Boise State Basketball’s Best-Case Scenario in the MWC
How high is the Broncos’ ceiling in the Mountain West?
Can BSU sneak into the league’s top two?
Earlier this week, I wrote about Boise State’s postseason chances and pegged the Broncos as a likely NIT squad. But to earn an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, the Broncos likely need to finish first or second in the league. And while there are some other teams who appear to be ahead of them in the pecking order, those kinds of results in the Mountain West aren’t impossible.
So how does Boise State make that happen? Here’s a realistic look at the Broncos’ best-case scenario in league play.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about BSU’ chances this season after a forgettable campaign last year. First and foremost, the team brings back almost everyone this season, including All-MWC third-team selection Justinian Jessup and promising junior forward Derrick Alston. While both players will likely be playing professional ball in the near future, Alston is the team’s best bet to make the NBA. This team can shoot the lights out and they have talented, experienced players at most positions. The Broncos also have a head coach who has orchestrated seven 20-win seasons in nine years at the helm for the blue and orange.
Of course, this is still a team that won just 13 games last season. Obviously, there are some facets of the game where Boise State must improve quickly. Even if every returning player continues to develop and Boise State’s freshmen contribute right away, the Broncos are still going to need some outside help if they are going to climb all the way to a second-place finish.
But before getting into what the other Mountain West teams need to do, let’s look at how Boise State can help themselves to success.
Any success for the Broncos will have to start with their shooting. Boise State was one of the better shooting teams in the nation last year, finishing in the Top 50 nationally for effective field goal percentage (53.9%). Their strongest area was two-point shooting, where Alston and senior forward RJ Williams were deadly last year. Jessup and senior guard Alex Hobbs also excelled in the mid-range game. Jessup, Alston, and Hobbs are also solid deep shooters. Jessup was actually a slightly more efficient long-range shooter than reigning Mountain West POY Sam Merrill, besting the Aggie star’s 86 made three-pointers by one — in slightly fewer attempts.
But while the Broncos had little trouble filling up the bucket, they were one of the worst rebounding teams in the country on both sides of the ball. And if the boards posed such a problem when big men Zach Haney and David Wacker were in the fold, things could be even worse with the team’s lack of bulk on the interior. Senior Robin Jorch, who sat out last year due to injury, is a massive body, but has yet to do much with it for Boise State. Redshirt freshman Mikey Frazier looks like he could be the long-term answer at the five, but he’s a young kid in a league that has plenty of tough, experienced big men. The Broncos’ frontcourt needs to get tougher — quickly.
What about the rest of the Mountain West?
Utah State comes into the year as favorites to win the league, but it’s tough to peg the next four teams with any measure of confidence. Actually, even the Aggies could be in a bit of trouble in Neemias Queta’s knee strain forces him to miss any significant time. Teams like San Diego State and New Mexico are playing dangerous chemistry games, mixing returning veterans with prominent transfers. But while those rosters look stacked from a talent standpoint, there’s no guarantee that it translates onto the court.
Nevada is the other team that should make up the top five of the league, but the Wolf Pack are another team in a tricky transition spot. The team lost their head coach and the core of their three-time MWC-winning squads. Yes, Steve Alford is bringing a wealth of experience and success to Reno, but he could face difficulty getting this squad to gel. Only three teams in the country return fewer minutes from last year’s roster, per Bart Torvik’s website. That’s a big hill to climb for the Pack.
So, if the Broncos are going to race past these teams, they’re going to need those teams to struggle.
One factor working against the team is its MWC schedule. Boise State’s league-play draw could have been better — surely, Leon Rice would have preferred one-game series against some of the conference’s top teams, but instead will face off once apiece with middle-of-the-pack squads Fresno State and Colorado State. The flip-side of that coin, though, is that those extra shots against the other top-five teams means that Boise State has more opportunities to directly affect the Mountain West race.
In order to succeed, Boise State also must make more of their opportunities at home. Last year, the Broncos went just 4-5 in their league home games. That kind of performance simply won’t work in this league, which boasts a slew of tough home courts. Winning any road games in the Mountain West will be hard, so ExtraMile Arena must become a safe haven for the Broncos.
Here’s a quick summary of what needs to go right for Boise State to make into the top two:
- Draw on roster continuity for team chemistry
- Shoot the ball well from everywhere on the court
- Be more aggressive fighting for rebounds
- Win most or all of their MWC games at ExtraMile Arena
- SDSU, UNM, and Nevada struggle with revamped rosters
Though it’s a relatively short and straightforward list, that doesn’t mean it will be easy for Boise State. Still, there is a clear path to success for Leon Rice after last season’s debacle. Unfortunately for the Broncos, one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle — how their opponents’ team chemistry develops throughout the year— is mostly out of their hands.
But if they can get a little luck on their side, there’s no reason this team can’t finish second in the Mountain West.
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.