Nearly every year under coach Leon Rice, the Boise State men’s basketball team has outperformed the predictions of the Mountain West Conference’s preseason media poll.
If history holds true in 2018-19, the Broncos are in for a strong season.
Boise State was picked to finish fourth out of the league’s 11 teams in the preseason poll released Tuesday at the Mountain West Media Summit in Las Vegas.
Despite losing three starters, including a first-round NBA Draft pick in Chandler Hutchison, that ranking didn’t sit well with Rice.
“I want our guys to have a chip on their shoulder,” Rice said. “We didn’t sign up to be fourth. They didn’t come to Boise to be fourth.”
The Broncos have finished among the top three in the Mountain West standings four years in a row, which is the longest current streak of any team in the league.
Boise State received 139 points to edge out fifth-place Fresno State (138) by one point.
“I know we took a big loss with Chandler leaving, but at the same time I really don’t think we did,” Boise State senior Zach Haney said. “I feel like there’s a lot of players with a lot of talent that we have and they haven’t been able to really show that, so there’s some big roles that they’re going to step up and fulfill.”
Nevada, last year’s regular-season champ and a team that made the Sweet 16, was the near-unanimous favorite, receiving 18 of a possible 19 first-place votes for 207 points. San Diego State was second with 188 points and one first-place nod, and New Mexico was third with 153.
“We haven’t done anything with this team yet. We look good on paper,” Nevada senior Caleb Martin said. “So unless we come out and execute and perform the way we should and the way we know how to, we could end up, like (Nevada) Coach (Eric Musselman) said, the sixth-place team in the conference .”
The Broncos finished 23-9 overall and 13-5 in league play last season, good enough for second in the regular-season standings and one spot ahead of where they were picked in the preseason poll. Boise State is one of just 21 teams in the country with six straight seasons of 20 wins or more.
“I think we’ve been fortunate. We’ve had competitive guys that have done it the way we want to do it, and they just kept sawing wood,” Rice said. “I think we’ve also had teams that have improved as the year went on, and I think that’s what this team’s going to be about.”
With Nevada receiving national attention as a potential top 10 team, Rice believes the entire league will benefit.
“Nevada was really good last year, I just think they were underrated,” Rice said. “There was a lot of really good teams (in the league) last year, we just weren’t getting maybe the national respect right out of the gate that Nevada’s getting right now. That’s going to elevate the whole league’s respect, so we’re starting at a better place I think as a league in general.”
In addition to the preseason poll, the media also voted on a five-member preseason all-conference team. Nevada seniors Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin claimed three of those spots, and Wyoming senior Justin James and Fresno State senior Deshon Taylor rounded out the team.
Caleb Martin also was named the Preseason Player of the Year, while teammate Jordan Brown was voted the Preseason Freshman of the Year. New Mexico’s Vance Jackson was recognized as the Preseason Newcomer of the Year.
“Basketball’s one of those sports, if you don’t bring it one night, anybody can beat you,” Caleb Martin said. “It’s good to have preseason accolades and all that stuff and attention, but at the same time it’s preseason.”
Fans can get their first look at this year’s Broncos during the team’s sixth annual open scrimmage at 5 p.m. Friday in Bronco Gym. The Broncos play their exhibition opener Nov. 5 against Vanguard and their official season opener Nov. 10 against Idaho State. Both games tip off at 7 p.m. at Taco Bell Arena.
Here are some additional highlights from Tuesday’s media summit:
▪ Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said one of his staff’s major goals is to get the conference back in the “national conversation” as a multibid league in the NCAA Tournament. In 16 of 19 seasons, the Mountain West has had multiple bids, including two last season, in Nevada and San Diego State.
A Mountain West team has never opened the season ranked in the top 10 in either the AP or USA Today Coaches’ poll, but Nevada is expected to do so this season.
Seven Mountain West teams have also improved their nonconference strength of schedule since 2017-18.
“You’re not going to talk your way into the NCAA Tournament. At-large (berths) are earned, and that does not change at all,” Thompson said. “It’s basically who you’ve played, where you played them and the outcome of the game. Good wins and bad losses don’t hide.”
▪ With the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge coming to an end after this season, Mountain West Associate Commissioner Dan Butterly said the conference is actively pursuing other opportunities with new conferences. Butterly confirmed that the Atlantic 10 was among the leagues involved in discussions. A new challenge could start as early as the 2020-21 season.
“We’re looking at any way we can to improve Mountain West nonconference scheduling,” Butterly said.
▪ Utah State beat Boise State in two of three meetings last season, including an upset of the Broncos in the Mountain West Tournament quarterfinals. The Aggies fired coach Tim Duryea after the season, and he’s now an assistant at Boise State.
Utah State junior Sam Merrill shared some praise for his former coach.
“Obviously we’re happy for him. I know he’s focusing on the offense up there, and he runs a lot of really good stuff. I know he’s happy to be up there, so I feel like that’s a good spot for him,” Merrill said. “I think he’s got a pretty good understanding of how to put guys in the right positions and how to help them to be successful.
“We ran a lot of really good sets and we ran a lot of really good sets at opportune times, so I would expect that will continue up in Boise.”
2018-19 Mountain West Preseason Media Poll
1. Nevada (18) 207
2. San Diego State (1) 188
3. New Mexico 153
4. Boise State 139
5. Fresno State 138
6. UNLV 122
7. Wyoming 88
8. Colorado State 80
9. Utah State 78
10. Air Force 42
11. San Jose State 19