Boise State men's basketball must solve Air Force's tricky approach

The Falcons already have league wins this season against Utah State, UNLV.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comJanuary 29, 2014 

Boise St San Diego St Basketball

Boise State coach Leon Rice wants an answer from an official during the first half of a NCAA college basketball game against San Diego State Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

LENNY IGNELZI — AP

  • AIR FORCE AT BOISE STATE

    Time: 7:05 p.m.

    Radio/TV: 670 AM, ROOT

    Records: Air Force 9-9, 3-4 MW; Boise State 14-6, 4-3

    Las Vegas line: Boise State by 15

    Series: Boise State leads 3-2 (Broncos won last meeting 77-65 on Feb. 20, 2013 in Boise)

    Notable: Boise State senior Ryan Watkins, averaging 11.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, is one of only 13 Division I players averaging a double-double. … Freshman Nick Duncan has made 19-of-35 3-pointers in Mountain West play, a league-best 54.3 percent clip.

— Whenever he had to face Air Force, former Boise State football coach Chris Petersen always felt his plate was more full than usual.

The same goes for men’s basketball coach Leon Rice.

It’s likely ingrained in the DNA of the cadets — the Falcons are known for sharp execution and an uncommon system that can fluster ill-prepared opponents. In football, it’s the option. In basketball, it’s an updated version of the Princeton offense.

“They can make you look silly, and they will at times,” Rice said.

The Broncos host the Falcons at Taco Bell Arena at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday, and the focus will be on stopping an offense that has given them headaches in the past.

Boise State is 2-2 against the Falcons since joining the Mountain West, giving up 63 points per game in the two wins, and 83 points a game in the two losses. On Jan. 19, 2013, the Falcons shot 54.4 percent from the field en route to a 91-80 win over the Broncos in Colorado Springs, the most points allowed in regulation during Rice’s 117-game tenure.

“That was tough. … We can’t let that sort of thing happen if you want to win games. We’ve got to play team defense,” Boise State junior Anthony Drmic said.

The Falcons’ style involves constant motion of the ball and players, attempting to create mismatches on the fly while utilizing an array of picks and backdoor cuts to get open. Unlike the Princeton offenses of old, and even the Air Force offenses of the recent past, they will push the pace instead of intentionally slowing it down.

“They play so controlled. As a team, they’re well-disciplined; they’re well-drilled,” Drmic said. “If you can keep moving and create space, it’s going to help your offense a lot.”

Even when the Broncos have the ball, they’ll face something a little different in the Falcons’ matchup zone defense, which can create confusion with man-to-man on the ball and zone away from it.

“It creates as many problems as their offense does,” Rice said.

Air Force was picked 10th out of 11 in the Mountain West preseason poll after losing its top seven scorers, including Michael Lyons (17.7 ppg), who had 37 points against the Broncos in the Falcons’ win last year.

Despite the heavy losses, the Falcons are scoring 72.2 points per game, on pace for their best output since 1998-99, and are shooting 47.5 percent, 44th nationally, second in the Mountain West.

“It’s the right system for that place,” Rice said. “It really exploits any mistake you make, and they’re so good at finding them.”

As tough of a task as it may be for the Broncos, Air Force will have its hands full with the top-scoring team in the conference (78.8 ppg) on its home floor.

“Our system can be hard to guard, too,” Rice said.

Wednesday is the second straight home game for the Broncos, the only such time in conference play. It also is a chance for Boise State to get its fifth conference win, something it didn’t do until Feb. 20 last year — at home against Air Force. Rice said his team is “peaking at the right time,” while Drmic said the team is close, and can get closer Wednesday.

“We’re not exactly where we’d like to be, but we’re not that far off,” Drmic said.

Bronco women look to keep rolling

Boise State’s women’s team has been on fire, and is unlikely to slow down at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Air Force.

The Broncos (10-8, 5-2) are on a four-game winning streak, the first such stretch in conference play since 2007-08. In Air Force (1-16, 0-7), the Broncos draw a team struggling mightily, being outscored by an average combined score of 75.8-54.4.

The Falcons have scored more than 70 points just once. Boise State is 9-1 when holding opponents to 70 or fewer this season.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_Southorn

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