Grand Canyon and Incarnate Word Have Unique Roles as Conference Tournaments Approach

3 Feb

When teams transition to division 1 in basketball, not only are teams ineligible for conference tournaments as well as the NCAA Tournament until the transition is complete, there is usually a big learning curve as teams adjust to higher levels of competition.

There are a couple of teams that are having an easier time than most and even though they aren’t eligible to play could have a big say in the seeding for their conference tournaments.  Incarnate Word and Grand Canyon, while new to the division 1 level are proving not to be pushovers for their new competition.

The Incarnate Word Cardinals join the Southland conference and despite only facing one division 1 team during the non-conference portion of their schedule, a 17-point loss to North Texas, they currently sit at 4-4 in the conference.  Three of the four losses have been by a combined eight points including a 76-74 loss at conference leader Stephen F. Austin that saw the Lumberjacks needing a tip-in at the buzzer to fend off the upstarts on Saturday.  Incarnate Word also has an impressive win over second place Sam Houston State 85-74.

While the Cardinals have just two seniors on the roster, Ian Markolf and Anthony Horton they are key contributors scoring 18 points and 12.7 rebounds per game.  They are led by a pair of guards junior Denzel Livingston and sophomore Kyle Hittle who combine for 36.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists.

With only the top eight teams in the conference qualifying for the tournament, a pesky Incarnate Word could not only have a hand in deciding the seeding of teams but also which ones make the tournament.

The Western Athletic Conference was on death’s door thanks to conference realignment.  Enter Utah Valley, Chicago State, Missouri-Kansas City, Cal State Bakersfield, Texas-Pan American and Grand Canyon.

Utah Valley currently sits atop the conference at 7-1 but it is division 1 newcomer Grand Canyon at 6-2 that is turning some heads.  The Antelopes’ only two losses in conference play have come at the hands of Utah Valley and New Mexico State who also sits at 6-2.

Grand Canyon’s best player Demetrius Walker was dismissed from the team after Christmas.  Ironically his last game came against New Mexico where he played the prior two seasons.  Walker was averaging 16.9 points and 5.6 rebounds at the time of his dismissal.

The Antelopes have gone 6-4 without Walker and head coach Dan Majerle has relied on senior center Killian Larson and junior guard Jerome Garrison.  Larson is averaging a double-double with 15.5 points and 11.2 rebounds and Garrison is chipping in with 15.4 points per contest.

The WAC allows all eight eligible teams into the conference tournament but with rematches with Utah Valley and New Mexico State, it could be the competitive ineligible Antelopes that decide who gets seeded where in the conference tournament.

Grand Canyon and Incarnate Word may not be able to play for a bid to the NCAA Tournament but both teams will have a hand in who does from their respective conferences.

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