Seniors Chandler Hutchison, Chris Sengfelder and Lexus Williams accounted for 53.1 percent of Boise State’s points and 51.4 percent of the Broncos’ rebounds in 2017-18.
All three have now moved on to professional careers, opening the door for a new crop of Broncos to take over the stat sheet this season.
The Broncos, who have been working for months behind closed doors, will make their official 2018-19 debut at 7 p.m. Saturday against Idaho State in Taco Bell Arena. The Boise State women, who won their opener Thursday night, will start a basketball doubleheader at 4:30 p.m. against Southern Oregon.
“I think people are going to enjoy the way this team is going to play. They’re going to play extremely hard, which has always been our staple, and they’re going to really move the ball,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “We’ve got great balance, and to watch a team go from where they are in November to where they are in March, I think that’s going to be a lot of fun for people.”
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Here are five storylines as the Broncos’ season gets underway:
1. Balanced attack
Last season, opponents knew to build their game plan around Hutchison, who became the program’s first NBA Draft first-round pick when he was taken with the 22nd overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in June.
Teams won’t have that luxury this season.
Junior guard Justinian Jessup is the Broncos’ top returning scorer at just 11.6 points per game, and Rice expects this year’s team to have a more balanced attack.
“The good thing about this team is go ahead and commit two guys or focus on Justinian,” Rice said. “We’ve got six other guys or seven other guys who can really put up some numbers on any given night. That makes you hard to guard.”
Jessup, junior Alex Hobbs, and seniors Zach Haney and David Wacker each have starting experience with the Broncos, and junior Marcus Dickinson has provided a consistent spark off the bench.
“We have a well-rounded team,” Haney said. “Everybody can score the ball. Everybody believes in each other.”
2. Another transfer boost
Graduate transfers Williams and Sengfelder moved seamlessly into the Broncos’ starting lineup a year ago, and junior college transfers RJ Williams (East Los Angeles College) and Pat Dembley (Iowa Western CC) should give this year’s team another instant boost.
The 6-foot-7, 209-pound Williams averaged 19.3 points and 6.6 rebounds as a sophomore, leading East Los Angeles to a 24-6 record and the South Coast Conference’s North Division title.
“I think the first thing that you’ll see with Rod is that he’s just going to keep improving, because he’s so hungry to be coached and he wants to get better and he wants to do the right thing,” Rice said. “His biggest problem is he beats himself up over mistakes too much. I’m just trying to teach him next play, next play. We’ll live with some mistakes, because he’s a stat stuffer.”
Dembley was chosen as an NJCAA All-American at Iowa Western after averaging 19.9 points and 4.0 assists.
“He’s really dynamic and can go around guys,” Rice said. “He has a great feel for making guys better.”
3. Top 3-point shooter evolves
Jessup finished last season ranked ninth in the nation with a 3-point shooting percentage of 45.7 percent.
Jessup’s 90 3-pointers were the most for a Bronco sophomore in program history and rank as the second most overall behind Abe Jackson’s 92 in 2001-02.
As good as Jessup’s been at the 3 ball, it may not be the most important facet of his game this season. He’s stepping into his third year as a starter, and the Broncos will look to Jessup for leadership on and off the court.
“He’s become more of a scorer, not just a shooter,” Rice said. “I think night in and night out he’s going to put up good numbers.”
4. D.A. next in line for big jump?
Rice and his staff take great pride in the development of their players, and redshirt sophomore Derrick Alston might be the next Bronco to make a huge leap.
The 6-foot-8 guard from Houston, Texas, has a wingspan of 8 feet and a set of springs for legs. Alston appeared in only 11 games last season and averaged just 2.4 minutes, but he got the start in the Broncos’ exhibition opener against Vanguard.
“That’s usually what you see with these guys. It’s the same path as (James) Webb and Chandler (Hutchison),” Rice said. “You’d see these flashes when they were young, but they didn’t live there every day. Then as they got better and better, they just lived there every single day.
“... That’s what you’re starting to see with D.A. He’s starting to be that guy consistently.”
Alston’s father, who is also named Derrick, was the No. 33 overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1994 NBA Draft. He went on to play two years in the NBA and 16 seasons overseas.
“His game from last year to where it is now, he’s just grown tremendously,” Haney said.
5. Top 25 opponents
Rice had to sell fans and media alike on the idea that nonconference opponent Loyola Chicago was an NCAA Tournament team last season.
The Ramblers took an 87-53 beating against the Broncos on Nov. 28, 2017, at Taco Bell Arena, and lost three more games in late 2017. Then they went on a tear when the calendar turned to 2018, finishing the season 32-6 and with a surprise Final Four appearance.
Rice might just let the rankings do the talking for him this season.
Based on The Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll, the Broncos will have at least four games against ranked opponents. Boise State has a home-and-home series with No. 7 Nevada because it is a Mountain West foe, and also with No. 14 Oregon of the Pac-12. The home games against those two are Dec. 29 vs. the Ducks and Jan. 15 vs. the Wolf Pack.
Defending Mountain West Tournament champion San Diego State also could make its way into the rankings by the time the Aztecs play in Boise on Jan. 5. SDSU was among the other teams receiving votes in the season-opening poll.