America, meet Marvelle Harris and Fresno State. On the strength of a 68-63 win over perennial Mountain West power San Diego State in the conference’s championship game on Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs will be dancing for just the sixth time in program history and the first since 2001 (back when Jerry Tarkanian was still chewing towels on the sidelines). Harris poured in 18 confident points en route to the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, backing up league coaches’ decision to name him the Mountain West Player of the Year. There is no doubt that Harris is the type of talent that can carry his team to some success in an NCAA Tournament game. He’s a versatile senior scorer (20.7 PPG) who can hit from deep (witness his 25-footer to end the first half on Saturday), score at the rim (62.9% FG on his 175 attempts at the rim this year), or draw defenders and create for his teammates (assists on 26.1% of his teammates’ field goals while on the floor). On a team with six upperclassmen among the eight players who saw significant minutes on Saturday, there’s enough experience joining Harris to making the Bulldogs’ NCAA Tournament stay extend beyond Friday.
It’s been a rough road for head coach Rodney Terry in his first head coaching job after nine seasons as an assistant at Texas. His first season at Fresno was the school’s final season in the WAC, a year in which the Bulldogs won just three conference games. His first full recruiting class (which led into the program’s first year in the Mountain West) was highlighted by the addition of prominent recruits like Robert Upshaw and Braeden Anderson, but it turned out that Harris was the only player in the class able to make a lasting positive contribution. From there, Terry mined his Big 12 roots and pulled in players like Cezar Guerrero (transfer from Oklahoma State), Julien Lewis (transfer from Texas) and Karachi Edo (a high school recruit from Texas). The Bulldogs have improved in each of Terry’s five years at the helm: five wins in the first year in the Mountain West; a .500 record in 2013-14; an additional conference win last year; and now this season a surprising 13 league wins, a second place regular season finish, and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.