we have to do. So that’s up to the coaches. That’s up to the leadership of the group.”