2021 NIT: Boise State vs Memphis Preview
Boise State take on the No. 1 seed Memphis Tigers in the NIT quarterfinals on Thursday.
The Broncos take on the Memphis Tigers in their first ever NIT quarterfinals appearance.
WHO: No. 2 Boise State Broncos (19-8, 14-6 in the MW) vs. No. 1 Memphis Tigers (17-8, 11-4 in the American)
WHEN: Thursday, March 25th 9:00 PM ET/8:00 PM CT/7:00 PM MT/6:00 PM PT
WHERE: UNT Coliseum, Denton, TX
TV/Stream: This matchup can be seen on the ESPN, Stream via FuboTV and get a seven-day free trial.
RADIO: Boise State
Line: KenPom, Tigers are 3-point favorites
SERIES RECORD: First ever meeting
Boise State is back in the Lone Star State for their first ever quarterfinals appearance in the NIT. After a hard fought first round win over SMU last week, the Broncos drew the Memphis Tigers for their next Texas postseason matchup on Thursday night.
🐴 🆚 🐯
Watch tonight on @espn as we take on Memphis in the NIT Quarterfinals!
— Boise State MBB (@BroncoSportsMBB) March 25, 2021
This is the first ever meeting between the two programs, but Memphis is the second straight team from the AAC the Broncos have encountered and third all season. As both squads share a common loss on their records from the 6th ranked and current Sweet 16 participants, the Houston Cougars.
Penny Hardaway’s Tigers are coming off of a 71-60 first around Victory over Dayton last weekend. Down 58-56 with around 6:31 left to play in the second half, the Tigers went on a 15-2 run and held the Flyers scoreless in the final 2:12 to advance to Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Memphis was led by leading scorer Landers Nolley II (12.9 PPG) in that one with 21-points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Joining him in double figures was guard Lester Quinones (9.2 PPG) with his 15-points all coming in just 16 minutes in the second half. And DeAndre Williams (11.3 PPG) and D.J. Jefferies (9.6 PPG) joining them with 12 and 10 points a piece.
Locked in for GAME DAY 🔒
8pm vs Boise State ESPN pic.twitter.com/33sPQjcivx
— Memphis Basketball (@Memphis_MBB) March 25, 2021
That is what makes Memphis a tricky team to win against, they have a top ranked defense and get their scoring from multiple players on the roster. With a total of five players averaging 9.2 PPG or more and holding their opponents to just 62.8 PPG.
Last time out, Boise State beat SMU 85-84, thanks to a last second Devonaire Doutrive put back. Coach Leon Rice and his squad received double-digit performances from all five starters. Also shooting 50.8% from the field and 53.3% from deep, netting a total 14-29 three pointers against the Mustangs.
Thursday night’s matchup is going to be nationally televised on ESPN and those involved know it’s a big game for fans to tune into.
“I feel like this is going to be a good game,” Memphis’ D.J. Jeffries said. “They had a lot of votes this year to be a top 25 team and we feel like we’re a top 25 team so it’s going to be a good clash of two great teams and the best team will win the game. It will be a fun game. I’m excited for it.”
Prediction: Memphis 75, Boise State 70
KenPom has the Tigers as three point favorites on Thursday night, I think this holds as Memphis has multiple scoring options and a nationally ranked defense to get around.
A ninth ranked defensive field goal percentage of holding opponents to 39% a game as well as limiting them to just 27.4% from deep, second-best in the country. For a Broncos squad that made 8 of it’s first 10 attempts from long distance to open things up last game, any advantage from deep may be hard to find against this Memphis squad.
For Boise State: Emmanuel Akot
Akot had possibly his best game of the season against the Mustangs, scoring 17-points and 6 rebounds while shooting 5-8 from beyond the arc. He also adopted a good deal of the ball handling and distribution duties last time around, logging 9 assists to 4 turnovers.
To deal with the size, athleticism and depth on the Tigers roster Akot needs to have another strong performance handling the ball.
For Memphis: Ball Security
The Tigers rank 321st nationally for turnovers per game, 16.0 to be exact. In their win over Dayton which saw them claw their way to their 11-point lead when the final buzzer sounded, they only had 10.
The Broncos in turn force about 14.8 turnovers per game, but don’t have the depth to compete with Memphis if players begin getting into foul trouble. With the absences of Abu Kigab and Max Rice to season ending injuries before the NIT began, Coach Rice has been using a lineup of around eight players maximum over the last two games. With at least four starters logging well over 30 minutes a game in each.
In short, if attempted forced turnovers turn to fouls they will have to dial back their defensive pressure and attempt to outscore one of the better defensive teams in the nation.
Matchup of the night: Battle of the Bigs
The quality of play for Boise State big man Mladen Armus of late has been superb. The 6-10 Serbian, had 18 points and 10 rebounds in their win over SMU and maybe the game winning sequence on top of that.
Armus is playing some of his best basketball of late and was able to make his presence felt on both ends of the floor against the Mustangs last time out. Logging a double-double and holding SMU’s front court to a combined 8-points, 9 rebounds with 5 fouls.
The Tigers keeping him company in the paint on Thursday are 6-10, 220 freshman center Moussa Cisse and likely a combination of Deandre Williams (6-9, 190) or D.J. Jefferies (6-7, 215). Cisse averages 7.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG & 1.7 BPG but only averages about 19.0 MPG.
The Tigers then get around 12.8 MPG from 6-9, 230 center Malcolm Danridge (4.2 PPG & 3.2 RPG). Which means at a minimum a little under a quarter of the game will put Armus up against some smaller more manageable Tigers.
The redshirt junior makes his impact on both sides of the ball. So as long as he stays out of foul trouble and makes smart defensive plays, the Broncos should be fine. But there isn’t much frontcourt depth for coach Rice to use otherwise.
The winner of Thursday night’s contest will advance to Saturday’s semifinals against either Colorado State or North Carolina State. A double dose of Mountain West teams in the semifinals would surely be something, but both programs have tough tests a head to make that happen.
“I expect this to be another great one,” Coach Leon Rice said. “We feel like we’re moving this team forward and that’s a great thing in March.”
Link to complete bracket here.
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.