The Mountain West Tournament provides a chance for the Broncos to make it right after one of the best regular seasons in school history—and the best conference record ever. We all know about the tournament. Boise State is 5-10 all-time there and has only made the semifinals three times. The Broncos lost all three and have never made the conference championship game. They’re 3-7 in the quarterfinals, including the the defeat that hurt the most: the 89-82 loss to Nevada a year ago. That finished off Boise State’s February-March fade after a 13-game winning streak early in the season and relegated it to the NIT. The top-seeded Broncos begin play Thursday against the winner of today’s New Mexico-Nevada game.
Let’s run down a season reset for Boise State. Are the Broncos healthy? It appears that they’re as healthy as they’ve been all season. Marcus Shaver Jr. is a little banged up, but Emmanuel Akot looks like he’s 100 percent. Is Boise State making its free throws? The team that was at one time the worst in Division I at the charity stripe is still 341st out of 350 teams. But the Broncos have made 73 percent of their attempts over the last 13 games. Are they hitting their three-pointers? Boise State is basically in the top third of Division I, shooting 35 percent from deep. Are the Broncos still rebounding consistently? This might be the big one. They’ve been solid on the offensive glass this season, but they’ve been hot-and-cold lately. Boise State needs to crash the boards.
THE MOUNTAIN WEST’S ‘PEAK’ SEASON
As we go into the tournament this week, what a season it has been in the Mountain West. Great games at every turn, including the 12 conference games involving Boise State decided by single digits. There have been marquee names like Graham Ike, David Roddy, Orlando Robinson, Matt Bradley, Bryce Hamilton and (oh yeah) Abu Kigab. The league has a strong portfolio, with three teams in the top 30 of the NCAA NET ratings (the Broncos are No. 30). The NET and KenPom ratings don’t rank the conferences, but the RPI (remember that?) still does, and the Mountain West is No. 5, ahead of the Pac-12 and the ACC. The only team that doesn’t pose any kind of danger in Las Vegas is San Jose State. Other than that, for better or for worse Bronco Nation, it’s wide open. Cue the commercial: “The Mountain West is at the peak.”
THE MW AWARDS STAND
Consider the All-Mountain West media picks Monday a dry run. On Tuesday, the conference announced its official All-Mountain West awards, and Boise State’s Leon Rice and Tyson Degenhart were named Coach of the Year and Freshman of the Year, respectively (just like in the media vote). Kigab, a second-team All-Mountain West pick by the media, was joined on the official second team by Marcus Shaver Jr. Yes, you can say at least Kigab should have been first-team, but the Mountain West was stacked with talent this season. Que sera, sera. This is the first time in the current configuration of the Mountain West that a regular season men’s basketball champion hasn’t had a first-team all-conference selection.
EARLY SEASON INVESTMENT
Boise State has been selected for the fourth annual Myrtle Beach Invitational this November, along with Colorado, Texas A&M, Loyola of Chicago, Charlotte, UMass, Tulsa and a team to be named later. These early-season tournaments have benefitted the Broncos. In the long run, the Charleston Classic in November paid off this season. Boise State was tested, taking a 67-61 loss to then-No. 22 St. Bonaventure before beating Temple 82-62 and Ole Miss 60-50.
CATCHING UP ON KHALIL
There’s no doubt that Boise State’s Khalil Shakir shined in his interviews—which are just as important as anything else—last week at the NFL Combine. And by all accounts, he did fine in the pass-catching drills. So how did Shakir do in the speed competitions? The hand-timed 4.35-second 40-yard dash he ran turned into an official 4.43, tied for 12th among the 32 receivers who ran in what was called the one of the fastest wideout groups ever at the Combine. Shakir tied for 14th in the vertical leap and tied for 16th in the broad jump. He tied for 10th in the three-cone drill in a field of 14. Shakir’s best event was the one that is really set up to showcase his incredible balance—he was third in the 20-yard shuttle. Next up is the Broncos’ Pro Day (if he elects to participate).
BOISE STATE’S COVETED NO. 1 JERSEY
Is Latrell Caples going to be rockin’ the No. 1 jersey this fall? There was a Boise State-generated graphic featuring Caples on Twitter last Friday showing him wearing No. 1, but he’s still listed as No. 7 on the official roster. Somebody will inherit that numeral from Octavius Evans, and there are many who are bullish on Caples’ future, as the Broncos wide receivers room becomes kind of a blank canvas with Shakir gone. Caples only had four catches last season for 56 yards. But they weren’t in mopup—they were in the heat of the battle. And his leaping 23-yard sideline grab to set up a touchdown against San Diego State in the season finale last November told us a lot about his playmaking capability. Evans’ career kind of went south after he was awarded No. 1. I expect the opposite with Caples, if he is indeed that guy.
RUSS & RYP, NO. 3 & NO. 4, FOR NOW
Brett Rypien is going to be teammates with Russell Wilson. At least for a little while. Word of Wilson’s impending trade from Seattle to Denver Tuesday shook up the NFL, and it will shake up the Broncos roster. It remains to be seen how it affects Rypien, but he is still on Denver’s active roster, as is Drew Lock (as of this morning). And Teddy Bridgewater remains on the injured list. But Lock is said to be part of the big package of players and draft picks headed for the Seahawks. Rypien has spent most of his three-year NFL career on Denver’s practice squad, but he has had a cup of coffee in regular season games. He played three games in 2020 and had the victory over the New York Jets in his first NFL start. Rypien was active for several games last season but appeared in just one game and threw two passes.
STEELIES TRY TO SHIFT OUT OF NEUTRAL
It’s been a rough go for the Idaho Steelheads lately. The Steelheads have won only four of their last 14 games after last night’s 2-1 loss in Kalamazoo. Another one got away, as the Wings broke a 1-1 tie with the eventual game-winning goal midway through the third period. In most sports this would be a good stat, but it would be interesting to see how the Steelies feel about it. They have the third-lowest penalty minutes per game in the ECHL and fifth-lowest total penalty minutes. There was just one penalty called on Idaho last night, a two-minute interference call on Colby McAuley with about four minutes left in the game. The Steelheads have three more games on the road in Toledo this weekend before finally returning to home ice in Boise a week from Friday.
MERRITT TURNS THE PAGE AT TPC
Talk about wanting to flush a bad performance—Troy Merritt is in that boat as he tees off in The Players Championship Thursday at TPC Sawgrass. Merritt’s last round was the worst of his PGA Tour career. By five strokes. Only once had he shot in the 80s on the tour (an 82 in the 2017 Quicken Loans National). This one was in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last Sunday, and it was an 87 that included seven bogeys and four double-bogeys—and not a single birdie. Merritt still earned $23,400 at the Palmer, so there’s that.
THE YOTES’ FINAL-FINAL HOMESTAND
No more wondering which game will be the last game of the season for College of Idaho at the J.A. Albertson Activities Center. Well, maybe a little wondering. The Coyotes host the Caldwell Opening Bracket of the NAIA National Championships Friday and Saturday, with Ottawa University of Arizona meeting Tennessee Southern in Friday’s first game and C of I facing Vanguard University in the nightcap. The two winners will meet Saturday for a spot in the Round of 16 in Kansas City. If the Yotes are one of the two, that will obviously be the home finale. College of Idaho, which is going for its 30th win of the season against Vanguard, is making its 24th appearance in the NAIA Tournament.
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March 9, 2015: Toward the end of its 47th season of four-year basketball, Boise State nabs the first Top 25 ranking in school history. The Broncos made the AP Poll at No. 25 after capturing a share of the Mountain West regular season championship by winning 14 of its last 15 games following an 0-3 conference start. The next day star senior Derrick Marks would be named Mountain West Player of the Year, Boise State’s first league MVP since Roberto Bergersen in 1999. The Broncos’ Leon Rice would also nab Coach of the Year honors, and sophomore James Webb III would be MW Newcomer of the Year.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)