RENO, Nev. — Before nightfall Thursday, Boise State basketball coach Greg Graham and his assistants were gone from the Biggest Little City in the World, off to discover new talent in far less festive destinations.
It's a fitting itinerary for a program that remains a work in progress.
Though BSU's season ended Thursday afternoon with a convincing 75-64 loss to Louisiana Tech, the coaches have much work ahead of them in the next 12 months — a period that could determine their professional futures.
After watching the Broncos continue their season-long fascination with handing the ball to opponents, the coaches' top priority should be finding a way to solve the team's turnover issues.
BSU, which averaged 15.5 turnovers per game (third most in the WAC) and ranked last in the league in turnover margin (minus-1.50 per game), turned the ball over 19 times in the loss to the Bulldogs.
They came in all forms — bad passes, poor dribbling, lack of focus and tentative play against Louisiana Tech's unrelenting defense. They came at all times — the third possession of the game, on a miscommunication between Kenny Wilson and Seth Robinson at the seven-minute mark when trailing 52-50, and late in the game with the outcome decided.
"The thing that hurt us all year was a lot of unforced turnovers," Graham said.
The first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem.
In this case, fixing the problem means finding the next great high school senior or a quick-fix junior college prospect to play point guard.
But the Broncos aren't looking for a pure distribute-the-ball point guard. Graham is confident that BSU can excel with seniors-to-be Eric Lane and Coby Karl running the offense, while grooming redshirt freshman Anthony Thomas to inherit the role.
That conclusion appears much less certain after Thursday when Karl and Lane combined to shoot 6-of-19 from the field, including 0-for-8 from 3-point range. The pair contributed seven assists and 11 turnovers.
It's not that Karl and Lane are bad players. On the contrary, they are the Broncos' leading scorers, top assist providers and, without much argument, their top two players.
But neither are true point guards, one that can get by tough defenders, the ones Louisiana Tech has in spades. Such penetration creates movement defensively, which opens passing lanes and ultimately leads to open looks.
Karl, a gifted passer with a keen awareness for where his teammates are, cannot handle the constant responsibility of bringing the ball down the court. Karl was harassed — and outplayed — by Louisiana Tech's Daevon Haskins in the season-ending loss.
"Haskins is one of the best defensive players I've ever played against," said Karl, who had 16 turnovers in three games, all losses, against the Bulldogs this season. "He's pretty crafty with his defense. I'm not sure what he does. He's got long arms and is pretty quick."
The Broncos will utilize Karl's unique skill set — at 6-foot-4, he's capable of posting up, hitting the 3-pointer and directing the offense — by using him on the wing more often next year.
The 6-1 Lane is really a combo guard, more comfortable driving to the basket and shooting the 3 than he is truly running the offense.
But turning over a veteran team to Thomas, a freshman yet to play in his first collegiate game, isn't in the plans. He'll have to serve an apprenticeship first.
"Even with Anthony there, I'm not going to take Coby off the point. Coby is still going to play both (guard) spots for us. Eric is still going to play both spots for us," Graham said. "It gives us more combinations and ways to attack people."
The Broncos' fast-paced, push-the-rock offense often keeps Karl or Lane from having to truly initiate the offense. But Louisiana Tech, which focused on getting back in transition, was able to force a halfcourt game. The Bulldogs often forced BSU to initiate its offense farther from the basket than the plays called for.
Without a point guard to break down the defense, Louisiana Tech didn't have to worry about BSU's outside shooters, who were 2-of-15 from 3-point range. The two 3s were a season-low.
With no outside solution on the way, the Broncos must find an internal solution.
"It could be helpful to have a true point guard, but that's not it. Most of our turnovers are unforced. We've just got to make better decisions and play smarter out there," said Lane, who added that breaking down game film is one of the best ways to play smarter.
Sounds like the coaches aren't the only ones in for a long, hard offseason.