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Boise State Round of 64 Preview: Northwestern Wildcats

It took a bit longer than last year for the Broncos to see their name pop up, but they have earned another chance to get the monkey off their back.

Utah State v Boise State Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

Today’s the day!

The most exciting four days in basketball are here and Boise State is looking to earn a win that can push this program to new heights.

Wall-to-wall games from the lunch hour all the way to the dead of night.

Brackets being filled out, students having games on laptops during class, everyone rallying for the Cinderella upset over a blue blood program.

There’s nothing like it.




Location: Sacramento, California (Golden One Center)

Date/Time: Thursday, March 15th at 5:35 p.m. (Mountain Time)

Traditional Television: truTV

Streaming: March Madness Live app

Radio: KBOI 670 AM / Sirius XM 135 or 203

Head-to-Head: This is the first-ever meeting between the Broncos and Wildcats.



Overall record: 21-11

Big Ten record: 12-8 (T-2nd in Big Ten standings with Indiana)

Leading scorer: #0 Boo Buie (17.1)

Leading rebounder: #34 Matthew Nicholson (5.5)

Leading passer: #0 Boo Buie (4.5)

Team Traits

  • Only two players average more than ten points per game, those being Buie (17.1) and #1 Chase Audige (13.8).
  • No one who averages more than 20 minutes per game shoots higher than 34.3% from three-point range. This excludes Julian Roper because he has been reported out for the NCAA tournament due to an ankle injury.
  • Of all the players for the ‘Cats who average ten or more minutes, only one is above 6’9”. That one player is center Matthew Nicholson, who stands at 7-foot.
  • Northwestern shoots quite poorly, ranking 283rd in three-point shooting and 314th in two-point shooting.
  • Defensively, they are in the same boat as Boise State, finishing the season 13th in KenPom in adjusted defensive efficiency. (The Broncos finished 14th)
  • Chris Collins’ squad elects to play slow and methodical, averaging 18.8 seconds per possession. (The Broncos average 18.2 seconds)

Best Wins/Worst Losses (Ratings via KenPom)


Vs. Purdue (#6)

Vs. and @ Indiana (#29)

@ Michigan State (#32)


Vs. Pittsburgh (#77)

Vs. Ohio State (#49)

Vs. and @ Michigan (#43)


In all honesty, this is one of the better pairings that the Broncos could have hoped for. Both teams are tough and gritty, but have a difficult time putting the ball in the basket. Boise State has played in these types of games before and has done fairly well. The Wildcats don’t have a ton of size, so getting beat up in the paint isn’t as much of a concern as it has been against the likes of Memphis and others.

Northwestern’s top scorers are 6-2 and 6-4.

Not ginormous, but not exactly the smallest guys in the world.

Boise State assistant coach and defensive coordinator Mike Burns will need to strategically place Max Rice on the defensive end to prevent isolation actions that put him on an island.

The two biggest factors that will influence this game are perimeter shooting and foul trouble.

Perimeter Shooting

When Boise State is cold from outside, their offense grinds to a halt and the court becomes condensed with minimal spacing. Movement becomes rare and the ball doesn’t pop from sideline to sideline. We witnessed this when Tyson Degenhart suffered a cold spell towards the end of the regular season. Teams keyed in on Marcus Shaver Jr. and prevented Max Rice from finding any breathing room off of screens. With the starting five that the Broncos have put out a majority of the season (Shaver, Rice, Agbo, Smith, Degenhart), all of them can shoot from three. If they can shoot remotely well and consistently throughout all 40 minutes, then they have a good shot of moving on to the Round of 32.

Foul Trouble

Depth plays a vital role as programs navigate 30-game regular seasons, but when it comes to March, rotations are shortened and star players are relied upon even more.

Boise State was already relying on their starting five immensely during Mountain West play.

Bench pieces such as Sadraque NgaNga, Kobe Young, Pavle Kuzmanovic, and Mohamed Sylla were all thrown into the fire at one point or another. None of them made a large enough impact to increase their minutes as the postseason approached.

Except for two Broncos.

Lukas Milner and Jace Whiting.

Milner has been around the program for a few years and has had moments of substantial production . However, during his last nine games, he played more than 10 minutes in each and eclipsed 20 minutes twice. More than his stats, his energy when on the floor has provided a spark to the team when it has been needed most.

Whiting, the freshman guard coming off a mission trip, has been an unexpected surprise this year and slid into the backup guard spot. He has continued to improve and become more seasoned as the season has progressed. Similar to Milner, Whiting brings an infectious energy and intensity when in the game that elevates the toughness of this team.

If foul trouble infiltrates the Broncos, the only hope that Leon Rice has is Milner and Whiting stepping up to the plate.


The line on this game initially opened with Boise State being favored by 1.5, but the odds have flipped since, now favoring Northwestern by 1.5.

I don’t have a great feel for this game one way or the other.

Both teams play the same and will look to have a rock fight. (Bet the under...)

Both are coming off of recent losing skids.

Boise State made the tournament last year and didn’t have the performance that they were hoping for in Portland.

With some dancing under their belt, I expect the Broncos to make program history Thursday night in Sacramento.

Boise State 60 - Northwestern 57