Boise State and Harvard Poised to take the Next Step

7 Oct

George Mason, VCU, Butler, Wichita State, it seems as of late there is a surprise entrant in the Final Four every season.  The question becomes not whether there will be another one this year but more, who are some of the teams could make that magical run in March?

The caveat of good health aside, one of the factors in finding dark horse Final Four candidates is looking at who had a successful season the year prior and returns most if not all of their key contributors.  There are a couple of teams that fit that mold for the 2013-14 season.  One plays in the Mountain West the other in the Ivy League.  Let’s take a closer look at the Boise State Broncos and Harvard Crimson.

When people talk about the Mountain West we hear about the usually names, San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV, but last season Boise State made a statement that they would be a force to be reckon with in the conference by winning 21 games and earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament.  The Broncos also earned season splits with San Diego State and UNLV and gave New Mexico fits falling in overtime and by 10 points.  Boise also beat #13 Creighton in Omaha by 13 and fell to #15 Michigan State on the road by just four points.

Coach Leon Rice and company are hoping to build upon what was started last season.  The Broncos have a good foundation, returning their top six scorers and nine of the 12 players to see action last season.  The team will once again be led by juniors and all-league candidates Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic.  Marks is the team’s overall best player having averaged 16.3 points, a team-leading 3.9 assists and pulled down nearly four rebounds a game.  Drmic the Australian product led the team in scoring at nearly 18 per contest.  He also grabbed 4.6 rebounds and shot 39% from beyond the arc.

The Broncos are a lot deeper than just Marks and Drmic, they also return the conference’s leading 3-point shooter in senior Jeff Elorriaga who shot 44.7% last season and senior Ryan Watkins who averaged 6.8 rebounds a game, benefitting from all the attention opposing defenses must pay to the perimeter.  Another Aussie Igor Hadziomerovic and Mikey Thompson add quality depth and could provide even more than the 13.1 points a game they combined for last year.  Watkins should get some help on the interior with the addition of the team’s third Australian import Nicholas Duncan who arrives having averaged 17.6 points and 14.9 rebounds last year.

On the east coast there is a team much like Boise who had a very successful season and is looking to make this year even more successful, Tommy Amaker’s Harvard Crimson.  Last year began with some turmoil for Harvard as two of their best players Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey were embroiled in an academic scandal that eventually saw the duo dismissed from the team for the season.  The team didn’t seem to skip a beat however as the Crimson won the Ivy League by winning nine of its first 19 in league play.  The team finished the season with 20 wins including arguably the biggest upset of the tournament not involving Florida Gulf Coast when they defeated #3 New Mexico 68-62 in the second round.

The loss of Curry and Casey may have been a blessing for Tommy Amaker and his crew as eight guys played in at least 22 games and seven of those return this season.  To further that point only one of those seven is now a senior, guard Laurent Rivard who made a team-high 80 3-pointers last season. Junior swingman Wesley Saunders averaged over 16 points a game and registered double figures in 29 of his 30 games last season and sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers became the first freshman in Ivy League history to be named first team all-conference.   Add to this now experienced group the returning Curry and Casey who averaged 19.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.7 assists the last time they were on the floor and four-star center recruit 6-8 Zena Edosomwan it becomes clear why Harvard is not only the favorite to repeat in the Ivy but a trendy pick to run in March.

Harvard and Boise State are just two of the teams who could make an unexpected run during the NCAA Tournament should they make it there.  The Broncos and Crimson are now experienced and deep teams that know the pressures of March basketball and unlikely to be fazed by them.

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