Tuesday, April 2, 2013.
I’m anxious to see what comes out of Leon Rice’s discussions with NCAA Tournament selection committee chairman Mike Bobinski when he was in Dayton during the First Four two weeks ago. Rice wants to know what the committee wants, and how his team can provide it to return to the Dance. Hopefully some benefits will be reaped in scheduling, home scheduling in particular. The Broncos had just one marquee non-conference game at Taco Bell Arena this season, versus LSU in December. They won 89-70 over a Tigers team that finished 19-12, so it didn’t help a ton. But it certainly didn’t hurt. The feature game on next season’s non-conference schedule at this point is Utah.
San Diego State, like Boise State, appeared to be headed to the Big West in basketball at the end of last year, and the Aztecs were being proactive. With the expected dive in RPI from playing schools in the Big West, No. 21 among conferences in RPI this season, coach Steve Fisher and staff scheduled Arizona at home and Kansas on the road. SDSU also accepted an invitation to the DirecTV Classic in Anaheim with a field that includes Miami, Creighton, Marquette, College of Charleston and Arizona State. The only thing that can drag down San Diego State’s RPI is the Aztecs themselves. Joked Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy in the San Diego Union-Tribune: “Steve thought he was going to the Big West, so I heard he scheduled the Lakers and the Mavericks.”
On-field activity resumes today for Boise State spring football. At wide receiver, the two-deep is just about set—but the expectations are not. Seniors Geraldo Boldewijn and Aaron Burks are in “prove it” mode now after some spurts of excellence last season. There was a spike for both at the end. Boldewijn had five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown in the win over Washington in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. Burks had only one catch versus the Huskies, but it was a 40-yarder that set up the Broncos’ second touchdown. That needs to happen game-to-game, though, not month-to-month. “We like the way they look,” said coach Chris Petersen. “Now we need to like the way they play.”
Shane Williams-Rhodes is in a different situation. The Boise State staff is fully cognizant of what Williams-Rhodes can do, and now they fully expect he can do it. “The spring is really big for him—to test the waters there,” said Petersen of the speedy 5-6, 154-pounder. Williams-Rhodes’ biggest play of the year was the 47-yard kickoff return that led to the game-winning field goal against Washington. One thing can lead to another. “We never got him the ball as a punt returner last year,” Petersen said. “He has as good a shot as anybody to be our punt returner.” The coach says second-year progress for a guy as talented and as coachable as Williams-Rhodes is can be amazing. “The stage is set for him to do some really good things.”
So much for a Petrino Showdown in the Sun Belt in coming years. Just five days after Idaho accepts an invitation to the conference, Western Kentucky leaves it for a move to Conference USA. Paul Petrino was named Vandals head coach in December while his brother Bobby was getting a second chance after his scandal at Arkansas by landing the job with the Hilltoppers. Western Kentucky is the fifth school in the past year to leave the Sun Belt for C-USA.
I touched on this a bit last week, but here’s the final Idaho Steelheads ledger in coach Brad Ralph’s first regular season. The Steelheads’ 45 wins and 97 points are both second-best in the franchise's ECHL era, trailing just the 2009-10 team that made the Kelly Cup Finals. That follows a season that saw just 31 victories and 71 points, one that cost coach Hardy Sauter his job. Idaho's 26-point improvement over last season was tops in the ECHL. Now the Steelies try to replicate that regular season dependability in the playoffs. The Western Conference first round begins tomorrow night between the third-seeded Steelheads and the sixth-seeded Colorado Eagles in CenturyLink Arena.
Steelheads defenseman Matt Case has to make room for another trophy in his duffel bag. After being named first-team All-ECHL last week, Case has been honored with the league’s Plus Performer of the Year award after finishing the season with a plus-minus rating of +32. That means the Steelheads scored 32 more goals than their opponents when Case was on the ice this season. He finished even or better in 46 of his 62 games while coming in third in scoring among defensemen with 39 points.
High-end hotels are full in Boise this weekend. The Davis Cup quarterfinal between the U.S. and Serbia in Taco Bell Arena has cut a wide swath of fan support in the Northwest and Intermountain states. There’ll be plenty of knowledgable tennis folks in the house, and they’ll know who the underdog is. The Serbians and Novak Djokovic are seeded fourth in the 2013 Davis Cup, the Americans sixth. The home team has to play like underdogs, and the fans have to root like underdogs. U.S. coach Jim Courier hopes Boise’s 2800-foot elevation is the great equalizer.
Davis Cup community festivities begin tonight with a welcome event at CenturyLink Arena, featuring a variety of family activities. The U.S. team will be there, and so will Boise State coach Greg Patton, who will receive the 2013 United States Professional Tennis Association Intermountain Coach of the Year award. Patton’s Broncos will be home again Saturday morning to host BYU in a duel designated to be part of USTA’s “College MatchDay.”
Opening Day could serve as a launching pad for former Boise Hawk Jeff Samardzija. The one-time Notre Dame wide receiver was brilliant as the Cubs beat the Pirates in Pittsburgh yesterday, 3-1. Samardzija pitched eight scoreless innings of two-hit ball to silence the partisan sellout crowd at PNC Park. He picked up where he left off last year, when he was particularly strong down the stretch for the Cubs. Samardzija was 9-13 for the season with a serviceable 3.81 ERA, but that number was 2.39 over Samardzija’s final seven starts. Elsewhere, former Hawk Ricky Nolasco got the start for the dismantled Miami Marlins and shut out Washington—except for two Bryce Harper solo home runs. Nationals 2, Marlins 0.
This Day In Sports…April 2, 2011:
It was more amazing than George Mason in 2006—and at least as amazing as Butler’s first run to the national championship game the year before. Virginia Commonwealth was playing in the Final Four. The NCAA Tournament Committee had been roundly criticized by national hoops analysts for even selecting VCU to the Dance after the Rams had finished fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association. But they went from First Four to Final Four in a dizzying 12-day stretch, capped by a stunning 71-61 win over top-seeded Kansas in the Elite Eight. And lo and behold. It would be Butler who would finally eliminate the Rams 70-62 to advance to the national championship game versus Connecticut.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)