Team: #7 Boise State
Coach: Greg Graham, eighth season (127-95)
Last year’s record: 19-13 (9-7 WAC, T-3rd)
Key newcomers: F Sam Hicks, F Daequon Montreal, G Westly Perryman
Why they’re here: A glaring lack of star power. The Broncos are going to desperately miss graduating senior forward Mark Sanchez. Without him, the Broncos are lacking more than their leading scorer. Sanchez was Boise State’s only reliable go-to guy when a clutch bucket or big stop was needed.
The rest of the squad is made up of more-or-less role players, all with talent but also with significant weaknesses. Case in point: starting point guard Anthony Thomas gained infamy by guaranteeing victory at home over the Vandals, only to go 3-of-7 from the floor and put up a negative assist-to-turnover ratio in the Broncos’ stunning defeat. Whatever the opposite of clutch is, that’s Thomas.
Greg Graham is bringing in some decent talent in the form of Sam Hicks and Daequon Montreal, but in a season where the WAC competition is ridiculously deep and talented, just being “decent” won’t cut it. Boise State needs to find itself a star, and quickly, or else the 2008 NCAA Tournament bid will seem like a distant memory.
Why they could finish higher: The Broncos have been known to overachieve, and Greg Graham might have a few rabbits to pull out of hats. Montreal was a star at the JC level, and if he can translate that into success in mid-major Division I hoops, maybe Boise State will have found its go-to shooter. That’s a pretty big if, however, because the level of competition and court intensity is exponentially greater.
Why they could finish lower: There’s potential for an epic meltdown in Boise. Just two years removed from an NCAA berth, a Bronco nosedive to the WAC’s lower tier could provoke infighting, recrimination and a total team chemistry failure. Poor results could see the 12,000-seat Big Burrito go largely empty on gameday, further deepening the despair in Bronco country.
Most Valuable Player: Kurt Cunningham (10.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.2 apg) — With Sanchez’s consistent production gone, Cunningham is the most likely candidate to step up, particularly on the boards. Of particular note is Cunningham’s stellar shooting — leading the WAC, far and away, by making an amazing 67.3 percent of his shots. That might drop a bit this year if he takes more shots, but his talent is real.
Most Important Player: Paul Noonan (10.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.9 apg) — This guy could be one of the WAC’s best shooters, if only he wasn’t in love with a 3-point shot he just doesn’t have. Inside the arc, Noonan shot 49-for-91, a quality 53.8 percent. But he made just 54 of 160 3-point attempts — an awful 33.8 percent — and he was even worse in WAC play. Smarter shooting from Noonan would really help the Broncos this year.
Non-conference degree of difficulty: 2 — Boise State will take on a couple decent road opponents early, visiting the Big 10’s Illinois and the Mountain West’s Wyoming. After that, however, things drop off quite a bit. With the exception of a revenge game against a Portland State squad that embarrassed them in last year’s ESPNU BracketBusters, the remainder of the Broncos’ schedule features creampuffs like Houston Baptist and Cal State-Bakersfield.
Fun fact: The Broncos were swept by Idaho in their intra-state rivalry series last season for the first time since 1998.
Predicted record: 14-16 (6-10 WAC)