It's now or never for Leon Rice and the Broncos.
Lofty pre-season expectations are a distant memory for Boise State fans as the Broncos enter Wednesday's game against Colorado State losing three of the last four. After riding a double-digit win streak from December through mid-January, Boise State has struggled mightily since dropping a primetime dogfight to San Diego State.
The MW tournament will be presumably the only route for Boise State to reach its second consecutive NCAA trip. With a decent 16-8 record, one signature win in non-conference play (74-72 over Oregon) and losses to Montana and Air Force, BSU's at-large hopes in 2016 are all but gone. The focus for Boise in the final seven conference games will be trying to improve its position in the MW standings in order to receive the highest possible seed for the Mountain West tournament.
As of Tuesday night, Boise State is knotted in a second-place tie with New Mexico at 7-4 in the standings, San Diego State has distanced itself from the rest of the field with a commanding 4-game lead at 11-0. If the current standings hold, Boise State would receive the 3 seed and play the winner of Colorado State-San Jose State. With a top 5 seed in the standings, the Broncos would avoid having to play a quarterfinal game and would only need two victories at the Thomas & Mack Center to punch a ticket to the 68-team field.
In order to lock up a top 4 seed in the MW tourney, Boise State will need to start with a victory against the best offensive team in the league: Colorado State.
Matchup - Boise State Broncos @ Colorado State Rams in Fort Collins, Colorado, 9:00 PM Eastern, Moby Arena
Radio/TV/Stream - Radio: KBOI, Streaming: ESPN3
Vegas - Boise State 2-point favorites, according to OddsShark
Win/Loss Records - Boise State 16-8 (7-4), Colorado State 13-10 (5-5)
KenPom Rankings - Boise State 104th, Colorado State 162nd
The Rams are fresh off a forceful second half performance in a home victory over the Nevada Wolf Pack. Colorado State unloaded for 49 points in the second half against UNR, a polar opposite of Boise State's 22-point second half in the shocking loss to Air Force. If these trends carry into Wednesday night's matchup, the Broncos will be in serious jeopardy of an 0-2 road trip.
Colorado State is led by three upperclassmen: guards John Gillon (12.0 PPG), Antwan Scott (16.3 PPG), and Emmanuel Omogbo (10.6 PPG). Although CSU's offense would be nothing short of superb if it weren't for Gian Clavell's season-ending injury suffered in December, the Rams still average over 80 points per game and hit 37.7% of their shots from downtown. Both CSU and BSU rank in the top 50 in the country in three point attempts, so the team that shoots more efficiently from deep will have the upper hand.
Larry Eustachy's Rams have struggled all season on the defensive end of the court, where the Rams are allowing 76.9 points per game and rank 313rd in the country in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. However, Colorado State's defense has made modest strides as of late, allowing less than 70 points in both February matchups, something that occurred only four times prior against power conference teams.
Enter the Boise State Broncos, one of the better offensive squads in the Mountain West. The formidable offense was nowhere to be found in Colorado Springs last Saturday, as BSU tied a season low in points and shot 5-22 from beyond the arc. Leon Rice hinted at a potential shakeup in the lineup after the devastating loss to Air Force, which could lead to players such as Paris Austin, Montigo Alford and Robin Jorch logging more playing time on Wednesday. Dave Southorn shared Rice's thoughts on Boise's recent struggles:
Rice: "we've got to reinvent some things ... we might have to be a team that plays 10 guys equal minutes because we can't sustain things."— Dave Southorn (@IDS_Southorn) February 6, 2016
Boise State is expected to roll out a new look Wednesday night. Leon Rice typically succeeds in player personnel situations, as displayed during Boise's lengthy winning streak last season.
Both teams have had hiccups on the defensive end through conference play; the team that can play better perimeter defense Wednesday night will end up victorious.
Prediction: Boise State 84, Colorado State 77