Predicting Boise State Basketball’s Postseason Tournament
Can the Broncos make it back to their first Big Dance since 2015?
The Broncos will be better in 2019-20, but just how good can they be?
The Broncos suffered through a disappointing season last year, but the team comes back ready to challenge for a spot near the top of the Mountain West. But with at-large bids at a premium all across the mid-major landscape, can head coach Leon Rice do enough to get Boise State back to the Big Dance for the first time since 2015?
Boise State’s strengths coming into the season include its experience and roster continuity, with talented shooters and rim-attackers aplenty. However, there are a few things working against the Broncos, too. The team lacks depth and size, a combination that could leave Boise stranded on the offensive boards again this year. There are also precious few realistic opportunities for Boise State to snag the marquee wins needed to build a bulletproof NCAA Tournament résumé. However, there is some history on BSU’s side that may bode well.
With all that in mind, where will Boise State land when the dust settles after Selection Sunday? To answer that question, take a look at how the team profiles for 2019-20.
First and foremost, Rice needs to draw on the experience of his club. Boise State will likely begin the season with a top-6 rotation that exclusively features upperclassmen, including five seniors that are back for one last crack at the Big Dance. Alongside leading scorer and All-MWC pick Justinian Jessup, senior guards Alex Hobbs and Marcus Dickinson return to hold down the backcourt once more. All three players logged north of 30 minutes per night last season, giving the team a lot of stability back there. Jessup is easily the most well-known player of this trio, but Hobbs is a good bet to become a 1,000-point scorer before his Mountain West career comes to a close. The one who really needs to step up his game is Dickinson, especially considering the team’s inexperience at the guard position past this top three.
The frontcourt also boasts three experienced players in Derrick Alston, RJ Williams, and Robin Jorch. Alston was a revelation last year, going from a seldom-used reserve as a freshman to the team’s second-leading scorer behind Jessup and a legitimate NBA prospect. Williams will be a very important piece of the rotation, having added valuable scoring and rebounding numbers in 18 minutes per game last season. Though he may initially come off the bench, the senior will be forced into a lot of minutes with some depth issues up front — though that problem clears up substantially when Oregon transfer Abu Kigab becomes eligible after the first semester.
But while the forward position looks to be a plus for the team, Boise State may have major difficulties at center. Jorch, who missed the season last year with an injury, is the best bet to start games at the five. However, he has been ineffective during his time in Boise and will likely defer many minutes to promising redshirt freshman Mikey Frazier. The only other frontcourt depth comes from Aussie newcomer Riley Abercrombie.
Certainly, Boise State’s experience is a plus. But it’s not just their players who have been through the wars. The Broncos have a tenth-year head coach who has been in this situation before.
Leon Rice has only had one other campaign like last year’s. Back in 2011-12, the Broncos also won just 13 games overall and finished seventh in the Mountain West. How did Rice and his program respond? By winning 21 games the very next year and earning one of the last at-large bids to the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Boise State reeled off 20-plus wins in each of the next five seasons as well.
Basically, Rice’s teams don’t stay bad for long.
But can this team string together an NCAA Tournament-caliber profile?
No team gets into the NCAA Tournament without a few great wins in its back pocket. The Broncos’ non-conference schedule features no fewer than five and as many as seven chances at securing Quadrant 1 or 2 victories, though reaching that number would require a deep run in the Diamond Head Classic. Along with that trip to Hawaii to take on Georgia Tech (and, depending on results, possibly Houston and Washington), the Broncos also have true road games against Oregon and Tulsa. A pair of solid mid-majors come to town, too, when UC Irvine and BYU make the trip north.
Those are all teams that finished in the KenPom Top 125 last season and all should be tough again this year. Without a big upset, though, Boise State likely won’t grab the kind of wins that they need to get to the Big Dance. In order to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, the Broncos likely need a minimum of two wins out of the seven-game cluster that includes Oregon, Washington, Houston, as well as both of the series against Utah State and San Diego State.
A turnaround season is one thing. But winning any of those games is a tall order. Winning multiple may be out of reach.
What’s more likely is that this team will register a win total somewhere between 18 and 22, grabbing a top-four finish in the Mountain West. If they can pull that off, then Boise State would look very attractive for an NIT bid, especially if those win totals include multiple Q2 victories over other potential NIT squads like Georgia Tech, BYU, and Tulsa. The team has not competed in the CBI since 2011 and has never been to the CIT, so don’t expect Rice to accept an invitation to either of those tournaments if the NIT bid doesn’t pan out.
The Broncos’ postseason outlook could quickly change with a couple big wins — or a couple bad losses. And while it’s not out of the question for Boise State to return to the Big Dance for the first time in five years, this team is more likely headed to the NIT.
How far do you think the Broncos can go in 2019-20? Head to Twitter and send your predictions to @MWCwire.
Andrew is a current USBWA member, covering college basketball for multiple outlets, including Mountain West Wire of the USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Busting Brackets of the FanSided Network. He also runs the Dieckhoff Power Index, a college basketball analytics system, and provides bracketology predictions throughout the season.