BOISE, Idaho — Wednesday Weekly: March 29, 2023.
The only coach in the Final Four who’s been there before is Jim Larranaga of Miami. You remember his first Final Four, right? It was with George Mason in 2006, one of the great Cinderella stories of all time. The last week of December that year, George Mason took out a full-page ad in the Idaho Statesman wishing Boise State good luck in the Fiesta Bowl, as a team that could relate to the Broncos. It quoted Larrinaga after the Final Four run: “What I hope it will do is give other programs like ourselves — coaches and players — inspiration for what they can possibly accomplish.” The ad ends with, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” Ironic, because that could be the message to San Diego State Saturday when the Aztecs play in the Mountain West’s first Final Four. SDSU is close enough to taste it.
Yes, the NCAA Tournament “unit money” is nice, but major props to San Diego State for providing the Mountain West with the greatest moment in its 24-year history. The Aztecs’ climb into the Final Four yesterday easily trumps Boise State’s win in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl (the Mountain West one), and Utah’s victory over Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. You’d have to look under a lot of rocks to find a Boise State fan who wasn’t pulling for San Diego State in the Sweet 16 last week. The reason is respect, and it starts with Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher. The Broncos have won four of their last five games against SDSU, and every time Dutcher took his hat off to them. Even after the 20-point beatdown of Boise State in Viejas Arena eight weeks ago, Dutcher acknowledged that the Broncos were different without Marcus Shaver Jr. that night.
A BIG POUNCE ON THE PORTAL
As coach Leon Rice would put it, Boise State has “pounced” on the transfer portal, landing Roddie Anderson III out of UC San Diego. Anderson is a 6-foot-2 point guard who led all Big West freshman in scoring this season at 15.8 points per game in conference play, finishing the schedule with three straight 20-point outings. It’s one thing to see it in print, it’s another to see it on video. A Big West hoops fan that goes by the Twitter handle “Jet” posted eight different highlights of Anderson yesterday afternoon. He fearlessly drives, he dishes, he dunks, he shoots the three, he defends. It’s impressive. It’s hard to imagine Anderson not replacing Shaver as starting point guard next season. Jace Whiting will battle, but wow. Anderson comes from a Utah State legacy family in athletics. He has four years to play three.
STILL SOME MOVEMENT LEFT
There is theoretically still one scholarship available now that forward Burke Smith and guard Pavle Kuzmanovic have entered the transfer portal — and with Anderson and highly-touted incoming freshmen Andrew Meadow and Chris Lockett Jr. aboard. Smith, the 6-11 forward, played in only 10 games this season, scoring nine points with 11 rebounds. Rice likes both players and is probably helping both in their search for a new school. This is where the transfer portal again comes in on the other side of the equation. While Anderson’s aboard, the Broncos remain in search of a true post player to take the pressure off Tyson Degenhart, who shouldn’t have to defend big men. That’s the elephant in the room (and Boise State needs a new elephant in the room).
AS FOR THE RETURNEES…
Let’s talk about who can take the biggest step next season from the current Boise State roster. I’m going with Chibuzo Agbo, who’ll be a senior next fall but also has a COVID year available. Let’s go back to Agbo’s first game after transferring from Texas Tech, the opener against South Dakota State in ExtraMile Arena. At first, we thought Agbo was supposed to replace Abu Kigab. He did not do a good Kigab impression in that debut, fouling out with 7:42 left in the game and going scoreless. Agbo also fouled out against Washington State in the Capital City Classic, but he saw it come together with 24 points against Loyola Chicago in the Myrtle Beach Invitational. Agbo was streaky this season — if he can box out the bad streaks and bottle up the good ones next winter, look out.
RICE SEES THE WORLD AGAIN
Maybe you can’t call it a “recruiting coup,” but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Rice will get another good up-close-and-personal look at some of the country’s top talent as he again serves as an assistant coach for USA Basketball, this time working with the Men’s U19 National Team. Just like last year, when he helped lead the U18 team, Rice will join with Colorado coach Tad Boyle and Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton Jr. Boyle will be head coach as the Americans play at the FIBA Men’s U19 World Cup in Debrecen, Hungary, this summer. The same trio led the USA to a U18 gold medal last year.
EARLY LOOK AT MW FOOTBALL
Last weekend started with Bill Connelly’s 2023 Mountain West football preview at ESPN.com, dissecting each division even though divisions don’t exist anymore. Connelly spent a lot of time at the beginning of it talking about what a down year the conference had last season. This sums it up: “In its 18-year existence, the MWC had never finished with an average SP+ ranking (ESPN’s overall efficiency rating) worse than 87.7, and it was 97.7 in 2022.” As for Boise State, Connelly notes the loaded offense behind Taylen Green. The wild card is defense. “Andy Avalos is an outstanding defensive coach,” writes Connelly. “But depth could be an issue in both the front and back unless some transfers (three on the line, and three in the secondary) click. If BSU still fields a top-40 defense, the Broncos will be far and away the division favorite.”
AND AN UNSUNG PLAYER TO WATCH
Connelly of listed his 10 favorite Mountain West players in his preview. No. 1 was Boise State quarterback Taylen Green. Not surprising. But his No. 10 pick caught my attention. It was Broncos safety Rodney Robinson. Writes Connelly: “One of the smallest safeties you'll see (5-foot-8, 185 pounds) is also one of the best. He picked off three passes, made a pair of run stops and lined up everywhere from cornerback to inside linebacker.” Hey, Robinson started 13 of 14 games and made 48 tackles for Boise State as a sophomore last year and played in 11 games with 19 stops as a redshirt freshman in 2021.
WHERE IS ANDY AVALOS? (IN THE FOOTBALL FACILITY…)
Will Avalos coach with a chip on his shoulder this year? He certainly could, based on The Athletic’s Group of 5 coach rankings. They came out two weeks ago, but I haven’t talked about them yet. Chris Vannini, a respected Group of 5 writer, has a top 15. Among Mountain West coaches, Troy Calhoun of Air Force is No. 3. Jeff Tedford of Fresno State is No. 6. Craig Bohl of Wyoming is No. 14. And under “just missed,” Vannini has Colorado State’s Jay Norvell, Utah State’s Blake Anderson and San Jose State’s Brent Brennan. Norvell? Who hasn’t even sniffed the Mountain West title game? The only reason I figure Avalos isn’t on the list is the fact he’s only been a head coach for two years, unlike the rest of these guys. He did better than all but one of these guys last season. (Avalos doesn’t care — he’s in nose-to-the-grindstone mode.)
PRO DAY CONGLOMERATION
Assembling info from some of my media pals at Boise State’s Pro Day (Jay Tust, Jordan Kaye and Johnny Mallory): the biggest performances came from Scott Matlock, George Tarlas and Caleb Biggers. Matlock, who has grown his red hair out and kind of looks like a Scottish bodybuilder now, logged 29 bench press reps at 225 pounds. He officially weighed in at 296 pounds, almost 15 pounds lighter than last season. Matlock ran a 4.81 in the 40-yard dash, good for a defensive lineman. Tarlas ran a 4.80-second 40 — not elite, but impressive, considering he had hip surgery five months ago. Tarlas also peeled off a 6.96 in the three-cone drill. Biggers nailed 23 reps in the bench press and ran the fastest 40 at 4.48 seconds. All but two of the NFL’s 32 teams were represented on Monday.
A SERIOUS RECORD WATCH FOR THE STEELIES
Now the Idaho Steelheads can get serious about history. There are nine games left in the regular season, and the Steelheads are six wins away from the all-time ECHL record for victories. They’re 51-9-3 going into this week’s three-game series against the Kansas City Mavericks beginning tonight in Idaho Central Arena. The onslaught has not stopped since Week 1 last October. The Steelies already have a franchise record for wins in their ECHL era and have currently won nine games in a row. A victory tonight will match the organization’s all-time mark of 52 set 20 years ago in the old WCHL. Idaho long ago clinched a spot in the Kelly Cup Playoffs after stunningly missing the postseason last spring.
OH, TO PLAY THE WEEKEND
Man, could Troy Merritt use a nice four-day run on the PGA Tour. Merritt tees off Thursday morning in the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio. A year after one of the best seasons of his career, the former Boise State star and Meridian resident has missed eight straight cuts over the last 2½ months, with the most recent coming at the Valspar Championship two weeks ago. Merritt finished 62nd in FedExCup standings last year. He’s currently 131st.
THIS DAY IN SPORTS…March 29, 2014:
The Philadelphia 76ers avoid infamy — kind of. The Sixers routed the Detroit Pistons, 123-98, to end a 26-game losing streak. Philly hadn’t won in two months, and two days earlier they had tied the NBA record for futility, Cleveland’s string of 26 straight losses in 2010-11. One more defeat would have broken the record for the longest losing streak in all major American professional sports (the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers also lost 26 games in a row in 1976 and 1977). However, the 76ers did break that mark with 28 straight losses over two seasons in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)
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