Some think the Zag jury is still out

Gonzaga’s home seems to be set for the long-term in the West Coast Conference. At least that’s my opinion. Not everybody is convinced. Veteran columnist Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, while giving the Mountain West props for exploring expansion with the Zags, looks at the WCC’s measures to keep them, including the reduction of the conference schedule by two games. Writes Graney: “Let’s see exactly who—in an age when NCAA berths are more and more going to Power 5 programs that have little incentive to play at Gonzaga—the Zags get for those two additional nonleague games. Let’s see how they react if it keeps taking 30 wins just to be a 4 seed. Let’s see where everyone sits when the Mountain West’s TV deal expires in 2020.”

That last reference was to Gonzaga’s preference for ESPN over the relative anonymity of CBS Sports Network. The MW could have helped the Bulldogs protect their relationship with ESPN with special incentives. But the common thread when you read Mountain West beat writers’ accounts of these negotiations is negative comparisons to what was done for Boise State six years ago to keep the Bronco football program from moving to the Big East. Like this from Graney: “The league wrongly went down this road before when, falling over itself in 2012 to keep Boise State and its football team from jumping to the Big East Conference, leveraged far too much when guaranteeing the Broncos an annual windfall of near $1 million through TV contract bonuses. It wasn’t going to repeat the same mistake with Gonzaga.”

I wondered aloud a week and a half ago about Casdon Jardine helping fill the hole in Boise State’s basketball roster left by Chris Sengfelder. That will not happen, as Jardine has requested a release so he can transfer. The Twin Falls High grad came in from College of Southern Idaho a year ago but hardly played this season, logging just four minutes per game and averaging 1.6 points and 1.2 rebounds. That frees up a scholarship for coach Leon Rice. Might it be used on another graduate transfer like Sengfelder? That seems to be the way of the world now. Boise State is trying to replace Sengfelder’s mere presence inside, as well as his 11.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

It took longer than anyone in the San Joaquin Valley wanted, but Fresno State finally has its new men’s basketball coach, more than three weeks after Rodney Terry resigned. The Bulldogs have settled on San Diego State assistant Justin Hutson, who assisted Brian Dutcher last season and the iconic Steve Fisher the four seasons prior. Hutson is renowned as a great recruiter, and he knows the lay of the land. He’s a Bakersfield native and was part of two Division II national championships during his playing days at Cal State Bakersfield. Terry bolted Fresno State after seven seasons for a lateral move to UTEP despite three years remaining on his contract and a first-team All-Mountain West guard, Deshon Taylor, returning.

Boise State’s second scrimmage of spring football is set for tomorrow, a week ahead of the Spring Game. Storylines abound on the offensive side of the ball. Is Chase Cord locking down the backup quarterback job, and will there be minimal dropoff should Cord ever have to fill in for Brett Rypien? Is Robert Mahone taking the next step at running back, and is Drake Beasley taking that all-important first step coming off his redshirt year? As a matter of fact, can Skyler Siebold become a Ryan Wolpin-type story? Can the Broncos’ current stable of wide receivers make the coaching staff less anxious for the new crop to arrive this summer? And can any of the the tight ends catch the ball like Jake Roh did?

Leighton Vander Esch feels strongly about his chances to be a first-round pick at the end of the month. The NFL apparently agrees and has invited the former Boise State star to attend the NFL Draft in Dallas. Vander Esch has accepted, along with 21 other top prospects. The pride of Riggins is one of only four Group of 5 players who’ll be hosted by the league. One of the others is—no surprise—former Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. By the way, the latest jaw-dropping projection for Vander Esch comes from Pete Prisco of How about No. 8 overall to the Chicago Bears? Has any former walk-on ever gone that high in the draft?

The Idaho Steelheads’ regular season comes to an end this weekend with two road games against the Allen Americans. The Steelheads are 43-20-7 going in, but consider that they were 35-20-7 eight games ago. Maintaining this momentum into the Kelly Cup Playoffs in CenturyLink Arena next week would be huge. Much-discussed goalie Tomas Sholl has been the centerpiece of the Steelies’ winning streak. Had he played enough games to qualify, he’d be the leading goaltender in the ECHL right now—his goals-against average in his nine gaes with Idaho is an amazing 0.88.

The annual moment of truth for the Boise State women’s gymnastics team hits tomorrow night in Columbus, OH. The 15th-ranked Broncos compete at NCAA Regionals as the No. 3 seed, joined by No. 1 seed UCLA, No. 2 Arkansas, No. 4 and host Ohio State, No. 5 Pittsburgh and No. 6 Kent State. Boise State has qualified for regionals in each of the 11 seasons Tina Bird and Neil Resnick have co-coached the team. But the Broncos have never made the NCAA Championships. The top two regional teams advance to nationals—Boise State has finished third five different times and missed second place by just 25-thusandths of a point in 2011. The Broncos are hoping to become just the third team from a non-Power 5 conference to advance to nationals, joining Denver in 2017 and Kent State in 2011.

It’s a “This Is Your Life” week for Boise State men’s tennis coach Greg Patton. One of the episodes is already in the books as UC Irvine, where Patton coached from 1980-92 before taking over the Broncos, took a 4-2 victory Wednesday at the Appleton Center. Today it’s teacher vs. pupil when Boise State hosts Fresno State. The Bulldogs are coached by Luke Shields, one of Patton’s all-time favorite and most successful players. Injuries, illness and youth have contributed to an uncharacteristic 8-12 record for the Broncos. But celebrate Patton while you can—hey, he’s 65 now. The “General” ranks No. 1 in career wins nationally among active collegiate coaches and is fourth all-time at 807-402. Boise State is also home Sunday against Nevada and Idaho State.

This Day In Sports…April 6, 2015:

Duke and coach Mike Krzykewski win their fifth national championship with a 68-63 win over Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament final in Indianapolis. The Badgers seemed like a team of destiny as they rolled into their first title game in 74 years. They built a nine-point lead with 13 minutes to go in the game before the Blue Devils methodically made it evaporate. Of Duke’s 68 points, 60 were scored by freshmen, a championship game record. The victory lifted Krzykewski into sole possession of second place in all-time national titles behind UCLA’s John Wooden, who won 10.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)