This has been an epic season for the Mountain West. Today was no exception, as Boise State took down Steve Fisher and the SDSU Aztecs 69-65, making a statement that should carry them to the MWC tournament and beyond. The league may get five teams into the NCAA tournament this year – the same total number of berths as are predicted for the likes of the Big 12, ACC and Pac-12, and far more than the SEC is likely to manage.
Of the five tourney-worthy programs, Boise may have flown the farthest beneath the national radar. San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico got press from day one of the season, and have long-standing basketball history to fall back on. Colorado State came along during the season, and has a well-known coach in Larry Eustachy.
But who are these Broncos, with their blue-and-orange floor? We knew they were good at football, but hoops?
For starters, let’s look at Derrick Marks, who poured in 38 points to lead his team over Colorado State, but got himself overshadowed by Doug McDermott. Marks, along with three other players, was suspended earlier this season. How well the Broncos play with him is impressive. More impressive, for a team that hopes to maintain momentum going into the postseason, is what they did without him: they went into Wyoming and won in a tough road environment.
Marks is a great player. Boise State has had great players before, but the program is 0-5 in NCAA tournament games. Let’s talk about this being a great team, and why.
That, we can lay at the doorstep of Leon Rice, the little-known (for now, at least) head coach who has led Boise State since 2010. If you wonder how a quiet guy can go to a remote mountain location and win a bunch of games, the template is right there: Rice was Mark Few’s assistant at Gonzaga for eleven years. Rice showed his mettle on that tough day in January, when he suspended four crucial players for a league road game: he’s running a team – not a loose group of players who happen to wear the same shirts – and he’s building for March success, not a single league win.
Beating San Diego State was a big statement win for the Broncos. If you don’t know Marks, Watkins, Elorriaga, Rice and friends yet, you will very, very soon.
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