Nearly eight months after a tough loss in the opening round of the 2015 NCAA tournament, the Boise State men’s basketball team hits the floor on Friday to take their first steps back in hopes of once again returning to the promised land.
The Broncos open up play on the road against the Montana Grizzlies, co-champs of the Big Sky Conference in 2014/15 and predicted by many to win the conference again this season.
Boise State went 25-9 last year, winning the Mountain West regular season title before ultimately losing to Wyoming in the semifinals of the Mountain West tournament.
Through graduation, transfers, and other circumstances, the Broncos have to replace eight players, many who contributed throughout last season’s run. None will be missed more than all-conference guard Derrick Marks.
Marks averaged 19.4 points and 3 assists per game last season, often carrying the team on his shoulders and willing them to victory. Marks is fourth all-time in scoring in the Mountain West and is now playing pro ball overseas.
While replacing Marks is no easy feat, it helps that Anthony Drmic returns from a medical redshirt year. After a myriad of injuries finally forced Drmic off the court after only seven games last season, Drmic was granted the opportunity to return this season. And with it, an opportunity to make a run at the all-time scoring mark at Boise State.
The senior will provide valuable experience to this team. His seemingly endless energy on the court is part of the reason he’s scored 1,528 career points, averaging 15 per game last season before the injury.
Drmic returned to the court in last Friday’s 79-55 exhibition victory over Northwestern University (WA). Drmic understandably looked a little rusty at times, missing all of his free throws and three-point attempts, but he did contribute six assists.
Not looking rusty, and picking up right where he left off last season, was James Webb III. The redshirt junior had 17 points and 14 rebounds. Per usual, he was all over the floor, draining three pointers, posting up, playing above the rim, and being the Broncos point man on the half-court trap. Webb III is also showing up on many NBA draft watch lists.
Clearly this is now Webb’s team and stopping him will be the focal point of other team’s game plans. Except now, if he slumps, Drmic, Nick Duncan, and Chandler Hutchison should be able to pick up the slack.
A year under his belt, Hutchison seems to be more versatile and confident than ever. His all-around game picked up towards the end of last season and if the exhibition game is any indication, Hutchison’s game has grown. He nearly had a triple-double (11 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists) and with the injured Mikey Thompson and Montigo Alford not playing, Hutchison even played a little bit of point guard.
Thompson (knee) and Alford (hernia) should both be ready for the season opener. Both bring experience to the backcourt and will be leaned on for minutes as they prepare to hand off the reins to freshman Paris Austin.
Austin may not need a whole lot of seasoning. He made his debut in the exhibition game and simply responded by leading Boise State in minutes played and scored 18 points. While there may be bumps along the road in his first season, Austin looks more than ready for Division I basketball. He showed off a dazzling array of moves while handling the ball with ease.
Transfer from Boston College Lonnie Jackson should also see a fair amount of minutes off of the bench. He gives Coach Leon Rice and the Broncos one more option that can spot up and knock down the three.
Returning alongside Webb III on the front line is Duncan. The junior was forced to play a lot of minutes at center last season, taking him into the key more often than not on the offensive side and getting him in foul trouble on defense. Duncan still managed to knock down 76 threes in averaging 9.4 points per game.
Helping to ease Duncan out of the paint and beyond the arc will be redshirt freshman Zach Haney and new signee Robin Jorch. Haney dropped 11 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in the exhibition game. At 6’11, Haney can also shoot and looks to bring the type of energy Rob Heyer brought to the game last season.
Jorch still may be a work in progress, but also brings size and plenty of experience to Boise State. Haney and Jorch will get the majority of playing time for big men off the bench, as it appears sophomore David Wacker is set to use a redshirt this year.
In addition to their usual foes in San Diego State, Wyoming, and UNLV, Boise State has two marquee non-conference games that Bronco fans should circle. They travel to face Arizona (11/19, 6:30 pm MST) and host the Oregon Ducks (12/12, 5:00 pm MST).
Boise State’s first home game of the season will be on Monday, November 16 when they host the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks. That game starts at 7 pm.
Friday’s game against Montana is set to tip-off at 7 pm.