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Boise State basketball: Pulling themselves up by the bootstraps

Boise State either goes big or goes home tonight. A lot depends on what’s going on between the ears.
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 — Thursday, March 18, 2021.

Boise State men’s basketball goes into the unknown tonight. As in, would a deep run in the NIT calm the unrest in the fan base following the four-game losing streak that yanked the NCAA Tournament dream away? And how would a loss to SMU in Frisco, TX, be viewed, coming as it would without one of the Broncos’ best players, Abu Kigab, and key reserve Max Rice? Those absences would have to be taken into consideration. 

A big part of the equation tonight is Boise State’s frame of mind. The Mustangs are eager to play. The Broncos have to be equally eager, and that’ll be tough after the way the hammer has come down on this team the past three weeks. They’ve got to shake the doldrums. The oddsmakers think they will—Boise State is favored by anywhere from one to three points.

SUB-IN, SUB-OUT

We’ll be keeping an eye on coach Leon Rice’s starting lineup and player rotations tonight. Devonaire Doutrive will likely get the start in place of Kigab again. Doutrive, in his first start against Nevada last week, played 37 minutes and led Boise State with 17 points. Now, will Emmanuel Akot start in place of RayJ Dennis for the second straight game? Akot and Dennis scored 15 and 10 points, respectively, against the Wolf Pack. The one deemed most capable of handling SMU star Kendric Davis should probably get the nod. Beyond that, we’ll see how much seldom-used Naje Smith and Pavle Kuzmanovic get in off the shortened Broncos bench.

KARMA FROM KELLEN?

Perhaps the most popular Boise State Bronco of all-time will be among the limited number of fans allowed to attend tonight’s game. The Commerica Center in Frisco is not far from The Star, the 91-acre world headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys where Kellen Moore is employed as offensive coordinator. Moore is planning on being there to watch the Broncos. COVID protocols would likely preclude Kellen from breaching the bubble and giving the team a pep talk, but it certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea at a time like this.

WE’D CALL IT ‘HOLIDAY HYSTERIA’

On this, the first day of March Madness, ESPN’s Chris Low presents, “What a college football 64-team playoff bracket would look like in 2021.” Low seeded the teams 1 through 64 based on their prospects for next season. “We’ll create some compelling storylines and potentially cause a little angst among certain fan bases,” writes Low. This could do both: Low has both Boise State and UCF—who open the season against each other on Labor Day weekend—as No. 10 seeds. Only No. 9 seeds Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State are rated higher among the Group of 5.

Then Low gets down to the nitty gritty, pitting the Broncos against No. 7 seed Auburn in the first round. “You just knew the selection committee was going to find a way to match up these two teams in the first round after Bryan Harsin left Boise State for Auburn in the offseason,” he writes. “The game doesn't disappoint, either, as Boise State linebacker Riley Whimpey comes up with a key sack late to thwart an Auburn drive.” He predicts Broncos 35, Tigers 31. How would that be? Low has Boise State losing 30-21 to Miami in his tournament’s second round.

MERRITT’S NEXT FLORIDA STOP

Troy Merritt tries to get back on track this week as the Honda Classic tees off this morning in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. The former Boise State star has missed two straight cuts (with a two-tournament layoff sandwiched in between)—he carded a 74-77 last week to open The Players Championship. Merritt has just one top 30 finish on the season, but once he gets up the leaderboard, he’s usually at his best. Of his 16 career top 10 results, eight of them have doubled as podium finishes (first, second or third).

KRYSTKO ON THE MARKET

Larry Krystkowiak got his first head coaching job in 2003-04 with the Idaho Stampede, leading it to the best season in team history to that point: a 37-16 record and a berth in the CBA championship game. Where Krystkowiak’s coaching career goes from here is to be determined, as he was fired by Utah Tuesday after the Utes missed the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight season. He’ll have options. Krystkowiak parlayed that Stampede campaign into a job at his alma mater, Montana. He was also head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks for one season before getting the Utah post 10 years ago. Krystkowiak applied for the Boise State job that went to Leon Rice in 2010, and ironically, Rice’s name is being mentioned in Salt Lake City now.

ARMS IS MAKIN’ TACOS AT WINTHROP

While the Northwest Nazarene men’s basketball team settles back into campus life following its run at the NCAA Division II Tournament, one of its former stars gets ready for his own March moment. Adonis Arms, the 2019 GNAC Player of the Year for the Nighthawks, will suit up for Winthrop Friday evening for a first-round game against Villanova, two years after transferring from NNU. Despite coming off the bench in all 21 games he’s played, Arms is the Eagles’ third-leading scorer at 10.4 points per game and their second-leading rebounder with a 4.6 average. A lot of bracket-fillers like 23-1 Winthrop in this No. 12 versus No. 5 matchup against the Wildcats. They especially like longtime Eagles announcer Dave Friedman and his signature call made famous on the DA Show: “If you’re not making tacos, I don’t love you no more!”

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…March 18, 1994:

Boise State, upset winner of the Big Sky Tournament the week before, takes on Denny Crum and Louisville in the NCAA West Regional at Arco Arena in Sacramento. The Cardinals dominated early and led by 12 at halftime, but the Broncos whittled away in the second half—closing to within five at one point behind four three-pointers from freshman J.D. Huleen. With 25 points, Shambric Williams was the day’s high scorer in his final Boise State game, but Louisville won it 67-58.

(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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