Another year and another early exit from the Mountain West Conference tournament for the Boise State Broncos men’s basketball team. The words sound all too familiar.
A great season — 23 wins — coming up just short by failing to advance past the quarterfinals of the conference tourney for the third straight year.
All over the nation, March Madness is in full swing. Sixth seeds are winning conference tournaments. First seeds are getting blown out in the semi’s. And endless debates of why 18-win teams deserve to go to the dance over a 25-win regular season champ who lost in their conference tournament final.
It’s all part of the agony, of the defeat, of the ridiculousness and, often enough, the fun.
There are 351 division 1 men’s basketball teams. 68 are selected for the NCAA tournament. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s roughly 80% of college basketball that doesn’t get to go to the big dance at season’s end.
Boise State will be once again on the outside looking in but had a lot to be proud of. Another 2o-win season (Coach Leon Rice’s sixth-straight). Second place in the Mountain West Conference. A road win over Oregon.
Entry into the NCAA tournament wasn’t in the cards this season. Instead, the Broncos earned a number four seed in the NIT, where they will take to the road to face the Washington Huskies on Wednesday night. (8 pm Boise time on ESPN3).
The coaching of Leon Rice
Coach Rice has built the Boise State Broncos men’s program into a consistent threat; a program that has battled at the top of the conference for years now.
And it’s something (some) fans have taken for granted.
When once upon a time the program could be defined as “20-win seasons are a flash-in-pan”, Bronco fans can now enter a season with heady expectations. These type of seasons are to be expected every year now, not just every three seasons when a senior class gels.
There are fan bases who would be head-over-heels for this type of production.
A disappointing end
Am I disappointed by an early exit? Yes. Disappointed might not even be taking it far enough. A 78-75 loss to the Utah State Aggies after leading by as many as 13 is much more than disappointing.
All three games versus Utah State had Boise State losing big leads, only one of which the Broncos won. In fact, it was a trend that followed Boise State around much of the year in their losses. Big leads against San Diego State in both games, including one loss. A loss at Wyoming after being up by 16. An early nine-point lead at home against Nevada.
It was an alarming trend in conference play in 2018, one that ultimately never got fixed. A trend highlighted by turnovers, forced shots, and a team on the other bench from Boise State who refused to give in.
And the fact is, in the end, this was a young team. Chandler Hutchison, Lexus Williams and Chris Sengfelder were the seniors leading the way, two of which who were only with the program for one season.
Each helped support Hutchison, with Williams delivering a fantastic game (24 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds) in the most recent loss.
Heading into this season, I thought the Broncos would be competitive, maybe rising as high as third. I honestly thought Hutchison would only be able to carry the young team so far.
This team will be back with a vengeance next season. A core unit of — by this time next year — hopefully the leadership of three juniors and three seniors will be leading the Broncos right back to the top of the conference.
Reaching the top and the pinnacle of a sport is an expectation of any fan for any team. You want to see your team win it all, win a conference tourney and get to the dance. You want to see your team get there and win at least a game.
That hasn’t happened yet for the Boise State Broncos under Coach Rice’s watch, but I have a prevailing faith it will. Players see the program’s success. I’ll bet both Williams and Sengfelder — while being disappointed with the final result — will take a 2o-win season over the struggles they faced at their previous schools.
Even with looking toward the future of this program, there is still unfinished business out there. It might not be the business of winning the Mountain West title or punching a ticket to the NCAA tournament, but it’s business nonetheless.
A chance to improve on their two-game NIT stint of last season. A chance to win a few more games. And most importantly, an opportunity to keep doing what they love: Play ball.