In 2003, Carmelo Anthony gave college basketball a dimension that had rarely been seen before.
In his first season with the Orange, Anthony proved that it is possible to rent a championship in college before making the jump to the NBA.
Since that time and the new rule forbidding the leap directly out of high school, many college teams have jumped on the map out of nowhere due to one freshman star on their team.
The past two seasons were perfect examples with Kevin Durant leading Texas to a season they would not have come close to without him and Greg Oden and Mike Conley taking Ohio State all the way to the title game.
Last season was similar with Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo each leading their teams into the tournament.
This year James Harden is in a situation a lot similar to the one Anthony was in back in 2003. He is in his sophomore season, not his freshman, but the growth Harden has shown from his first year with Arizona State until now is not unlike Anthony’s in his one season.
Harden has led the Sun Devils to a birth in the Pac-10 title game which they lost, resulting in a solid six-seed in the NCAA tourney.
Anthony got his Syracuse team to a three-seed in 2003, eventually upsetting one-seed Oklahoma in their region to get to the Final Four, and then taking down Texas and Kansas for the championship.
Harden has the same type of situation laid in front of him.
In my eyes, Harden has almost equal the pro-potential that Anthony had. They play similar positions and roles in their offenses as the leading scorer to go along with a nice touch from the outside.
They also each have solid help from their role players. This is by no means identical, but Jeff Pendergraph and Hakim Warrick are similar in how they complement their stars inside and both teams also had guards who could shoot from the outside.
Both teams even play 2-3 zones which help keep stars out of foul trouble.
So the question is can Harden carry his team the way Anthony did in 2003?
I think there’s a good chance.
If they can get by a scary first round matchup with Temple and contain Dionte Christmas, they will likely face this year’s Syracuse team.
This is the team that has played seven overtimes in its last three games. Eventually they have to get tired and eventually someone from the Big East has to be worse than their seed indicates.
I say they win that game and go on to either Oklahoma or Clemson. Both are tough inside but the 2-3 zone should be able to contain that physical presence and no one can cover Harden yet.
Then comes their upset chance, probably North Carolina, but maybe Gonzaga. Who’s covering Harden? As long as Arizona State shoots a high percentage, keeps Pendergraph out of fouls trouble and plays well in their 2-3, they can pull it off.
It’s going to come down to the same thing if they make it to the Final Four. They need to keep their opponents from getting hot from beyond the arc, rebound the ball and let Harden make plays because no one can match up with him.
I know it’s a long shot but I think the nation might get a chance to see just how good Harden is. Playing on the west coast all season, he is greatly undervalued and really does possess star potential at the next level.
Think of him as a left-handed Paul Pierce. He is not as physically built as LeBron and doesn’t even look athletic all of the time largely due to his undershirt, but he is crafty finishing with the ball, can handle it on the perimeter, and drain the long-range three.
If there is a team seeded lower than four in this tournament who can make a run because of one man, I believe that team is Arizona State and they could really shake up everyone’s brackets, including mine.