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Top Cinderella candidates for next season

Derrick Marks and Boise State, an NCAA tournament team in 2013, should be back again next season. AP Photo/Nati Harnik

Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield is in Los Angeles. Shockers senior Carl Hall is being fitted for graduation robes. Harvard students have returned to the library. (OK, they probably never left.) The last vestiges of the NCAA tourney have passed, including all the Giant Killers who left us with lasting memories.

But instead of wistfully playing sad tunes while clicking on old box scores and filling in empty brackets, let's dust ourselves off and look to the horizon. There, out in the distance, is a new crop of Killers just waiting for the 2014 tourney.

Actually, many won't be new at all. That's the overriding sense we got after consulting our GK ratings one more time, then looking at what various teams will return or lose next season. Though it's fruitless to try to project which major conference teams will underachieve enough to land a low tourney seed while simultaneously putting up upset-worthy stats, we can look to smaller leagues for underdogs.

Some squads would be locks for GK contention, but for the fact they likely will be too strong. VCU, Wichita State, Creighton (if Doug McDermott returns) and Saint Louis, among others, should all be in contention for top-five seeds. But six other teams look like strong contenders just a notch below that group. And they're all coming off successful seasons, meaning GK2014 could be an encore of sorts.


Boise State Broncos

The Broncos arrived early this season, reaching the tourney before losing to La Salle in the First Four. But next season is when things really should click. Their top six scorers, including all five starters, will be back; Kenny Buckner (5.1 points per game) was the only senior in the rotation. Boise State shot the 3-ball well all season (38.7 percent); now let's see if the Broncos can up their offensive rebounding to match what they did on the defensive boards (24.3 percent).


Denver Pioneers

Denver had the look of a prime Killer until Texas State scored a first-round upset in the WAC tournament. But Joe Scott's glacial-paced gang will get another shot next season. The Pioneers already act like a GK, ranking ninth nationally in 3PA/FGA and steal percentage, while also limiting their own turnovers. But now they'll have experience, too -- three players (Chris Udofia, Brett Olson and Royce O'Neale) will be back after averaging double figures in points and 30-plus minutes per game.


Eastern Kentucky Colonels

The OVC wasn't the place for an upstart this season, not with the talent and experience of Belmont and Murray State. But next season? The Colonels could push right past both schools for the league title and automatic NCAA bid. EKU, which went 12-4 in conference play this past season, loses just one senior of consequence. Granted, that's Mike DiNunno, who ranked second in scoring with 14.8 points per game and handed out 4.3 assists per game. But everyone else should be back for a squad that already embraces key GK qualities: They shot more 3-pointers than all but one team in the nation this past season (45.3 percent of attempts), and they forced steals on 12.6 percent of possessions.


Harvard Crimson

This season's Cambridge crew surprised us; a GK rating of 11.6 didn't exactly set off flashing lights warning of an upset. But next season the Crimson could be downright scary -- maybe even on a level not far from the VCU/Wichita State group. The core of the team that upset New Mexico is back, including leading scorer Wesley Saunders, freshman point guard Siyani Chambers and 3-point marksman Laurent Rivard. But, in case you forgot, two of the Crimson's best players from the previous season, Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, will be back after withdrawing for the 2012-13 season in the wake of an academic cheating scandal. And if that isn't enough, 6-foot-8 Zena Edosomwan, who was recruited by major programs including UCLA, will join the team after prepping for a year. Put it all together and there's a talent explosion at Harvard, one that should allow Tommy Amaker to add more GK weapons to a group that shot well from 3-point range and forced its fair share of steals.


La Salle Explorers

There's no question that losing Ramon Galloway's versatile impact will hurt. But all the other key players return from this season's Sweet 16 squad, with three tourney wins under their collective belt. Additionally, 6-11 center Steve Zack should be healthy -- he missed the tourney run -- and his continued development could add another dimension to an undersized group. The Explorers should carry their high-volume 3-point shooting and pressure perimeter D forward, though, with Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland leading the charge.


Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Our model loved the Golden Eagles this past season, but a double-overtime loss to Memphis in the Conference USA championship game left them NIT-bound. Next season, though, they should finally get their shot at a Giant. The Golden Eagles did an exceptional job of creating extra possessions this past season, ranking 20th nationally in offensive rebounding and 14th in steal percentage. They'll miss physical wing Dwayne Davis and burly Jonathan Mills, but the other four of Southern Miss' top six scorers will return, and all will be seniors. Their last dance could be a big one.