Another one bites the dust.
Boise State had one of its best opportunities thus far to win a game in the NCAA tournament.
During the hoopla of the week between Selection Sunday and Thursday’s game, there was lots of chatter about what could happen if everything went right for the Broncos.
However, when it comes to the intensity of March, things are more likely to go wrong than right.
Before the Broncos and Wildcats took the floor, the #15 Princeton Tigers had just completed the upset of #2 Arizona in a stunner in the South region. The Ivy League representative will take on #7 Missouri for a chance at a Cinderella run to the Sweet Sixteen.
Northwestern jumped out to an early lead and was comfortable from the get-go. Wildcat guard Boo Buie impacted the game immediately with his size and speed off of dribble handoffs that left Boise State looking for answers as the game progressed. Similar to last year’s early exit against Memphis, the Broncos trailed as the game neared halftime. There was no true rhythm on offense as Tyson Degenhart was suffocated in the post and Max Rice couldn’t find his shot from outside. Only Chibuzo Agbo and Naje Smith were able to muster multiple scoring possessions.
Despite all of that, Boise State only trailed by six at the break.
The biggest question going into the second half was the health of Marcus Shaver Jr. and whether he could return. During the closing minutes, he attempted to grab a defensive rebound, but came down on the foot of a Wildcat, turning his own ankle and requiring assistance as he hobbled off the floor.
According to the score, the Broncos were in the fight, but without Shaver, it would have been a monumental task.
Coming out of halftime, Boise State mounted an 8-2 run that tied the game at 40.
Northwestern responded with a Chase Audige three.
Bronco Max Rice converted two free throws.
This time, Ty Berry nailed a three for the Wildcats to keep Boise State at bay.
Rice scored four straight points later in the half to trim the deficit back to two.
Boo Buie carved his way into the lane and stiff armed the Broncos again.
A Shaver jumper pulled Boise State close.
Just as quickly, Buie extended the lead back to five.
With less than six minutes remaining at the Golden One Center, Degenhart converted a put-back dunk with a foul for good measure.
Boise State was down four.
Then, the dam broke.
A 6-0 Northwestern run put them up 10 with 3:22 left and at that point, all of Boise State’s starters were gassed. Not to mention, Shaver was gutting it out and giving his best, even though he was in visible pain.
Boise State 67 - Northwestern 75
That was all she wrote.
The emotion seen on the faces of Marcus Shaver Jr., Naje Smith and Lukas Milner was heartbreaking.
A long embrace between Smith and Degenhart was shown and spread online.
Brothers, sharing the court for one last time.
Before I delve into the future of the program, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that hardly anyone thought that after all the players lost last offseason that Boise State would finish in the top echelon of the Mountain West and make it back to the NCAA tournament.
One word comes to mind when describing this team:
With only a rotation of seven players and no starting big man to rely on, this team scraped and clawed its way to success. Multiple starters averaged more than 30 minutes a game with a schedule that was not forgiving and playing in a conference that sent four teams to the NCAA tournament.
The disappointment and shortsightedness of select factions of the fanbase is to be expected.
However, this is the start of something beautiful and exciting.
Three incoming recruits are joining the program this fall:
Guard Chris Lockett Jr. (New Orleans, LA)
Forward Andrew Meadow (Stevenson Ranch, CA)
Forward Emmanuel Ugbo (Plays in Ludwigsburg, Germany, but is from the Netherlands)
Going forward, the biggest key for improvement is depth. San Diego State shows how useful it is to go eight, nine or even ten players deep in a highly-competitive game. That is why they have a legit shot to make the Sweet Sixteen (a Furman upset didn’t hurt, either).
Position-wise, point guard and center should be the two spots where transfer portal additions will be critical. Here is what the roster will look like for 2023-2024 as of today.
Point Guard - TBD
Shooting Guard - Max Rice (Last year of eligibility)
Small Forward - Chibuzo Agbo (Senior)
Power Forward - Tyson Degenhart (Junior)
Center - TBD
Bench Rotational Pieces
Guard - RJ Keene
Guard - Pavle Kuzmanovic
Guard - Sadraque NgaNga
Guard - Jace Whiting
Guard - Kobe Young
Forward - Burke Smith
Center - Mohamed Sylla
Guard - Chris Lockett Jr.
Forward - Andrew Meadow
Forward - Emmanuel Ugbo
Don’t be surprised if a few Broncos enter the transfer portal. The talent Leon Rice is bringing in is getting better and he knows that to take the next step as a program, they need DUDES.
San Diego State is the only one of the four teams from the Mountain West that has DUDES, and they were the only one to win a game.
I think not.
Boise State men’s basketball is on the rise. This is only the second time in school history that the Broncos have made the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years.
The loss stings.
The 0-9 record hurts.
Boise is talking about college basketball in March when spring practices are going on for football.
This is not the peak for Leon Rice and Boise State.
This is only the beginning.