Before the season began, it was evident that coach Leon Rice wanted to test his team with a challenging non-conference schedule. A true road game against Arizona, a loaded Wooden Legacy tournament, and a home contest against a projected nationally-ranked Oregon team highlight the toughest schedule in program history.
Boise State opened up its weekend Thanksgiving afternoon against the UC Irvine Anteators. Ross Turner's team suffered its first loss of the season thanks to an impressive shooting performance from Anthony Drmic. The senior led the Broncos with 21 points and hit four 3s on the day. Chandler Hutchison recorded his second double-double of the year with 13 points and 10 rebounds and Nick Duncan (14 points) also reached double figures in scoring.
The first half was closely contested, with the Broncos up 30-27 after 20 minutes of play. A dunk by James Webb III four minutes into the second period extended Boise's lead to eight, and a Nick Duncan three pointer moments later pushed the BSU lead up to nine, the largest of the game.
The Anteaters clawed its way to within four points multiple times in the second half but the Broncos continued to find an answer, winding up with a 71-64 victory.
After a 99-68 trouncing of Boston College Thursday night, the third-ranked Michigan State Spartans matched up with Boise State in the tournament semifinals.
The Broncos knew it would have its hands full taking on one of the best teams in the country, but Boise State proved that it would not be defeated easily.
A 21-14 lead by Boise hushed a fairly dominant Michigan State crowd, but a 10-0 run by Sparty put Michigan State in control and it would not look back. James Webb III converted a layup just over four minutes into the second half to cut the lead to three, but Denzel Valentine heroics would soon follow. Over the next five minutes of play, Valentine torched the Titan Gym nets with five three pointers and three free throws after drawing contact from Montigo Alford.
Although a 12-point lead with 11 minutes left is not insurmountable, Valentine's five-minute takeover derailed any positive energy the Broncos had in the first half. Seven missed free throws and multiple scoring droughts made Friday a frustrating afternoon for Boise State as the Broncos fell to the Spartans 77-67.
After a Saturday off, Boise State would return to the hardwood Sunday afternoon. Shockingly enough, the Broncos would take on a familiar foe, the Wildcats of Arizona.
In a non-bracketed Wooden Legacy game 10 days ago, the Wildcats outlasted the Broncos in hostile McKale Center by a final score of 88-76. The possibility of a rematch was worth noting, but easily overlooked while previewing the tournament. Arizona narrowly escaped Jared Brownridge's career perfomance for Santa Clara and then was upset by Providence which put Boise State and Arizona in the third-place game on Sunday.
Similar to its matchup against Michigan State, Boise State held a lead in the first half but was unable to control the closing minutes of the period. The Broncos led by one before a 16-6 Arizona run, putting Boise in a nine-point hole at the half.
A four-minute scoring lapse early in the second half let the Wildcats blow the game open, leading by as much as 19 at one point. With 2:19 left, Lonnie Jackson hit a three pointer to shrink the 'Zona lead to six, 62-56. A few possessions later, freshman Allonzo Trier converted a dunk to essentially seal the game for Arizona.
Foul trouble became an issue again for Boise State. Nick Duncan fouled out with 5:14 remaining and James Webb, Lonnie Jackson, and Anthony Drmic were tagged with four fouls. Webb paced the Broncos with 17 points and 10 rebounds while Drmic struggled again from the field.
The Wooden Legacy tournament provided another opportunity for Leon Rice and the Broncos to figure out a way to knock off a top-tier team. Defensive struggles, foul trouble, and occasional shooting slumps have made it difficult for BSU to find its rhythm in 2015 as the Broncos have fallen to 3-4 on the year.
Health has remained an obstacle for Anthony Drmic, who is vital to Boise's success on both sides of the ball. Drmic had a tough time finding the bottom of the net against Michigan State and in both Arizona games. In these three contests, Drmic went 5/28 and wasn't consistent when needed most. However, as long as Drmic's health improves and he can remain on the floor, his shooting should return to Drmic-like numbers.
This challenging start should benefit Boise State in the long run. There are few teams in the country, if any, who have endured as difficult a schedule as Boise State up to this point. Although the Broncos have come up short in each of these three games, Leon Rice's team has been competitive and is just a few big plays away from pulling off an upset.
The non-conference schedule eases after the conclusion of the Wooden Legacy. December 12th's matchup against Oregon will be an important game, but the rest of the schedule is fairly soft. The Broncos are extremely capable of finishing the non-conference portion of the schedule with a record of 9-4 or 8-5. The NCAA tournament committee will be well aware of Boise State's non-conference strength of schedule. As long as the Broncos can take care of business throughout December and carry momentum into conference play, Boise State will be in the hunt for another tournament bid.