Getting you dialed in for the MCLA’s year end event, which begins today in California.
Team: Grand Canyon
Seed: 1, automatic qualifier
Projected Seed: 1
1st Round Opponent: Purdue
Record Against Tournament Teams: 6-1, lost to BYU, defeated Michigan State, Colorado, San Diego State (twice), Arizona State (twice)
Odds of Winning: 4 to 1
Player to Watch: Sophomore Austin Ekeroth has been dialed in the later half of the season, which is great news for Grand Canyon and terrible news for the tournament field. GCU’s three Canadians command a lot of focus so for Ekeroth to be chipping in and on a consistent basis heading into the tournament is huge. Ekeroth had an early hat trick against Arizona State in the SLC championship game. He’s tallied at least one goal in his last ten games. A viable fourth option may be just what GCU needs to claim a title.
If you haven’t seen Grand Canyon play yet, try to watch their game against Purdue tonight. Lots of box lacrosse influence thanks to having three Canadian attackmen. Flip on a few minutes of the San Diego State game below and you’ll likely see a backhand goal by Dean Fairall, one of two 40+ goal scorers on the roster.
Can Grand Canyon defend well enough to win a national championship just a few years removed from leaving the NCAA D2 ranks? Or, will they be content to try to out score their opponents? GCU hasn’t lost since March 6th when BYU beat them 15-11 in Arizona. They scored 18 goals on Colorado, beat San Diego State twice, and Arizona State twice. In games against tournament competition, they’ve allowed 75 goals, which is 10.71 per game. Their offense is certainly good enough to score 11 goals a game. If, and it is a big if, you can hold GCU offense to 10 goals, you probably win the game. BYU held them to 11 and won 16-11. Arizona loss 10-4 but they don’t have any offensive punch. (Imagine several coaches reached out to UA to figure out how they defended GCU.)
How can you keep GCU at 10 or less?
- Win face offs and have long possessions – you’re playing with fire if you want to run and gun with these guys, 40+ goal scorers can’t score if they don’t have the ball, challenge MCLA refs to put the stall on you, find ways to make a shot look like you’re not just shooting to avoid the shot clock
- Goalie needs to be on – three of GCU’s offensive studs are Canadians meaning the goal you’re defending looks very big to them, your goal tender cannot let in anything soft and he will need to make one or two saves that he really shouldn’t make
- Mix and match defenses – shut someone off one possession, shut someone else off the next possession, double shut the third possession, slide early the next possession, don’t slide to their weak hand dodges, passive zone in settled 6v6, active zone off of a restart, challenge their comfort levels instead of hoping beyond hope that your basic crease slide package will finally click against these guys
- Crash into the hole like your life depends on it – direct quote from assistant coach currently in the tournament, if your offensive middies aren’t willing to compete defensively after a turnover then they’ve already compounded a mistake
Grand Canyon undoubtedly has the easiest road to the semifinals. Purdue and the winner of Oregon State/Cal Poly will present little challenge for the Canadian led Lopes. What will be interesting to track is who comes out of the bottom bracket. Could BYU beat GCU again? Could Chapman’s defense hold down the fort against GCU? Chapman is only elite team the Lopes haven’t played this season. On the other side of the bracket, Colorado, Arizona State, maybe even Virginia Tech wouldn’t mind their shot. GCU scored 18 goals on Colorado. No way that would happen again. GCU has a huge mental edge over Arizona State this season. VT defense has been suffocating opponents. Will they be able to get out of their own bracket to face GCU in the finals?
Perhaps more interesting to consider than will Grand Canyon win the championship this year is how the league will perceive them if they won. Remember this is a team that used to be NCAA D2 and now is putting a team of scholarship players in a club league driven by player dues. Certainly the type of student athlete competing at Grand Canyon is not the same at the majority of other MCLA programs. Hard to believe Grand Canyon is getting into recruiting battles with Boston College. While the schools are very different, the athletes are still competing for the same title. Will the league celebrate a fallen NCAA program winning a club title or will there be asterisk next to their name?