The Bulldogs of Fresno State are in town for a Saturday evening matchup against Boise State in what is a highly-anticipated game in a busy week of college hoops. Both teams have been playing great basketball this season and are hungry to scratch out another 'W' in the standings.
Fresno State (11-5) is off to its best start in years. The Bulldogs didn't win its 12th game until February 12th of the 2014-15 season, won only 11 games in 2012-13, and picked up its 12th victory on February 18th of the 2011-12 season. The numbers don't lie, fifth year head coach Rodney Terry has his Bulldogs exceeding expectations.
The hometown Broncos are having quite the season as well. With a victory Saturday, Boise State would have nine consecutive victories for the first time since 1991-1992, which was just weeks before the birth of senior guard Anthony Drmic. Boise State has won 16 of its last 17 conference games, with the loss coming against Fresno State last February, which ended the Broncos' hopes of winning nine straight.
Something has to give. Fresno State could play the spoiler role yet again and ruin an eight-win Boise streak for the second consecutive year, or the Broncos could improve to 3-0 in conference play and extend the streak.
Matchup - Fresno State Bulldogs @ Boise State Broncos in Boise, Idaho, 6:00 PM Eastern, Taco Bell Arena
Radio/TV/Stream - Radio: 670 AM KBOI, TV: Root Sports
Vegas - Boise State 6.5-point favorites according to OddsShark
Win/Loss Records - Fresno State 11-5, Boise State 11-4
KenPom Rankings - Fresno State 118th, Boise State 78th
This Bulldogs team feeds off of hustle, patience, and effort. Fresno State is a scary team for many reasons. Marvelle Harris, the preseason all-Mountain West player of the year, leads the team in scoring, assists, and steals+blocks per game. The biggest question about this season's team would be if Harris' supporting cast would be enough for Fresno to compete on a nightly basis. But when you factor in four Bulldogs that average nine points a game, including two forwards that grab seven boards a night for the 19th best rebounding team in the country, the answer is clear: Fresno State is more than just one player.
There are a number of statistics that stand out when scouting the Bulldogs. FSU ranks in the top ten in the nation in two point attempts and conversions, displaying the patience to look for a high percentage shot instead of unloading from deep. The effort doesn't stop there. Fresno State is 12th in the country in offensive rebounding and 19th in total rebounds. On the defensive end, Fresno is 19th in steals (including an astounding 50 steals in the last four games) and averages 4.6 blocks a night as a team.
However, If Fresno State falls behind, it will be a challenge to climb back into the game. The Bulldogs rank 345th in the nation in three-pointer point distribution, according to KenPom. Some teams are tough to put away because of the ability to shoot 3s in bunches, but there aren't many teams that are as gunshy behind the arc as Fresno State.
Boise State coach Leon Rice has told media throughout the week that he and his players are not interested in the winning streak. All of the focus remains on the next game, and if the Broncos continue to play at this high level, the streak will take care of itself.
After a dismal first half Wednesday in Logan against Utah State, the Broncos scorched the home Aggies with a 12 of 14 shooting tear to open the second period. Boise State wound up winning by 15 in what was originally expected to be a major trap game, even without any scoring help from Anthony Drmic, who finished 0-4 from the field.
In most cases, when your go-to scorer is held without a point in a road game, there is a cause for concern. But this team is different. The Broncos have fully embraced the "next man up" mentality and it is becoming the mantra for this season's team.
Senior guard Mikey Thompson, who was debating even playing basketball this fall after the passing of his father in April, has become the heart and soul of the surging Broncos. Thompson had issues with off-court distractions in recent years but has directed his focus on committing himself to his team, which has resulted in career-highs in almost every major statistical category this season.
Sophomore guard Chandler Hutchison, who jumped on the scene after being inserted into the starting lineup last January, is now embracing the role of 'sixth man' this year. The Broncos were 15-4 with Hutchison in the starting five last season, and after Rice's lineup adjustment in December, BSU is 8-0. The first ESPN 100 recruit in school history is progressing, and will be a key part of Boise's pursuit of a NCAA berth.
Freshman forward Zach Haney has also produced in his increasing role, making the most of his playing time. Haney has scored seven points in each of Boise's last two games, but the hustle from the 6-11 Texan is what deserves the praise. Haney continues to sacrifice his body to capture any rebound or loose ball, sprints down the floor on fast breaks, and isn't afraid to be assertive in the post.
Preparing to play Boise State is difficult because it is unknown who will step up on a nightly basis. Many times this season James Webb has led the way with 20 points or more, Anthony Drmic and Nick Duncan have caught fire from deep, or the bench has stepped up and carried the scoring duties.
For Fresno State to scratch out a road win Saturday, the Bulldogs will need to do what they do best: find open shot attempts and crash the boards. Boise State tends to struggle to rebound (242nd in the country) giving Fresno State a blueprint to once again end a Bronco winning streak.
With the football season wrapped up, fans in the Boise area can completely focus their attention on Broncos basketball. Taco Bell Arena should be revved up Saturday evening for a sneaky good matchup between two teams with NCAA potential.
Prediction: Boise State 75, Fresno State 71