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With Marks gone, Boise State shouldn’t slip much

October 5, 2015 Columns No Comments

Boise State has often reloaded on the gridiron, where the Broncos have had plenty of success. The hardwood, however, has been a different story – until now. They may have made the NCAA Tournament last year for the second time in three seasons, led by a senior, but with him gone, they shouldn’t drop much this year, if they drop at all.

This is somewhat new territory for the program. We’re talking about a program that has only been to the NCAA Tournament seven times in its entire history, and prior to the last two trips had never done so as an at-large selection. Last season, they had their highest seed since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, a No. 11. They still haven’t won a game, so there’s lots of new territory to still reach.

Derrick Marks, the 2014-15 Mountain West Player of the Year, is gone, and that’s a significant hit for the Broncos, as it would be for a lot of teams. He closed out a terrific career by leading the conference in scoring, including a big run in conference play as he posted the fourth-best number in that category in conference history. It would have been easy to think the Broncos were in trouble when Anthony Drmic was lost for the season in December, but Marks made sure that didn’t happen. He left the program third on their all-time scoring list.

He had good help, though, even with Drmic having to redshirt due to an ankle injury that required surgery. This season, the Broncos will reap the benefits of that as Drmic returns and junior James Webb III, the conference’s Newcomer of the Year, looks ready to take on a bigger role. They won’t be alone, either.

Drmic will get additional perimeter help from Boston College transfer Lonnie Jackson, giving the Broncos a tandem on the perimeter that opponents must be wary of. Jackson is a proven three-point shooter, but can do more than that as he is a capable passer with a good feel for the game. Junior Nick Duncan is another full-time starter who returns, while senior Mikey Thompson and sophomore Chandler Hutchinson also started more than half of last season’s games and David Wacker also got minutes as part of a highly-touted freshman group. Zach Haney redshirted last year and should help this year, as should freshman point guard Paris Austin, who was a key part of a state title team in California last year playing alongside Cal freshman Ivan Rabb.

Webb will anchor the frontcourt alongside the likes of Duncan and Wacker, while Haney will play, and there is more depth on a front line that could see five players 6’8″ or taller play and contribute. Freshman Robin Jorch, a German import, is practicing with the team but has not yet been cleared by the NCAA. If cleared, he adds size at 6’10.”

Boise State has been an offensive powerhouse under head coach Leon Rice, but they did more than that last season. They maintained their offensive prowess in part by being in the top 20 in the nation in fewest turnovers, and they were second in the conference in scoring after leading the Mountain West in that category each of the prior two seasons and three of the past four. They also had one of the best defensive seasons in program history, and repeating that will certainly go a long way towards a repeat of the bottom line.

This is what Rice has built, and he’s no stranger to winning. Before he took the job in Boise, he was one of the chief architects of Gonzaga’s nearly two decades of winning, a remarkable run, as he was an assistant from 1999 until he left to lead Boise State in 2010. Gonzaga went to the NCAA Tournament every year of his tenure, and Boise State has now made it three times in five years with him at the helm. While the program has had some success over the years, the Broncos may be in the midst of their best ever in Division I, though that remains to be seen.

Rice has now built a program that looks poised for long-term success. Each of the three upperclassmen groups has at least one significant contributor, and the freshmen this year should follow suit as well. Drmic was a second team All-MWC player two seasons ago and figured to be in the mix for the first team had he stayed healthy last year. The Broncos managed to make the NCAA Tournament with him missing most of the season.

Boise State’s basketball team has a long way to go to even remotely match the football program in terms of consistent success. This year, they might show the first sign of moving in that direction, as they should be able to at least contend for an NCAA Tournament appearance once again with their best player from last season having moved on.

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