Tuesday, March 5, 2013.
It’s an honor for Boise State to just be on the bubble. This has never happened before—serious consideration for an at-large berth for the Broncos in the NCAA Tournament. Two months ago I thought such talk was preposterous, and I wouldn’t go there. But it’s legit. It’s better to be listed among the “first four out” in March rather than November. Here’s the funny thing, though. Boise State has disappeared from some of the “first four out” and “last four in” lists. Why? Because some projections have the Broncos in the tournament—before they get to the “last four in.” But as I said on Sunday Sports Extra the other night, “I don’t trust the selection committee.” It’s incumbent upon Boise State to leave no doubt if it wants to go to the Dance without an automatic ticket from a Mountain West Tournament championship. It’s all about UNLV tonight.
What will Derrick Marks do for an encore tonight against the Rebels? “The bigger the moment, the better he is,” said coach Leon Rice yesterday on Idaho SportsTalk. “That’s Derrick.” But Marks, the Mountain West Co-Player of the Week after his 38-point night against Colorado State Saturday, will have an ol’ target on his chest in the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV will be on a mission to stop him. So maybe he reverts to what he was in the three games prior to the epic performance against the Rams and becomes the master of assists again. Defense will be a key, too. That’s where Marks has made the biggest strides, in fact. “To be honest, he was an awful defender when he got here,” Rice said. “Now he’s one of the best defenders we have on the floor.”
Here’s a guy who could serve as UNLV’s secret weapon tonight. Mike Moser is healthy, having recovered from a dislocated elbow in December in a win over Cal, and has presumably squared himself away mentally after a sour night in Taco Bell Arena last month. Moser was ejected from the Rebels’ 77-72 loss to the Broncos in Boise after playing just nine minutes, thanks to a flagrant foul that flattened Anthony Drmic on a layup attempt. Now, Moser is coming off a game that saw him score 20 points in the first half (his total for the game) in UNLV’s 80-63 rout of Nevada Saturday. It was by far his top output of the season. You may remember Moser’s monster game in an overtime win at Boise State last season—18 points and 21 rebounds.
If you want to quibble over why Colorado State is still receiving votes in both polls while Boise State isn’t, look at it this way. The Broncos can make their point if they’ve a mind to, because tonight they face a team with more votes than CSU. UNLV is bubbling under the Top 25 again, and Saturday’s opponent, San Diego State, is getting votes in the Coaches Poll. Opportunity knocks. Incidentally, New Mexico has jumped to No. 11 on the coaches’ list and No. 12 in the AP Poll.
Of course, the big story in the polls is Gonzaga achieving a No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history. It’s hard to ignore the parallels between Gonzaga basketball and Boise State football right now. Or the ones between Zags coach Mark Few and Broncos coach Chris Petersen. Both love where they live and the cultures they’ve created. Both programs started their rise in 1999, although Gonzaga made a much bigger splash, upsetting Minnesota, Stanford and Florida to get to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament that year. Bronco football, with its string of 10-win seasons, became the higher-profile program in the middle of the last decade (if only because college football is higher-profile).
Boise State got to No. 2 in football in 2010 but couldn’t get to No. 1. The Bulldogs reached No. 2 in hoops this year for the first time, and yesterday they went to the mountaintop. Gonzaga is now being tattooed with the old “strength-of-schedule” argument. Sound familiar? The Zags have done everything they can to play up during the non-conference schedule, with lots of high-profile games over the years against “power conference” opponents (don’t you hate that term?). But that’s the perception Gonzaga trying to dispel. The power conference superiority complex. Writes SI.com’s Seth Davis, “(Gonzaga) immediately became synonymous with Cinderella. But the Zags did something funny: They didn't go away.” Neither have those football guys.
The Virginia series is nice—this one is great. It may be six years off, but hey, it’s something to look forward to. Boise State and reigning Orange Bowl champion Florida State have announced a home-and-home football series beginning in 2019. Not two-for-one, home-and-home. The Broncos go to Tallahassee in 2019, with the Seminoles visiting the blue turf in 2020. Scheduling is trending up, having gone from the Tennessee-Martin announcement last fall to UVA last week, and now FSU.
The Idaho Steelheads boast the ECHL’s new Rookie of the Month going into the two-game series against Colorado starting tonight. Tyler Gron has earned the honor for February after potting 10 goals in 13 games for the Steelheads, including a pair of two-goal games. He finished the month with 17 total points and a plus-six rating. Gron has been quite the story, coming up in January from the CHL, a lower-level league. He has 22 points in 22 games with the Steelies. Idaho has now had three Rookie of the Month winners this season, with goaltender Josh Robinson taking the award in November and Austin Fyten winning in January. Coach Brad Ralph knows how to pick out the prospects.
Sun Valley’s Joey Sides should have a rooting section in CenturyLink Arena tonight. Sides has really come into his own with Colorado. He had a cameo with St. John’s of the AHL three months ago, but he’s been a staple for the Eagles. Sides has 40 points in 44 games this season. He only skated in one game in Boise when Colorado visited earlier this season, missing the other two after his AHL call-up.
The Idaho Stampede continue their eight-game, seven-city road trip with a matchup tonight between the only two franchises remaining in their original form from the old Continental Basketball Association. The Stampede and the Sioux Falls Skyforce were two of four CBA teams that moved to the NBA D-League in 2006. The other two departees, the Dakota Wizards and expansion Colorado 14ers, are elsewhere now (the Wizards have become the Santa Cruz Warriors and the 14ers disappeared for a season before morphing into the Texas Legends). This will be the only meeting of the season between the Stampede and Skyforce, who were the Stamps’ Opening Night opponent in the Idaho Center when the franchise was born in November, 1997.
This Day In Sports…March 5, 2011:
It seems so long ago now, but after 10 years in the league, Boise State plays its final men’s basketball conference game in the WAC, beating San Jose State, 66-51. It was the Taco Bell Arena finale for seven seniors, including All-WAC guard La’Shard Anderson and one of the school’s top all-time three-point shooters, Paul Noonan. Fittingly, the final basket of the night was a Noonan three. The Broncos capped their first regular season under coach Leon Rice with a seven-game winning streak to secure the No. 2 seed in the WAC Tournament the following week.
(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.)