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Texas faces a Grand Canyon program on the rise

The game tips in Austin at 5 PM CST, and airs on the Longhorn Network.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

We have reached the slow period of the college basketball season, where final exams and the holiday season gives us one, rather than two, games per week. After a thrilling win against Purdue last Sunday, the Texas Longhorns are back on the court this evening against 5-4 Grand Canyon University. Taking the Antelopes for granted would be a mistake.

GCU is coached by retired NBA player Thunder Dan Majerle. Majerle played 14 seasons in the league, and is mostly remembered for his time in Phoenix. After retiring, he eventually got into coaching, first as an assistant for the Suns before taking the head job at GCU in 2013 as the program transitioned to D-I.

It is a transition that has gone pretty well. After two years, GCU broke through in the 2015-2016 season with 27 wins; the Antelopes are now one of the stronger programs in the WAC. They just haven’t as of yet managed to prevail through the week of single elimination basketball required for such a team to make the NCAA tournament and the associated national recognition this comes with. But I wouldn’t be surprised if this happens at some point in the next few years.

Thus far, Thunder Dan’s team has beaten the teams it is supposed to beat, picked up a nice win over Boise State, and played close contests against South Dakota State and Nevada. GCU is a good opponent, and a team that has home losses against Radford and VCU had better not take it lightly. If you buy into things like the ratings, GCU is pretty much exactly the same quality of opponent as Radford.

Like many strong teams in single big leagues, GCU has players with high major experience. The best is 6-10 senior Michael Fink, a grad transfer who left Illinois after last season. He (and his younger brother Tim, who is a freshman) are part of one of the nation’s tallest front courts; the Antelopes will have a significant size advantage over Texas.

GCU’s starting five generally features two players who list at 6-10 (sophomore big man Alessandro Lever has also played very well this year), and four who are 6-6 or taller. Not surprisingly, Thunder Dan’s team is exceptionally strong on the glass, and for Texas limiting the Antelopes to one shot will be an important challenge.

Despite their size, everyone on the floor for GCU has the green light to shoot from long range. It hasn’t always lead to great offense — GCU is shooting below 32 percent from three point range this season — but in the small sample of a single game, getting hot from the arc is a common part of the formula for an upset win.

For Texas, this has been a pretty strange non-conference season. Shooting problems, and occasional poor execution on offense, have cost the Longhorns games. But last Sunday against Purdue the offensive execution was excellent, and some shots went in as well.

We will see what happens tonight.

The game tips in Austin at 5 PM CST, and airs on the Longhorn Network.