One last second chance this season

The Boise State basketball season will be defined by what happens beginning this evening in Las Vegas. The 2015-16 Boise State basketball season will be defined by what happens beginning this evening in at the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas. The Broncos could still right the ship and win three in a row, or they could be rudely ushered out of the tourney late tonight by Colorado State. We’ve already been down this road, but from the “which Broncos will you get?” department, Boise State is the only team in the tournament with wins against each of the top two seeds this season (No. 1 San Diego State and No. 2 Fresno State). The Broncos also sports losses to the bottom two seeds (No. 10 Air Force and No. 11 San Jose State, both of which were eliminated yesterday).

Will Nick Duncan rise to the occasion at the Thomas & Mack Center? The junior Aussie was one of the bright spots before Boise State made its semifinal exit in last year’s tournament. Duncan scored 34 points combined and made 10 three-pointers in the win over Air Force and the loss to Wyoming and was named to the Mountain West All-Tournament Team, the first Bronco to earn the award since Boise State joined the conference. Those three-pointers are interesting. Since a 1-for-10 stretch from beyond the arc in early February, Duncan hasn’t been launching from deep as much as he used to. He’s tried only 22 three-pointers over the past seven games. Thing is, Duncan’s made nine of them—a decent 41 percent clip. Maybe he should bomb away again, even if his Bronco teammates are bricking them.

Colorado State, who pounded San Jose State 80-61 in last night’s play-in game, is almost like Boise State used to be—the three-pointer is the Rams’ bread and butter. If the treys are going down tonight, CSU is going to be tough. The Rams have hit 9.6 three-pointers per game this season, helping them to their perch as the top-scoring team in the Mountain West at 79.9 points per game (they could not have come closer to their season average last night). Those in Bronco Nation who are of the glass half-full persuasion will point out that Colorado State is the worst defensive team in the conference, allowing 78.1 points per game and 45.5 percent shooting from the field.

There’s too much at stake tonight for Boise State to obsess about what happened the last time these two teams met, but every little bit of incentive helps. I’ll be darned if it wasn’t one month ago tonight. That was Stopwatch-Gate in Fort Collins, when officials waved off James Webb III’s game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer in overtime, allowing Colorado State to go on to a 97-93 victory in the second OT. The Mountain West, of course, said two days later that Webb’s shot should have ended the game.

Opportunities abound for Boise State’s offensive linemen in spring football, especially with starters Mario Yakoo and Archie Lewis sitting out the session while they rehab from offseason surgeries. It was interesting to hear Scott Huff talk the other day about replacing Marcus Henry at center. Who’s the new guy going to be? Could be Mason Hampton, the junior from Meridian High who backed up Henry last year. Or Fruitland’s Garrett Larson, the redshirt freshman, or Andrew Tercek, the junior from San Antonio who has seen spot duty on the line. Huff also reminds us that O-line mainstays Steven Baggett and Travis Averill can play center as well.

Very little drama, but a lot of money yesterday for a couple of former Boise State stars. Doug Martin has re-signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, getting a five-year deal worth $35.8 million with $15 million guaranteed, making him one of the NFL’s richest running backs. This comes just a year after the Bucs declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Martin’s original contract. ESPN.com’s Bill Barnwell gives the deal a D+ grade, writing, “They’re paying for the player Martin was in 2015, and that’s almost always a mistake when it comes to running backs. If Martin stays healthy and continues to break long runs at a league-leading pace, he’ll be worth the money. The chances of that happening just aren’t very high.” A chip for the Douginator’s shoulder.

Barnwell’s tune is different on George Iloka’s five-year, $30 million deal that keeps him with the Cincinnati Bengals, grading that move as a B+. “It’s hard to fathom why Cincinnati got so close to letting Iloka hit the market to begin with,” writes Barnwell. “The Bengals may have gotten a better deal if they locked Iloka up in February, but the price tag isn’t egregious for a player with his ability, given that he’s a stout run-defender who can credibly chip in against tight ends in coverage. Iloka’s contract fully guarantees just $5 million and keeps his base salary under $5 million for the entirety of his deal. It’s a quietly effective deal for a team that does more right than its reputation suggests.” Iloka’s pay will, however, be among the top 10 figures in the NFL for safeties.

All three PGA Tour card-holders from the Treasure Valley are entered in the Valspar Championship beginning today in Palm Harbor, FL. Here are thumbnail sketches of the trio. Graham DeLaet has just one top 25 result this season—that was his tie for seventh at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January. Tyler Aldridge has made just one cut in the new year after a solid fall. The one weekend he played was a big one, though, when he tied for 17th at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Troy Merritt hasn’t played since tying for 11th at the Northern Trust Open three weeks ago.

Checking in on some more hoops: Idaho faces Eastern Washington tonight in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Tournament in Reno. The Vandals and Eagles split during the regular season, with each team winning at home. Idaho State, guided by newly-named Big Sky Coach of the Year Bill Evans, takes on North Dakota in the quarters this afternoon. And the Idaho Stampede let one get away last night, falling on the road to the Texas Legends, 114-113. The positive was Jared Cunningham pouring in 30 points in his first game of the season with the Stamps.

A “where are they now” on a former Stampede standout. He isn’t playing elsewhere in the D-League, nor in the Show (though he has played 73 NBA games), nor overseas. He’s a player who has made a seamless transition into coaching. Luke Jackson led Northwest Christian to its first Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament championship last week, adding to a regular season title. The school is in Eugene, down the street where Jackson starred at Oregon. The Beacons are now 27-6 in Jackson’s third season as head coach and are seeded third as they open the NAIA Division II Championships today against Southwestern College of Kansas. To put it in perspective, Northwest Christian won a total of 26 games combined in the three seasons before Jackson arrived.

Yesterday was another benchmark day for the College of Idaho alpine ski team. The men’s squad finished third in the giant slalom at the USCSA National Championships in Lake Placid, NY. It was the Coyotes’ first podium appearance at nationals in 26 years. Western Region champ Anton Waller led the way for the Yotes, placing fourth overall—the highest finish at the event by a C of I men’s skier since Brett LaBounty won back-to-back national titles in 1986 and 1987.

This Day In Sports…March 10, 1991, 25 years ago today:

Eddie Sutton becomes the first coach ever to take four different schools to the NCAA Tournament when Oklahoma State is named to the field of 64. Sutton had previously guided Creighton, Kentucky and Arkansas into the Big Dance. He got his coaching start in Twin Falls, where he founded the College of Southern Idaho basketball program in 1966 and coached there for three seasons. Sutton finished his career in 2008 at the University of San Francisco.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)