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Boise State off to flying start in MWC play, defeating Colorado State and Nevada

A difficult non-conference schedule is proving dividends for Leon Rice and his Broncos.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado State at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

Leon Rice preached throughout the offseason that the early season grind they put in place was not going to be all sunshine and rainbows. Losing multiple key players from last year’s NCAA tournament team and bringing in a handful of new faces isn’t exactly helpful when traveling down to Clemson, South Carolina, or squaring off with quality programs such as Butler and Virginia Tech.

However, since their loss to Butler on November 26th, Boise State has won nine of their last ten with a lone blemish at the hands of Washington State.

Who Is Stepping Up?

Bronco favorite Tyson Degenhart has led the charge in the scoring department, averaging 15.5 points per game. Beyond the stat sheet, “Deggie” has been able to space the floor with his perimeter shooting and his ability to put the ball on the floor in an attempt to drive towards the rim. He is a leader and is the most consistent player in the starting lineup.

Just behind Degenhart is Chibuzo Agbo. The former Texas Tech Red Raider has scorched the nylon from three-point range this season, shooting an absurd 46%. Agbo has the prettiest shooting form of all the Broncos and when his shot is falling, there are very few that can get into his airspace due to the height he gets on each jumper. And even if they do, “Buzo” has a knack for finding his way into a four-point play situation.

Max Rice has been up and down this season, but he is beginning to find his stride as of late. His heroics at the end of regulation in Reno stiff armed any potential miracle at Lawlor Events Center. His YMCA-esque baskets work and despite potential mismatches on the defensive side of the floor, Rice can help break games wide open when he catches fire.

True freshman Andrew Meadow has worked his way into becoming a vital piece of this team. While his looks may be deceiving, the long-haired, goggle-utilizing forward has a confidence on the floor that can’t be taught. His trio of three-pointers against Colorado State helped seal the win for the Broncos and his length allows him to match up with some of the more physical wings in the Mountain West.

Some love Rick Pitino.

Some hate him.

But, we can all agree that electing to let O’Mar Stanley leave St. John’s was a huge miscalculation.

We all thought that there would only be one Naje Smith and that replacing him would be a thankless task. Alas, Rice and the rest of the coaching staff found an absolute gem out of Queens, New York.

Stanley has been terrific in the last six games. He has three double-doubles to his name and is averaging 18.6 points per game in that span. More than anything, he is a one-man wrecking crew that can beat you off the dribble, in the post, and, most importantly, on the glass. His tenaciousness when going up for offensive rebounds is second to none and his motor is relentless. The Broncos need that third weapon to have a legit chance to win the conference.

But, what about those loftier expectations?

How about a NCAA tournament win?

The Final Piece

To put it lightly, Roddie Anderson III has been subpar on offense this season. He hasn’t been comfortable shooting from mid-range and beyond, allowing defenses to sag off of him and help against the other scorers on the floor. Last year, the Broncos had a steady hand at the point in Marcus Shaver Jr.

More importantly, they had a ball-handler that was a threat every time the ball was in his hands.

Anderson is a young buck, only in his second year. He has time to find his rhythm within the offense and his confidence soared dramatically in the Broncos’ win against Nevada. But, in the wins against the Wolf Pack and Colorado State, one thing stuck out.

His defense.

Coming into this season, it was known throughout college basketball that the Mountain West housed some of the best guards in the country.

Isaiah Stevens, Kenan Blackshear, Jarod Lucas, Jaelen House, Jamal Mashburn Jr., Donovan Dent, Lamont Butler, Darrion Trammell.

Point being, it is a stacked conference full of elite guard play.

So far, Roddie Anderson III has put on an absolute clinic against two of those listed (Anderson wasn’t the primary defender for Blackshear in Reno).

Against Stevens, he was able to limit his production to just 15 points on 12 attempts. But, the biggest stat that jumps out?

Six turnovers.

In Reno, Anderson was stuck on Jarod Lucas tighter than a clam with lockjaw. Lucas was held to just 14 points on 5-14 shooting and only made one of his six three-point attempts.

If Anderson can become just enough of a threat on the offensive end to keep opposing defenses honest, the ceiling on this team increases substantially. This edition of the Boise State Broncos has the athleticism to compete with a first-round opponent in March, but you can only grind things down to a point. Roddie Anderson III is the key to the Broncos maintaining high levels of success in Mountain West play and, potentially, getting the March monkey off their back.

The Computer Metrics

Numbers don’t care about your feelings.

The eye test that we debate about in college football is of little use come Selection Sunday.

For those that may not be staring at computer screens all day long in anticipation of the updated numbers, here is where the Broncos stand in the key metrics.

NCAA NET Rankings

Boise State: 44th (as of January 14th)

Quad One: 3-1

Quad Two: 3-3

Quad Three: 1-0

Quad Four: 3-0

Other Mountain West foes: Utah State - 19th, Colorado State - 20th, San Diego State - 25th, New Mexico - 36th, Nevada - 43rd, UNLV - 91st.

KenPom Rankings

Boise State: 50th

Other Mountain West foes: San Diego State - 23rd, Colorado State - 25th, New Mexico - 39th, Utah State - 41st, Nevada - 43rd, UNLV - 82nd.

Bart Torvik Rankings

Boise State: 41st

Other Mountain West foes: Colorado State - 27th, San Diego State - 33rd, New Mexico - 39th, Nevada - 43rd, Utah State - 44th, UNLV - 77th.

A neat part of Torvik’s website is that he has a feature called “TourneyCast” that highlights the percentage chance of each team making the tournament, what seed is most likely, and other miscellaneous probabilities.

Odds to reach March Madness

San Diego State: 97.3%

Colorado State: 95.1%

Utah State: 93.8%

Boise State: 79.9%

New Mexico: 71.8%

Nevada: 64.6%

UNLV: 10.5%

What Lies Ahead

The Mountain West is as tough as it has ever been with six teams having a legit chance to reach the NCAA tournament.

Throw in the bunch a surging UNLV squad that beat New Mexico by double digits and was a possession away from handing Utah State its second loss of the season.

San Jose State took both Boise State and San Diego State down to the wire and despite their record, head coach Tim Miles has this team on the up-and-up.

The only three teams that haven’t tested the upper echelon of the conference are Fresno State, Air Force, and Wyoming.

For Boise State, the rest of January consist of hosting UNLV, San Diego State, and Utah State, while going on the road to take on Fresno State and New Mexico.

In terms of resume-boosting opportunities, the Broncos still have six quad one games remaining and and a pair of quad two matchups. Of course, the numbers that constitute whether a game falls under a given quadrant change daily. With that, it is in the best interest of Boise State if the top half of the league avoids any landmines and equally beats up on one another. The better the collective, the higher odds that the Mountain West can match the record five bids it received in 2013 and, if things line up just right, eclipse that mark.

On The Horizon

Matchup: Boise State (12-4, 3-0) vs. UNLV (8-7, 1-2)

Location: Boise, Idaho (ExtraMile Arena or “The X”)

Date/Time: January 16th at 8:00 PM (Mountain Time)

TV: CBS Sports Network (CBSSN)

Odds via DraftKings: Boise State -6, O/U of 141