Boise State vs. Utah State: Series Preview
Boise State set to host conference leader Utah State this week for a shot at the top of the Mountain West.
All eyes on Wednesday’s clash for the top of the Mountain West.
WHO: Boise State Broncos (16-4, 12-3 in the MW) vs. Utah State Aggies (14-5, 11-2 in the MW)
WHEN: Game 1: Sunday, February 17th 7:00 PM MT
Game 2: Friday, February 19th 8:00 PM MT
WHERE: ExtraMile Arena-Boise, ID
TV: Game 1: CBS Sports Game 2: FS1
Stream: Both games can be seen for free on FuboTV with a seven-day trial
Line: KenPom, Broncos currently favored by 1 point in each contest
SERIES RECORD: Utah State leads all-time series 34-16
It’s finally here, just four more conference games until the conference tournament kicks off next month. But for a Boise State team that has set multiple records and has big dance aspirations, this is going to be the toughest part of their conference slate.
— Boise State MBB (@BroncoSportsMBB) February 15, 2021
Wednesday’s game-one against current league leader Utah State is priority number one for Leon Rice and his staff at the moment. The now winningest head coach in Bronco history knows how big a win on Wednesday in front of the first home crowd all year will be for the fans and players.
“I’m just excited for it,” Rice said. “I’m excited for our guys. It will give them positive juice. You want it to be closer to what college basketball is. It’s exciting for them to have this opportunity to play in front of some people.”
The game will have 900 fans in attendance, well short of the 12,500 full capacity ExtraMile Arena is capable of filling, especially in a season like this. But it will still make a difference on Wednesday.
“Obviously they’ll be pumped and they’ll be excited,” Utah State coach Craig Smith said. “I think it will be exciting for everybody involved. Those (900 fans), it will feel like that times 10 in terms of the atmosphere, so it should be an exciting, spirited atmosphere.”
The Aggies haven’t played since February 4th in the lone game played in their series against Fresno State, which was then postponed due to Covid-19 precautions. Their current 13-day break is the longest for the program this season, but not their first after taking a 10-day break back in December.
For the Broncos, they’re riding a very important and hard fought win against UNLV on Saturday. Where some late game heroics from a couple of Broncos helped solidify their coach atop the Boise State record books. Thinking the difference in days off may hurt coach Rice’s guys would be ill-advised. As this squad is deep and well prepped and have known what the last four games of their schedule looked like all season. To put it simply they are ready.
My only concern is their shooting form, the team as a whole shot just 43.3% from the field over their last six games. Those six games may be considered their roughest patch of the schedule thus far, going 3-3 during that time compared to 13-1 prior. The Broncos also shot a rough 36.6% from deep and if their two-point win over UNLV showed us anything. It’s that this squad creates runs and wins games off of free throws.
Just look at redshirt senior guard Derrick Alston Jr.’s game saving run which then started a stretch of eleven made free throws by the Broncos to help close the gap and hold off the Runnin’ Rebels last weekend. Going up against the conferences leading shot blocker in Neemias Queta (3.1 BPG) may provide a different challenge. As heading to the charity stripe consistently may be a little harder than usual.
For the Aggies, who get things done as a team with hardly any clear leaders in each major statistical category, a win will come at both ends of the floor. In their four losses this year, the team as a whole struggled to knock down shots. In year one without Sam Merrill, this may have been expected. But going up against a team who has also struggled in recent contests to knock down shots, the key will likely be defense as a whole.
As stated, when Boise State gets in trouble they like to get to the line. As a team the Aggies cannot let that happen and must play solid perimeter defense and force tough shots. That may be easier said then done given some of the potential mismatches on the perimeter, but coach Smith should have a plan for that.
Queta can clean up what they let in but remember his key role in the paint. The second he goes to the bench the Aggies become a different team.
Match up of the night: Who locks down Neemias Queta
The 7-0, 245 Portuguese big man is the Aggies leading scorer at 12.5 PPG. And though that number may not seem too daunting, his impact on the court comes on both sides of the ball. As a scorer Queta rarely has “huge” double-digit performances but his consistency and efficiency when he scores is what makes him dangerous. He also never really has an equal counterpart guarding him in the paint from a purely physical standpoint.
Yes, Serbian big man Mladen Armus is definitely stocky and up to the task, Queta holds the advantage with length and athleticism. Help side defense from the groups lengthy guards will be key in neutralizing Queta’s scoring ability.
Where the plan of attack around Queta may actually lie may be sending the multiple Broncos who are capable of driving the lane and challenging the big man at him all night.
Utah State head coach @CoachSmith_USU talks with @ScottyGZone about the message to the team during the break and the upcoming matchup with Boise State during last night's coach's show. Be at Old Chicago next Monday at 6 p.m. for more! #AggiesAllTheWay pic.twitter.com/t6N3rQwD14
— USU Men's Hoops (@USUBasketball) February 17, 2021
Guys like Alston Jr., Emmanuel Akot, Abu Kigab and Devonaire Doutrive. Are all capable of getting the big man into foul trouble early and getting him off of the floor, because I don’t think they have their own defensive counterpart to corral his scoring. So possibly watch out for that.
What’s at stake: The top of the conference
Of course there are at least two more games to be played for each of these teams but, both teams have to be thinking “sweep” to take full advantage in the standings. Utah State is currently atop the conference with just a one game lead over Boise State. With games that could possibly be rescheduled on both programs schedules, but no formal word from conference officials every game counts.
In the event things are left as is, the only way for the Broncos to take the lead would be to complete the sweep. If they split the series with the Aggies with no possibility of made up games, they would head into their road series with the Aztecs still in second place.
For Utah State, the worse case scenario is getting swept, they would obviously lose their position in the standings and put their regular season title in the hands of San Diego State. Which honestly isn’t the worse thing in the world actually. But given the uncertainty of the season both clubs will need to look to sweep for any assurance.
Game-One Prediction: Boise State 70, Utah State 68
KenPom has the Broncos as the 1-point favorite in both contests on the eve of game-one. This is one of the closer matchups that I have previewed all season. Although to me the home crowd feels like it could be the difference maker.
I see the Broncos pulling out a win, just barely though by two points and only with the right shooting night. Utah State isn’t the team you want to have to battle down low with Mountain West menace Neemias Queta altering shots in the paint.
Though as already mentioned, in past games we have seen the big man pick up early fouls, get sent to the bench and severely change the flow of a game. Then the drive the lane, get fouled and knock down enough free throws method of Boise State can be fully implemented if shots aren’t falling.
The X-Factor: Form
Playing a game on the road doesn’t necessarily deter the Aggies from walking into Wednesday night’s game and solidifying their place at the top of the Mountain West. After all they are 7-3 on the road this season, also posting a similar record at home at 7-2.
But still these two programs feel like they are coming into the game with two different momentums. Boise State off of a program record setting weekend and Utah State who haven’t seen live competition in almost two weeks, but obviously more rested. Still, both gunning for a regular season conference championship in front of 900 fans who are sure to make it feel like a packed house after a season of playing in empty gyms.
It makes for must see television on Wednesday night, with the conference’s top spot on the line and end of season momentum at stake. The last time Utah State took a pause, they went on a ten-game winning streak.
Larry Muniz covers college basketball as a writer for Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. Also as a co-host of the college basketball podcast “Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry”. He is also a USWBA Member.