In territory not ventured before by any Boise State mens basketball team, the 2013-14 Broncos are hardly timid, but instead excited.
The Broncos earned the schools first-ever at-large NCAA Tournament berth in March. From that team, all five starters are back, along with 92.4 percent of all scoring. Talented sophomores are now seasoned juniors.
When youre building a program, if you keep getting better, eventually youll have to deal with high hopes, Boise State fourth-year coach Leon Rice said. Were welcoming them, and I think the guys have gone about it the right way. They know theres a lot of work to do, they arent complacent.
In the Mountain West preseason media poll, Rice's Broncos were tied for second with UNLV, behind only New Mexico. In his first three years, Boise State has exceeded preseason conference voting.
Boise State received 22 points in the preseason Associated Press poll, a first for the school. That praise extends to players such as juniors Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks, preseason all-conference picks who averaged 17.7 and 16.3 points per game last season, respectively.
Its a good thing, because we have good players, Marks said.
With all that scoring back, there is little worry about the Broncos missing a beat on the offensive end.
In Rices opinion, if Boise State wants to take the next step as a program, it will be with defense.
Last season, the Broncos were 214th nationally in field goal percentage defense (41.7 percent), and lapses were magnified in their 80-71 loss to La Salle in the NCAA tournament.
"One of the things I've liked so far is that our guys have bought in, they understand how important it is for us to be tough defensively," Rice said.
If Boise State is content in its position, the Broncos aren't showing it much, especially when they know plenty of goals are unachieved.
"I still feel we have a lot to prove we got to the tournament, it was an early exit, so we're still hungry from that," Watkins said. "We haven't won a game in the Mountain West tournament yet. There's a lot of things we're still hungry for."
WOMENS TEAM IS STARTING OVER AFTER A TOUGH, INJURY-FILLED SEASON
Optimism and dread collide when Boise State womens basketball coach Gordy Presnell tries to imagine what lies ahead for his team as it opens the season Friday, hosting Southern Utah.
I seriously have no clue what to expect, said Presnell, who noted this is his most athletic team since he took over in 2005.
Presnell and his squad have dealt with an almost improbable amount of bad luck the past year two starters missed the whole season and another left the program during the season.
All four juniors who played in March 14s season-ending loss in the Mountain West tournament are no longer on the roster. The two seniors listed on this seasons roster, Kinzi Poteet and Diana Lee, are both out for the year.
Six of the nine Broncos who played in Mondays exhibition game did not play last season.
Its a roller coaster, said sophomore guard Keiahnna Engel, a likely starter who redshirted last season with a knee injury. Big injuries, little injuries, we had all of them.
With all of that adversity starting to recede behind him, Presnell feels some relief.
The Broncos will use a new, guard-heavy offense in part due to a lack of depth at post because of attrition, along with an aggressive defensive style.
Were starting over, Presnell said. Its a new offense, a new defense, new specials. Were probably going to start three sophomores and two freshmen.
We changed just about everything it's time to turn the page.
And so the Broncos move forward, starting Friday against a Southern Utah squad coached by former Presnell assistants J.R. Payne and Toriano Towns. Yaiza Rodriguez and Brooke Pahukoa, both true freshmen, are expected to start at guard, along with Engel, who had 16 points and eight steals in 22 minutes in the Broncos' exhibition. Her ability to slash to the basket and flummox opposing guards will be a benefit for the Broncos and a strong fit on both end of the floor for Boise State's new system.
"She's explosive, and if she can stay healthy, she'll be one of the better players in the league," Presnell said.
Relegated to watch as the Broncos struggled to an 11-19 season in 2012-13, Engel is now the most veteran presence on the floor in her third year.
"I'm so glad to be back, it was hard not being able to help last year, and I'm excited to be able to," Engel said.