RENO, Nev. — Boise State can begin to change the perception of its underwhelming men's basketball program today.
It's a chore that will take at least a year to complete, but the Broncos and coach Greg Graham would be well served to begin the process in the first round of the WAC Tournament.
Beat Louisiana Tech and the Broncos assure themselves of at least a .500 season.
Beat Louisiana Tech and the Broncos are two victories away from an improbable NCAA Tournament berth.
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Beat Louisiana Tech and there's suddenly a glimmer of hope that a season's worth of close losses have begun to pay dividends.
Beat Louisiana Tech — and perhaps duplicate last year's run to the conference tournament final — and the veteran Broncos can enter the offseason optimistic about what the future holds.
But lose to the Bulldogs for the third time this season, and Graham enters next season on the hot seat.
Lose and the Broncos have their third losing season in four years under Graham.
Lose and Graham's 66-58 record will be examined more closely, with detractors quick to point out his 16-0 record against WAC bottom-feeders Idaho and San Jose State.
Lose and the Broncos' close losses — and the fact that Boise State seemingly never learned from its eight losses by five points or fewer — will be highlighted, too.
It's enough to keep the discontented humming all offseason and suddenly increase the pressure on the program next season.
There is cause for optimism and elevated expectations going into next season, too.
Though last year's tournament rush didn't exactly translate into success this year, the Broncos return much of its core next year, plus they add 6-foot-9 Eastern Washington transfer Matt Nelson and guard Anthony Thomas, a defensive standout who redshirted this season.
"Our last good team (2003-04) was when we had redshirt seniors, fifth-year seniors, fourth-year seniors. Next year for the first time, we'll have that again," Graham said. "Hopefully that will help springboard us into next season."
The best way to avoid an uncomfortable offseason: find a way to defeat Louisiana Tech, which topped the Broncos 75-72 and 81-71 this season, and end any Bulldogs' hope for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.
"We've proven we can play with these teams. Now we have to prove we can beat people," junior guard Coby Karl said. "Not many teams have played as many close games as we have. We've learned a lot of things — whether it's good or bad, what to do and what not to do. Someone down the road is going to pay for all the experiences that we've had."
A victory would instantly become the Broncos' signature win of the season. BSU is 0-8 against the top four seeds in the WAC Tournament and its best victory thus far is ... (long pause, head scratch, longer pause) ... Montana? In the season opener?
Here's the Broncos' second chance. Here's a chance at salvaging something from the season — kind of like a lollipop after vaccination shots. It doesn't erase the pain from the shots, but it sure makes the car ride home from the doctor's office a whole lot better.
In the same venue as last year's unlikely foray to the WAC title game, the Broncos don't have to conjure up distant memories to know how three days in Reno can change a season.
"That's the great thing: they know that it can be done, whether it's us or somebody else in this tournament. If it's you that's done it, it makes it a little bit more relevant," Graham said. "Everyone has a chance to get in. I think that's why (there's) all this excitement around championship week and this time of year. Everyone still has a chance to have a good ending to the season."
Boise State could use certainly use one right now.