The Big Dance.
Boise State has finally made their way to the floor for the first time since 2015 and will tango with the Memphis Tigers, led by NBA Hall of Famer Penny Hardaway and basketball legend Larry Brown. This is one of the best first-round games on the docket and is also a rematch from last year’s NIT quarterfinal. The Tigers beat the Broncos 59-56, with the caveat that Max Rice and Abu Kigab did not play in the game due to season-ending surgeries.
The Broncos are the higher seed, but Las Vegas put the Tigers as the favorite at 2 to 2 ½ points. This falls in line with many predictions from college basketball analysts who have Memphis moving on to play Gonzaga. It seems that all the respect that the Mountain West supposedly garnered during the regular season has flown out the window. It didn’t help that Wyoming wasn’t able to advance out of the First Four against Indiana.
Instead of listing everything that needs to happen for either team to move on, I see it as a fight of styles.
Boise State has been tremendous defensively this year with only San Diego State’s numbers better than the Broncos. There isn’t a reliance on one player to go out and score 30 points while the rest of the offense stays stagnant. The beauty with this team is that anyone in the starting lineup can have a good night and be the leading scorer. Perimeter shooting could be the winning formula in one game while pounding the paint with Mladen Armus can work in another.
Memphis has the talent to be a top 15 team. There is a reason, though, that this never came to fruition until the last stages of the season. Players who already have NBA draft interests coming out of high school may struggle to find their footing. Having multiple high-level recruits who are using the college level as a steppingstone towards the NBA can have conflicting results. The absence of Emoni Bates has proved beneficial for Memphis as they found their way into the bubble with Jalen Duren leading the charge.
If Boise State wins, it will be because Leon Rice and company will have controlled the pace of the game, stayed within their offensive identity, and forced turnovers. This would give us a Gonzaga reunion in the second round with Mark Few taking on former assistant Leon Rice in Portland.
If Memphis wins, that means their athleticism and size was too much to overcome for the Broncos and that Penny Hardaway has a sleeper-team waiting in the corner for the #1 overall seed Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Who: #8 Boise State vs. #9 Memphis
When: Thursday at 11:45 MT (10:45 PT)
Announcers: Andrew Catalon (Play-By-Play), Steve Lappas (Analyst), and Andy Katz (Reporter).
Location: Moda Center, Portland, Oregon.