The Mountain West took some flak for getting multiple teams into this past season’s NCAA tournament, and the criticism was seemingly borne out as the league’s five bid-earners went 2-5 overall in tournament play. Boise State was one of the disappointments, losing out to La Salle in the preliminary games in Dayton.
So, the Broncos are looking to be a tougher out next season, and head coach Leon Rice knows from his time as an assistant at Gonzaga that mid-major credibility is built by playing anyone, anywhere, any time. He’s shooting for the moon as he attempts to fill out next season’s non-conference slate, trying to get a one-off date with the pre-pre-pre-season favorites, the Kentucky Wildcats, according to the Idaho Statesman.
The Broncos lose only one senior and return their top six scorers, making them a potential Top 25 and NCAA Tournament team. Rice noted that the November victory at then-No. 11 Creighton “was the gift that kept on giving” as the Broncos rode the tournament bubble and eventually made the NCAA field last month.
“We think we’re going to have a pretty good team coming back, so we want to give them some high-level games and high-level opportunities,” Rice said Thursday.
Of course, scheduling these types of games is only half of the equation. Winning at least one marquee matchup, as the Broncos did in Omaha last season, is key. If the Wildcats play like they did in their most recent NIT-flameout season, rather than their 2012 national championship-winning form, anything is possible.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.