Back in November, before the city of Boise was covered in snow and while football season was going strong, the Boise State men’s basketball team was right where many expected them to be.
A harsh term? Perhaps a little, but expectations outside the program weren’t too high for a team with only two seniors.
With head coach Leon Rice at the helm, we should have known better.
Flash forward to February, where the Boise State Broncos (8-3, 15-7) are currently tied for first place in the Mountain West Conference. Next to them in the standings? The Nevada Wolf Pack, while stalwarts like New Mexico and San Diego State are in full on chase mode.
How did the Broncos get here? Overall, it’s been a collective team effort, ranging from star Chandler Hutchison (17.4 ppg and 8.5 rpg) to freshman Alex Hobbs. It also helps to have a coach like Rice–gunning for his fifth straight twenty-win season–and a tough slate of early games that helped prepare Boise State.
A non-conference worth remembering
A look at the Broncos schedule reveals the usual slate of non-Division 1 opponents. While these games are important to the growth of a team, they are usually wins for the Broncos.
More telling, though, are the games with opponents from conferences with great basketball pedigree. And that starts with an early season home win over SMU, a team currently 21-4 and sitting in second-place in the American Conference.
Even in losses, Boise State showed what type of team they would be this season. The team came up just short on the road against the Oregon Ducks, also now 21-4 and in second place in the Pac-12. The tournament in Charleston saw the Broncos pitted against the College of Charleston and Mississippi State. Both games were double-digits losses, but each saw the Broncos play great in spurts. Charleston, by the way, is currently 19-7 and in second-place in the Colonial Conference, while the Bulldogs are 14-9 while in the middle of the SEC Conference standings.
The one down note of the non-conference slate might have been a five-point loss at Evansville. Evansville is 12-14 and near the bottom of the Missouri Valley Conference with a 3-10 conference record.
A team effort
Hutchison, a junior, has had a season to remember and should be on the short list for Mountain West Player of the Year consideration. He has played well on both ends of the floor and has slid into a leadership role rather nicely.
It is the players around him, though, that have stepped up in recent weeks. Senior James Reid, coming off the bench most of the season, has started the last three games. Reid has been shooting well since the Oregon game and hasn’t stopped since being inserted into the starting lineup. Over the last three games, he’s averaging 14 points per game and has made 11 of his last 18 three point attempts (61%).
Senior Nick Duncan, on the other hand, has struggled as of late. He has hit only 9 of last 48 attempts from three, as detailed here by Michael Katz of the Idaho Statesman.
Duncan hit career three-pointer number 224 against Utah State last Saturday. The look of relief–the weight of the world now off his shoulders–crossed Duncan’s face when he hit that three. He may have not hit one the rest of the game, but had plenty good looks and is due for a breakout game any day now.
As a senior, he has stepped up his leadership and defense, with the team feeding off his energy more often than not.
And this is barely dipping into the play of Paris Austin. The sophomore, like his teammates, are willing to do whatever it takes to help the team. Austin has been coming off the bench for the past three games. In that span, he has scored 41 points, dished out six assists and has only committed six turnovers. For his efforts, he was named Mountain West Player of the Week last week.
Though the team has played above expectations, the Mountain West as a whole has been down. This makes an at-large berth into the NCAA tourney highly unlikely. Chances are, even if Boise State wins five out their last seven regular season games to make it to 20, they will need to win the Mountain West tourney to punch their ticket.
Given their play this season, that’s a prospect that isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Up Next: Air Force
The Air Force Falcons (3-8, 10-14) come to town for a 4 pm tipoff at Taco Bell Arena. In their only matchup last season, the Falcons defeated Boise State 61-53 at Air Force.
The Falcons have four guys averaging over ten points per game, led by Hayden Graham. Graham averages 11.9 points, followed by Frank Toohey (11.8 ppg). Zach Kocur averages nearly 11 points and has knocked down 48-threes (41.7%)