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INDIANAPOLIS - You may not know the men's basketball team of Grand Canyon from a hole in the ground.
So you may be surprised when you see the Antelopes Saturday in their first-round NCAA tournament game against Iowa. Not many No. 15 seeds in the NCAA men's basketball tournament ever look like this one.
This year's other 15-seeds - Cleveland State, Iona and Oral Roberts - don't have a 7-foot, 270-pound center and a 6-10, 235-pound forward as prominent players. Cleveland State's leading rebounder is 6-5.
The two top scorers of the GCU Antelopes of Phoenix, however, are 7-foot Asbjorn Midtgaard and 6-10 Alessandro Lever. Both were first-team All-Western Athletic Conference selections.
Of course, the question going into their NCAA first-round game against No. 2-seed Iowa in their 5:25 p.m. contest at Indiana Farmers Coliseum is far more what they can do against the Hawkeyes than vice versa.
Still, Midtgaard and Lever are capable seniors who have done a lot to get the WAC-champion Lopes a 17-6 record and entry into this tournament for the first time.
This is the Hawkeyes' first obstacle toward what they hope will be their first deep NCAA run of the 21st century. The winner of Saturday's game will advance to a Monday second-round contest against either Oregon or VCU.
Midtgaard is from Holsinger, Denmark. Lever is from Bolsano, Italy. They have played four years of college ball. Lever started and will finish at GCU. Midtgaard came off the bench for most of his three seasons at Wichita State, transferred to Grand Canyon, and took on the role of imposing big man.
Lever plays facing the basket. He routinely shoots 3-pointers and has made over 39 percent of them. He averages 13.3 points.
Luka Garza is Iowa's 6-11, 265-pound first-team All-America center. He averages 23.7 points and 8.8 rebounds, and has made 37 3-pointers to Midtgaard's zero.
'Obviously, he's a Player of the Year candidate for a reason,” Midtgaard said. 'We've got to have emphasis on that. He's an unbelievable player, and I'm excited. It's going to be a fun matchup.”
Garza faced a Who's Who of good big players this season, starting with Gonzaga's Drew Timme and continuing with Illinois' Kofi Cockburn, Michigan's Hunter Dickinson, Purdue's Trevion Williams, Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis ...
That said, you take any 7-footer seriously when he averages a double-double and makes 70 percent of his shots.
'(Midtgaard) is really good, by the way,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. 'And they have more than one. They have a big team.
'But we pretty much see that every night in our league, every team has a big man like that, so it's something that we're used to in terms of how we try to set Luka up and how we try to run our offense effectively.”
Garza said he thinks Midtgaard is 'a really, really good big, and he uses his size well. He's really efficient from the field.
'I've been playing against that size for four years now. Obviously in the Big Ten you have a lot of people who are big and really good, so I'm definitely used to playing guys that size at this point.”
Bryce Drew, in his first season at Grand Canyon after coaching Valparaiso and Vanderbilt to NCAA tourney berths, is an Indiana basketball household name. His last-second shot in 1998 gave Valparaiso an NCAA first-round win over Mississippi.
'We just have tremendous respect for Grand Canyon, their personnel, the job that Bryce has done,” McCaffery said.
'They have really good players and a really good coach.”
'We're a 15-seed, they're a 2-seed,” Drew said. 'In the history, 8-132 is that record (for 15-seeds against 2s). So the percents are not with you winning that game. But it has been done.”
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