Tuesday, February 11, 2014.
The Mountain West Conference’s RPI rating is hanging over Boise State’s head right now. The Broncos are 5-6 in conference play after Saturday’s loss at Utah State. At this point last year, they were also 5-6 in conference play. The difference is: this is a down year in Mountain West basketball. The league isn’t getting nearly the respect it did in 2013, when it spent a chunk of the season as the No. 2 conference in the country in RPI. Currently at RealTimeRPI.com, the Mountain West is No. 10. Boise State’s RPI has dropped to No. 68—and, of course, 68 teams get into the NCAA Tournament. But automatic entries to lower-rated conference champions will bump the No. 68 team…and a bunch of schools ahead of it. All that’s left for the Broncos (and it’s actually been this way for awhile) is to hope for a Mountain West Tournament championship.
There are always signs that Boise State is going to come out of this funk, and Anthony Drmic provided one in Logan. Drmic scored a game-high 26 points, his first 20-point game in four weeks. Drmic was also connecting on that set-shot from three-point range, going 5-for-10 outside the arc. He hadn’t made that many treys since he also hit five in the season opener against UT Arlington. But what Drmic is preaching right now is defense. The Australian junior thinks that’s the facet of the Broncos’ game that is keeping them from getting over the hump. He’ll be on a personal quest to help stop fellow Aussie and good friend Hugh Greenwood of New Mexico tomorrow night in Taco Bell Arena. Greenwood nailed five three-pointers himself last month in the Lobos’ 84-75 win over Boise State in the Pit.
Can Boise State beat New Mexico for the first time ever tomorrow night? Yes, it can. This wouldn’t seem to be the time to do it, with a three-game losing streak and all. But the Broncos did almost beat San Diego State twice this season, and they put together quite a rally in Albuquerque last month. And the Lobos are coming off a supreme scare in the Pit, where they survived 66-61 last Wednesday in overtime against Wyoming. It’s just that New Mexico knows all about finishing, and Boise State has forgotten how to. UNM is now 18-4 overall and 9-1 in the Mountain West and—speaking of finishing—is 16-0 when leading at halftime.
San Diego State has hit the wall in the polls, which is probably a reflection of the Mountain West’s aforementioned RPI. After last Wednesday’s win over Boise State and a 73-58 victory over Nevada at home Saturday, the Aztecs stayed at No. 5 in both polls yesterday for the third straight week. SDSU is now 21-1 with a 20-game winning streak, but did it look like the fifth-ranked team in the country in Taco Bell Arena? Tonight the Aztecs go to Wyoming in a game that should be revealing. Also in the polls, New Mexico is knocking on the door again, fourth in line to get back in the AP Top 25 this week.
Maybe the Mountain West’s diminished stature this year figures into that of Xavier Thames as well. A page in this week’s Sports Illustrated makes a case for Thames as worthy of at least a spot on the 25-player midseason list for the John Wooden Award. “If there are five players in the United States playing better or doing more for a team with one loss, I’d like to have you name them,” said SDSU coach Steve Fisher. And the piece was written before Thames hit seven straight points in the second half at Taco Bell Arena last Wednesday to rally the Aztecs into the lead, then dropped in two free throws to set the stage for the game-winning shot.
Former Boise State star Jamar Taylor wasn’t exactly a breakout player in his NFL rookie season, but Miami doesn’t consider him a bust. Barry Jackson wrote in the Miami Herald Sunday, “The coaching staff likes the 2013 second-round pick and attributes his lack of playing time (45 defensive snaps) to injuries ‘that were debilitating,’ largely the result of May hernia surgery. But coaches like Taylor’s skill set. ‘We’re going to see better dividends from him in 2014,’ one Dolphins football staffer predicted.” Taylor had only three tackles for Miami last year.
Nevada will have a new defensive coordinator when the 2014 season dawns. Scottie Hazelton has left coach Brian Polian’s staff to take a spot on Gus Bradley’s new staff with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Hazelton and Bradley previously coached together at North Dakota State and Fort Lewis College. Currently on the Nevada staff is former Boise State player Mike Bradeson, who served as Wolf Pack defensive coordinator during Chris Ault’s final season in 2012. He’s now the safeties coach and recruiting coordinator. D.C. is probably a long shot for Bradeson now, though. And reports say San Jose State is hiring former Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson for the same post with the Spartans. Robinson is the one Mack Brown elevated to D-coordinator last fall after the Longhorns’ meltdown at BYU.
Sun Valley’s Hilary Knight keeps showing up in box scores from Sochi. Knight scored another goal yesterday for the U.S. women’s hockey team, and she certainly was not alone. The Americans whitewashed Switzerland 9-0 at the Winter Olympics and are closing in on the semifinals. Elsewhere, Pat Deneen, the one-time junior downhiller at Silver Mountain in Kellogg, finished sixth in men’s moguls. Today’s a big day for Idaho ties, as Sun Valley snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington makes her debut in the halfpipe, Boise High grad Sara Studebaker competes in the 10K biathlon, and Simi Hamilton, who trains in Sun Valley, skis the men’s individual cross country free sprint.
A couple Idaho Stampede notes as they prepare to face the Santa Cruz Warriors on the road tonight. Pierre Jackson (who else?) has been named D-League Performer of the Week after averaging a whooping 41.7 points last week. That, of course, included the former CSI star’s D-League record 58-point outburst a week ago tonight. And Idaho’s EJ Singler will participate in the D-League All-Star Three-Point Competition this Saturday in New Orleans. Singler leads the league in three-point accuracy at 49 percent.
This Day In Sports…February 11, 2011:
The Cleveland Cavaliers break an NBA record 26-game losing streak by beating the Los Angeles Clippers 126-119 in overtime. In their first season without superstar LeBron James, the Cavs had been positively awful. But five days after ending the streak they would take down the two-time defending NBA champion L.A. Lakers, improving Cleveland’s record to 10-46. Just a season earlier the Cavaliers had compiled the league’s best record at 61-21.
(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.)