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Boise State basketball: The plot will thicken

Good luck handicapping the Mountain West men’s basketball race right now. Boise State is 8-0 in conference but has a couple of interesting weeks dead ahead.
Credit: Wyoming Athletics
Boise State’s RayJ Dennis looks to pass as he brings the ball up the floor against Wyoming, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Laramie, Wyo. Boise State won 90-70.

BOISE, Idaho — Tuesday, January 19, 2021.

Not that anything’s going to come easy when Boise State hosts Fresno State Wednesday and Friday in ExtraMile Arena, but after that things get increasingly more difficult for the 12-1 Broncos. Colorado State, this season’s Mountain West Cinderella, is on the docket next week in Fort Collins, followed by Steve Alford and Nevada in Reno. Boise State gets UNLV at home leading into President’s Day weekend—then it’s the monster finish, with two games against Utah State in Boise and the two regular-season finales versus San Diego State in Viejas Arena. Talk about a crescendo. It’s shaping up to be wild.

When Utah State lost its first two games by 16 and 24 points in November, there were lots of doubters out there (me included). Well, the Aggies just swept San Diego State over the weekend and have won 10 games in a row. They're a different animal now. Take Saturday’s game, for example. After a discouraging offensive effort last Thursday night, the Aztecs finally recovered midway through the first half, finishing the half on a 19-3 run and leading USU by 10 points. The Aggies roared back to win 64-59 and are tied with Boise State atop the Mountain West at 8-0. The Broncos garnered 15 points in the new AP Poll Monday and 28 in the Coaches Poll. USU had one point in AP. You wonder if the coaches are paying attention—San Diego State received three votes and Utah State zero in that poll.

BRACKETOLOGY TIME

You can’t say Boise State is bubbling under the Top 25 yet—the Broncos are too far down the “also receiving votes” list. But a number of national experts expect that to change when their strength-of-schedule ticks upward in the coming weeks (assuming they keep winning). CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm thinks they will, and he has them as a No. 9 seed in his latest NCAA Tournament projections. Palm also sees Colorado State as the Mountain West’s second-best team, a No. 11 seed. He actually has four conference teams making the NCAA field, showing Utah State and San Diego State among the “Last 4 In.”

MORE FAMILY FLAVOR

Andy Avalos’ two Boise State staff hires over the weekend were familiar names—past and present. Winston Venable was first. He’ll remain as running backs coach after debuting in that spot this past season. If you want to read between the lines here, Venable gets a mulligan for a season that saw COVID-19 sap the energy out of the Broncos. (And energy is part of Venable’s being.) The running game had a sub-par year as it essentially operated with one back after the move of Robert Mahone to the transfer portal and the injury to George Holani. Andrew Van Buren had to shoulder the load, and he rushed for 382 yards and gained just 3.4 yards per carry (although he did score eight touchdowns). Venable will have a clean slate in 2021—and hopefully a healthy Holani.

Avalos also retained wide receivers coach Matt Miller, a guy Bronco Nation naturally roots for. Miller’s prize pupil, junior Khalil Shakir, produced a career year, with 52 catches for 719 yards and six touchdowns in only seven games. Sounds a lot like Miller in the old days. His charge now will be to get the most out of the wide receivers room. By all accounts, it’s uber-talented, but Shakir and CT Thomas combined for 72 of Boise State’s 87 receptions at that position in 2020. Time to put the bloom on the rose. I expect there will be synergy between Miller and new offensive coordinator Tim Plough, who likes to see that ball in the air.

MAEVA RESURFACES IN RED

A little more than two years after being dropped from the Boise State roster, linebacker Tyson Maeva has signed with Fresno State. Maeva was allegedly caught smoking marijuana in his hotel room two days before the Broncos’ scheduled appearance in the First Responder Bowl in Dallas in December of 2018. He was removed from the roster and was ultimately dismissed, tweeting that it was due to “a decision I made and regret.” Maeva transferred to Florida International and played two seasons there. He has elected to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA for the COVID-impacted season. Boise State is set to play at Bulldog Stadium this fall.

‘THOSE WHO HELPED MAKE US GREAT’

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Boise State introduced the Legacy Project, a program that honors early Black players in Broncos sports history, “those who helped make us great.” I’d like to zero in on Al Marshall, a wide receiver who played alongside the great Don Hutt from 1969-72. Marshall was Boise State’s top deep threat during those formative years of coach Tony Knap’s cutting-edge offense. His 90-yard touchdown catch at Portland State in 1972 was a Boise State record that stood for 30 years. Marshall was the first former Bronco ever to score a touchdown in the NFL—on a 17-yard TD catch for the New England Patriots in 1974. It was the only reception of Marshall’s one-year NFL career.

When his Boise State career was over—and before the NFL Draft—Marshall accepted my invitation to play basketball for the KFXD No-Stars, a rag-tag team of disc jockeys and former Broncos who faced high school faculty teams in Southwest Idaho and Eastern Oregon. He was good at hoops, too, as you might imagine. I’d pick up Marshall on campus before the games, and we’d talk a lot about what life was like for him. He was quiet, but he seemed happy. I see on his Legacy Project profile that he became a teacher at Soledad State Prison in California for 16 years and was once named Teacher of the Year. Marshall was inducted into the Boise State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1989. I’d love to talk to him again.

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…January 19, 2002:

The New England Patriots defeat the Oakland Raiders 16-13 in overtime in an historically controversial divisional playoff game at Foxboro Stadium. With wind-whipped snow falling and the Patriots trailing by three points with 1:50 to go in regulation, Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson knocked the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands for an apparent fumble recovery. But officials invoked the “tuck rule,” calling it an incomplete pass because Brady’s arm was moving forward when he tried to tuck the ball back into his body. The “tuck rule” was finally repealed in 2013.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.) 

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