This Year's Wichita State? - Three Teams to Watch
Last season saw Wichita State put together a string of hard fought wins to find themselves in the Final Four along with perennial powers Syracuse, Louisville and Michigan. Though many factors contribute to these tournament runs, it starts with talent, and here are a few teams who are hoping to become this year’s Wichita State:
Gonzaga – It seems that Gonzaga is always poised for a deep run, but has only made it as far as the Sweet Sixteen 4 times in since Mark Few took over the team in 1999-2000. Though the Zags will be without their 2 leading scorers and rebounders from last season, Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, there is plenty of talent in Spokane to go with one of the best coaches in the college game in Few. The strength of the team has now shifted to the backcourt where Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. give two legitimate scoring threats, especially from behind the 3-point line. The slack in the frontcourt will need to be picked up by senior forward Sam Dower and sophomore Przemek Karnowski. Karnowski is a massive post presence at 7’1 and over 300 pounds. He is skilled and very efficient around the basket, but he is slow and his movements can be awkward. Plus, with guards who like to push the tempo, Karnowski may not be valuable for many minutes. Louisville transfer Angel Nunez will be eligible for the 2nd semester and, like Dower, will provide some good energy, especially crashing the boards. This isn’t a very deep team, but there is scoring power.
Harvard – You would think that Harvard winning an NCAA Tournament game last year would be the culmination of years of struggle, but the Crimson should be an even better team this season. At this time last year, it looked like it was going to be a rough year for Tommy Amaker’s squad with a cheating scandal forcing 3 of the Crimson’s best players, Brandyn Curry, Kyle Casey and Keith Wright to withdraw from school, but young players picked up the pieces for a nice run. Point guard Siyani Chambers established the team as his own as a freshman, both as a scorer and a distributor. Junior wing Wesley Saunders is coming back off a breakout season and has the athleticism to dominate the Ivy League. Guard Laurent Rivard is the Crimson’s best deep threat and should find plenty of open looks this season with the defense being occupied with Chambers and Saunders. Curry and Casey are back after their year away, which only adds to the depth of this team. The only real thing missing is a legitimate big man threat, but their perimeter shooting will keep them very much in almost every game they play.
La Salle – It may be tough to top last season’s run to the Elite 8, but Dr. John Giannini has plenty of returning players who know what it takes and they should be a threat come NCAA Tournament time. Team leader and leading scorer Ramon Galloway has graduated, but the backcourt still returns guards Tyreek Duren, Tyrone Garland and Sam Mills. All 3 players are capable of scoring from the perimeter or through penetration, and they anchor one of the toughest defensive presences in college basketball. Juniors Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack handle things in the frontcourt, mainly by playing tough defense and rebounding, though Wright is very good when he gets the ball around the basket. La Salle’s run last year was based on distributing the ball and playing tough defense and if they are to make a run again this season, those 2 things will need to still be in the forefront. Also, with Galloway gone, someone will need to step up as the go to guy on the team.
Plus, if we are looking for this year’s Wichita State, we may not have to go farther than this year’s Wichita State team. Led by Cleanthony Early, Gregg Marshall’s team knows exactly how to scrap out close games, but the losses of Malcolm Armstead and Carl Hall may be tough for the Shockers to overcome.