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Boise State vs. Northern Arizona basketball preview: Broncos taking on Lumberjacks in home opener

The Broncos will aim to avenge Friday's loss to Montana in its home opener Monday night.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Boise State is coming off a tightly contested loss against the Montana Grizzlies Friday night.

The 0-1 start is a frustrating one for the Broncos. Although Montana is an experienced and talent group, it is a game that a tournament team should win.

Boise State was out of the gates with a quick 12-4 lead, and extended its lead to nine with a 20-11 score after a Zach Haney three pointer.

The Broncos seemed to be in position to maintain a comfortable lead, but the Grizzlies manufactured a 10-0 run to take a one-point advantage midway through the first.

Montana and Boise State battled throughout the second half, but foul trouble and free throw disparities proved too much for Leon Rice's team. BSU led by nine in two separate occasions in the second period but the Griz managed to keep the game within reach and pulled out a 74-72 victory.

2015 is not off to the start the Broncos would have hoped, but Boise State has opportunities aplenty to right the ship.

Broncos at a Glance

Current record: 0-1 
Points per game: 72.0
Opponent points per game: 74.0
Leading scorer: Anthony Drmic 23.0 PPG
Leading rebounder: Nick Duncan 4.0 RPG
Leading passer: Montigo Alford and Mikey Thompson 3.0 APG
Upcoming schedule: vs. Northern Arizona, @ Arizona, vs. Concordia(OR), Wooden Legacy - three games

Game Info

Matchup: Northern Arizona Lumberjacks vs. Boise State Broncos in Boise, Idaho, 9:00 PM Eastern, Taco Bell Arena
Live coverage: Radio: 670 AM KBOI Boise, TV: Root Sports, Streaming: broncosports.com
Vegas: Boise State - 15.5 point favorites according to OddsShark, O/U - 142.5
2015 win/loss records: Northern Arizona 0-1, Boise State 0-1
Head coaches: Northern Arizona - Jack Murphy (fourth season with school, 49-54 record, zero NCAA appearances)
Boise State - Leon Rice (sixth season with school, 102-64 record, two NCAA appearances)

History

Northern Arizona and Boise State have met 55 previous times with BSU currently holding a 33-22 edge.

The most recent meeting between these two teams was played on December 18, 2001, an 11-point home victory to the Broncos.

The Big Sky Conference has hosted a number of NAU-BSU matchups throughout the 1970's and 1980's. Northern Arizona and Boise State joined the Big Sky Conference in the 1970 season. The Lumberjacks have remained in the conference since then, and the Broncos departed for the Big West in 1996. In this 26-year span, Boise State reached the NCAA tournament three times and Northern Arizona did not have a tournament appearance.

In 1985, Northern Arizona won the Big Sky regular season title, but fell to Montana State in the conference tournament, ultimately sending the Lumberjacks to the NIT. NAU clinched its first-ever NCAA appearance in the 1997-98 season and won the Big Sky tournament again in the 1999-2000 season.

Projected Starting Lineups

Northern Arizona Lumberjacks

G) Mike Green, Fr., 11.0 PPG
G) Jaleni Neely, Sr., 13.0 PPG, G) Kris Yanku, Jr., 15.0 PPG
F) Jordyn Martin, Sr., 12.0 PPG, F) Ako Kaluna, Jr., 5.0 PPG

Boise State Broncos

G) Mikey Thompson, Sr., 15.0 PPG
G) Anthony Drmic, Sr., 23.0 PPG, G) Chandler Hutchison, So., 0.0 PPG
F) James Webb III, Jr., 6.0 PPG, F) Nick Duncan Jr., 7.0 PPG

Injury Status

Guards Montigo Alford (knee) and Mikey Thompson (hernia) suited up and combined to play 52 minutes on Friday night against Montana.

There are currently no injuries to report for Northern Arizona.

Key Matchup

Northern Arizona guard Kris Yanku vs. Boise State guard Anthony Drmic

If last Friday was any indication, Boise State must slow down the opposing star player in order to win. Montana forward Martin Breunig, who has two seasons of Pac-12 experience under his belt, hit every two-point shot he attempted in a 21-point, 5-rebound performance.

The 'Jacks are more balanced than Montana, but have key pieces nonetheless. Kris Yanku, a 6-4 junior guard, is one of the top players from the Big Sky. Yanku doesn't fit the mold of a protypical shooting guard, however. Yanku is an attacking guard who does not shy away from contact. Last Friday, Yanku broke the NAU school record for career free throws made. Last season, Yanku finished first in the nation in free throws made, and also passed NBA superstar Damian Lillard for the Big Sky record for converted free throws.

This immediately becomes a cause for concern for the Broncos.

Boise State allowed Montana to attempt 36 free throws (Boise State had 12 attempts), which ultimately contributed to over one-third of the Grizzlies points. Every Bronco starter had at least three fouls, and James Webb's early foul trouble limited him to only 17 minutes and six points.

In order for Boise State to control foul trouble, they must remain disciplined defensively by not  falling for ball-fakes, pump-fakes, and rebounding without fouling. This will not be an easy task, especially if 2014's top free throw shooter continues to be aggressive with the basketball.

Look for Boise to rely on its chief, Anthony Drmic, to will the Broncos through this matchup. Northern Arizona does not have an imposing defense, and allowed Washington State to shoot 41.7% from deep in the opener. If the Lumberjacks are slow defending the perimeter, Boise State could light it up from downtown. Drmic is the go-to scorer, but BSU typically has at least three players on the court who can consistently hit the three-ball.

Northern Arizona's free throws and Boise State's three-pointers could determine which team ends up victorious Monday night. Yanku and Drmic will be a major factor in this overall matchup.

What to Expect

Last week, Boise State traveled (in an Idaho Vandals plane) to Montana to take on the class of the Big Sky Conference.

Although the Broncos came up short, coach Rice knows that November is a time for the team to learn how to play together. The non-conference portion of the schedule helps teams figure out strengths and weaknesses, as well as which lineups and plays work.

Monday night should be another learning experience for the Broncos. Northern Arizona is one of the weaker teams Boise plays in non-conference, but the Lumberjacks won 23 games last year and has a number of talented pieces in its roster.

A loss on Monday night would be a major red flag for Boise State. The Broncos need to stay out of foul trouble and start fast by grabbing an early lead. This is a game that BSU should not lose.