As the 2012-13 season enters the rear view and thoughts already turn to the next for the Boise State men's basketball team, coach Leon Rice said now that the bar has been raised, the challenge for his team is to keep exceeding expectations.
After all, the Broncos earned their first-ever at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament this season, which ended in an 80-71 loss to La Salle in the first round Wednesday. There were two road wins over ranked teams and a 14-1 mark at home, with the only loss coming in overtime to New Mexico, a No. 3 seed in the Big Dance.
But looking forward, it's hard for the team to not be excited about what's to come, with only one senior graduating.
"It's the start of our program," Rice said Wednesday. "We lost the game (Wednesday); it's the not the end. We plan on doing everything we can to be back here. And these experiences help you for the next time you're back here."
Boise State, as it currently stands, will return 96 percent of its scoring, and its top two scorers, Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks, will be juniors. The Broncos will get some needed rest before getting into offseason work - but the lone departing senior, Kenny Buckner, said he told the team to immediately begin thinking about 2013-14.
"It starts now, not after spring break, not in the summer," Buckner said. "You can't wait. They're good guys; they're going to be a real good team."
Forward Ryan Watkins, who had 10 points in 19 minutes against La Salle, is expected to be one of the Broncos' three seniors next season. He has 70 starts under his belt, while Drmic has 61, senior-to-be Jeff Elorriaga has 56 and Marks has 44.
"We know it won't be easy," Watkins said. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. We know we can do some great things, but first things first. We want to get back to work in the offseason, then improve on that in the fall."
The Broncos proved this season they can score in bunches, averaging 73.2 points per game, but there will no doubt be a focus on defense going forward. They yielded 68 or fewer points in the last nine regular-season games, but La Salle shot 63.3 percent from the field (72.7 percent in the second half).
"It's a huge stepping stone for us, and we know we've got to get better," Rice said. "We've always known we're going to get better defensively. And that's a big focus for us for next year."
Now that expectations have been exceeded, the Broncos will quickly begin a year-long quest to get right back where they just were - and hopefully stick around longer.
"I know people didn't expect us to be this good, but we knew we had that potential," Marks said. "Now some people will be coming for us. ... We've got the potential to do some big things.
INCOMING: Boise State has signed two junior college players - guard Darnell Taylor from Saddleback (Calif.) Junior College and forward James Webb III of North Idaho College. Dezmyn Trent, a guard from Tacoma, Wash., is expected to sign next month. With only Buckner set to depart, and three players incoming, some offseason attrition is likely.
3-POINT PROWESS: Elorriaga hit 84 3-pointers this season, tied for second-most in a season (Tyler Tiedeman, 2007-08), while Drmic's 80 are tied for fifth (Coby Karl, 2006-07). The Broncos' 249 3s this season were third-most in a single campaign.
RECOVERING FROM TOs: La Salle was hot offensively to start Wednesday, but Boise State helped the cause with nine turnovers in the first 17:34. The Broncos only had one more the rest of the way, aiding a late comeback attempt when they cut the deficit to six.