Will Marcus Shaver Jr.’s farewell tour in the NCAA Tournament last one game, or two? Or… At any rate, Boise State’s point guard is sure to leave it all on the floor as the Broncos face Northwestern Thursday evening in Sacramento. Shaver has missed some games this season due to injuries. But every time he returned to the lineup, he didn’t hold back, attacking the hoop with abandon and taking more hits. Shaver’s acrobatics have won Boise State a lot of games the past three seasons. I’m just going to appreciate watching him Thursday. Nobody who has worn a Boise State uniform has ever scored more career points in college hoops. Boise State’s career leader is Tanoka Beard with 1,944 points from 1989-93. But Shaver now has 1,962 points—868 at Portland and 1,094 as a Bronco.
SURE IT COULD HAPPEN
Most bracket predictions say Northwestern Thursday, but oddsmakers have Boise State keeping it close. Despite being a No. 10 seed playing a No. 7, the Broncos were 1.5-point favorites over the Wildcats on the opening line. That has flipped now to 1½ points in Northwestern’s favor. Boise State needs to recycle one pattern and buck another from last week’s Mountain West tournament. The Broncos had fast starts and solid first half output against UNLV and Utah State. It was down the stretch that they hit the wall. Will six days of rest help? Boise State has lost three of its last five, but the Wildcats have scored 65 points or fewer in each of their last five games. That’s tonic for the Broncos’ usually-stingy defense as the program goes for its first NCAA Tournament victory in school history.
NOT MANY BOOS FOR BOO BUIE
You’ve heard that this is only Northwestern’s second NCAA Tournament bid ever. It’s a big deal for the Wildcats. But they do feel like a seasoned bunch. So who is this Boo Buie? He could change the narrative in a hurry against Boise State. Buie is Northwestern’s star guard, and he took a huge step this season, averaging 17.1 points and 4.5 assists per game. He’s the first Wildcat to score 17 points a game in 12 years. Buie’s the type of player Leon Rice would love, having stuck it out with the Wildcats for four years in the transfer portal era. Shaver and Max Rice (and Jace Whiting) will have to be on-point defensively. Buie likes to shoot the three, and he likes to look for the last shot. He also likes to draw contact and shoots almost 88 percent from the free throw line.
WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGE IS THE WILDCATS’ 7-FOOTER?
What will the battle be like inside on Thursday? Northwestern has a 7-footer, center Matthew Nicholson, who has emerged as a starter this season. But his numbers are neutral. Nicholson averages 6.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Perhaps Boise State’s Lukas Milner can play extended minutes against Nicholson and allow All-Mountain West forward Tyson Degenhart to play more like a forward. It’s games like this that make Bronco Nation long for Mladen Armus.
SIDEBAR TO THE UTAH STATE GAME
Also in the Sacramento bracket is Utah State, also a No. 10 seed, taking on Missouri at 11:40 Thursdsay morning. Aggies coach Ryan Odom returns to March Madness on the five-year anniversary of his slice of history at Maryland-Baltimore County. Everybody said it had to happen someday—a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament. Odom’s team did it on March 16, 2018. UMBC became the first 16 to win a game in the Big Dance, not just defeating No. 1 overall seed Virginia, but routing the Cavaliers 74-54. After a sluggish first half that ended in a 21-21 tie, the Retrievers exploded for 53 second half points against one of the nation’s best defensive teams. Until that night, 16th-seeded teams had been 0-135 against top seeds since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
EXTRAMILE ARENA CELEBRATES A 40TH
More history for you. It was 40 years ago Friday that Boise State hosted rounds one and two of the NCAA Tournament for the first time. The BSU Pavilion, less than a year old, was filled to the brim for the city’s first true entry into the national spotlight. The field back then was only 52 teams, so there were just two first-day games in the Pavilion instead of four. Washington State beat Big Sky champion Weber State, and Utah upset Illinois in the first round. Two days later, the Utes would shock UCLA, 67-61, after Virginia and Ralph Sampson edged Wazzu, 54-49. The Big Dance has been back seven times since. The last time was 2018 (it was supposed to be 2021 until that was upended by COVID). Maybe with the upgrades coming to ExtraMile Arena, the NCAAs will be back someday.
THE YOTES ARE THREE WINS AWAY
College of Idaho is 33-1 this season. That’s pretty good, right? The Coyotes are in the quarterfinals of the NAIA Championships today at noon in Kansas City. The opponent is Tougaloo College, an HBCU from Mississippi which is making its first round of 8 appearance ever at nationals. What is the Bulldogs record? It’s 32-1. That’s pretty good, too. But the Yotes are coming off a 48-point rout of LSU-Shreveport, while Tougaloo had to rally past St. Thomas of Florida 74-68 on Monday. The recurring theme for C of I: this team is fresh due to its depth (probably a lot fresher than the Bulldogs).
BOLT FORGING ON WITH REHAB
Spring football at Boise State is noticeable for who is missing, and one of those is wide receiver Austin Bolt. A lot of hearts stopped on the second half kickoff in the opener at Oregon State last September when the former Borah High star was laid out with a broken leg at Reser Stadium. The recovery process has been arduous, and we can only hope Bolt hangs in there and is in one piece for fall camp. While he’s away, the Broncos are drilling a deep corps of wide receivers. Bolt has spent exactly one half of one regular season game at that position. Not to forget that Bolt did it all as a senior at Borah, playing quarterback and amassing 2,771 yards of total offense and 36 total touchdowns. He then promptly averaged 19.4 points and 12.5 rebounds for the Lions basketball team. Oh to see him on the Blue again.
LVE LIVES ON IN ‘BIG D’
Former Boise State teammates Brett Rypien and Leighton Vander Esch are in entirely different situations right now. Rypien has been informed he won’t be offered a contract by Denver, ending his four seasons with the Broncos. Rypien has played in eight NFL games with two starts, throwing for 778 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. Vander Esch, on the other hand, has parlayed a comeback season in 2022 into a two-year, $11 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys. LVE was as healthy as he’s been since his rookie year and logged 90 tackles (an average of 6.4 per game) with a forced fumble and a sack. The Cowboys, after declining the fifth-year option on Vander Esch in 2021, have been impressed with his bounce-back and have kept him in the fold.
THE STEELIES’ JAW-DROPPING NUMBERS
Even though the Idaho Steelheads have clinched everything—the ECHL Mountain Division title and a Kelly Cup Playoffs berth—it’s still fun to look at the standings. Going into a three-game home series tonight in Idaho Central Arena, the Steelheads are 45-9-3 with a staggering 33-point lead over the second-place Kansas City Mavericks. They have scored 110 more goals than their opponents this season. The next-best record in the ECHL belongs to the Toledo Walleye in the Central Division: 39-15-6. Idaho Central Arena has been a happy, happy place this winter.
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March 15, 1990: The last trip to the NCAA Tournament for the University of Idaho basketball team, five days after beating Eastern Washington in the Big Sky championship game at the BSU Pavilion. The opponent was Louisville, who cruised past the Vandals, 78-59, in Salt Lake City. It would be the final game in the career of Big Sky Player of the Year Riley Smith, and the final game at Idaho for coach Kermit Davis (until his one-year return seven seasons later).
(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.)