No. 25 SDSU heads to hostile environment against Grand Canyon

Lamont Butler absorbs contact against UCSD on his way to the rim. (Deanna Goldberg/EVT)

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Micah Parrish drives to the basket against UCSD. (Credit: Deanna Goldberg/EVT)

After a close win against UCSD, the Aztecs returned to the AP Poll at No. 25. They travel to Phoenix next to take on the 6-1 Grand Canyon Antelopes. 

Grand Canyon is coming off of a close win of their own, where they pulled off a minor comeback against UT Arlington. The Antelopes were down five points with five minutes to go but went on a 12-0 run led by their defense and offensive rebounding. 

General observations

Grand Canyon is an offensively focused team that plays fast and excels at getting offensive rebounds and drawing fouls. They are reminiscent of some Steve Fisher teams in the sense that they are very long and athletic players, and they use those traits to their advantage. Their Strength of Schedule is poor, and they’ve lost their only game against a KenPom top-60 opponent (South Carolina.) KenPom ranks Grand Canyon as the 16th tallest team in the nation, and their players will often play despite foul trouble. 

Guarding Grand Canyon

Step one in guarding the Antelopes is transition defense. They like to run if they’re given the chance, so stopping the runouts will be crucial. The first step is the most important in transition defense, so recognizing and sprinting back right away will be key. 

The second step is to close out defensive possessions. The Antelopes are elite at getting second chances for themselves, and the Aztecs have struggled at times to rebound the basketball. If the Aztecs continue to struggle, it will be very hard to come out on top. 

Tyson Grant-Foster leads the team in scoring and excels at blowing by his defenders with a quick first step. The Aztecs struggled with dribble penetration for stretches against UCSD, so the matchup against Grant-Foster could be a problem. Micah Parrish will likely start with the assignment. The Aztecs usually help from one pass away to deny dribble penetration. They can do that without much fear of getting burned against Grant-Foster as he gets tunnel vision during his drives and is a poor passer. 

A weakness the Aztecs can exploit is turnovers. The Antelopes, in general, can be turnover-prone when they drive the lane. Collapsing the lane and forcing a few extra turnovers may be vital. 

Attacking Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon will change its screen coverages multiple times throughout a game. They tend to use drop coverage, and ice coverage, as well as switching the ball screens. Each coverage has multiple ways to beat it, but the Aztecs must recognize it in real-time. 

One important aspect will be to recognize when the Antelopes switch the screens. GCU has shown that they will switch screens to prevent a drive out of the Chicago action the Aztecs love to run.

If that happens, one option will be to take the open shot, as happened in the video. A better option would be for the Aztecs to get a smaller player guarding LeDee, get the ball to him down low, and let him attack quickly. 

The Antelopes tend to give up open threes when they ice ball screens, so the Aztecs should pop their bigs in that scenario, especially Saunders, and let them shoot or create with an open lane in front of them. 

Grand Canyon often sends help from one pass away, similar to the Aztecs. If Aztec ball handlers can recognize the help they can make easy passes to the perimeter for open shots or to attack closeouts. 

The Antelopes haven’t doubled the post much this season, but they should be expected to do so against LeDee. LeDee will need to make the right decision on whether to attack the double team or kick out to a shooter like Parrish or Waters. 

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Plays to watch for

Double stagger

The Antelopes will run a shooter off a stagger screen on the weak side. If nothing comes of it, it flows into an on-ball stagger screen. In the stagger, one screener rolls to the hoop, and one pops behind the arc. North Dakota State tried to switch the screen in this example but got lost and gave up a 3. 

Gortat screen

A personal favorite. In a Gortat screen, the screener screens their own defender. This removes the help defender on the drive. It only works if the ball handler is quick enough to get by their defender on their own. The Antelopes have a player who can do that in Grant-Foster. 

Players to watch

Tyson Grant-Foster, #7, 22.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.7 assists

Grant-Foster is one of the leading scorers in the country. If the Antelopes need a bucket, the ball will be in his hands. He is a three-level scorer who also Eccles at drawing contact and getting to the free throw line. Even when the defender does everything right, Grant-Foster has the ability to make tough shots with defenders draped all over him. Expect Micah Parrish to start with this assignment, and he’ll have his hands full.

Rayshon Harrison, #0, 14.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists

Harrison plays the role of scoring point guard. He is the second-leading scorer on the team and also is a good passer. He seems to always have his eyes on the weak side, looking for open shooters. Harrison can sometimes struggle with his scoring efficiency, as evidenced by his 41.2 eFG%. He is also great at drawing contact, which may be a problem as Lamont Butler will likely draw this assignment to start. Butler plays a very physical and aggressive defensive style, and if the refs have a tight whistle Butler may spend most of his time on the bench. 

Gabe McGlothan, #30, 9.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists

McGlothan is the Antelopes leading rebounder, and he’s especially great on the offensive glass. He is strong enough to bang inside and draw contact, but he can also hit the outside shot if left open. He’s an energy guy who’s skill set and effort allow the stars of the team to shine. 

X-Factor- Energy

Energy is so hard to quantify with numbers and stats, but it’s going to be the most important aspect of this game. Grand Canyon isn’t the most skilled or talented team, but they play hard every game. That energy will be ramped up to 11 when playing last year’s national runner-up on their home floor. In front of a hostile crowd, the Aztecs will need to find a way to match that energy. 

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