Boise St. Broncos At Kentucky Wildcats: Game Preview

Boise St.'s Leon Rice is a very underrated coach. - Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos may not look that threatening with their small size and lack of high school all-Americans, but they are cohesive, dangerous squad fully capable of pulling the upset.

The Boise St. Broncos invade Rupp Arena on Tuesday night to challenge the Kentucky Wildcats. Many people are familiar with the Bronco's outstanding football teams, their remarkable blue football field, and their constant incursions into the BCS title discussion in recent years. But Boise St. plays basketball, too, and pretty good basketball at that.

General

  • Conference: Mountain West, previously affiliated with the Big Sky Conference
  • Head Coach: Leon Rice (since 2010)
  • NCAA Appearances: 6
  • Most recent NCAA appearance: 2013
  • Most recent NCAA win: Never has won a game
  • Founded: 1932
  • Students: 12,705
  • Record last season: 21-11 (9-7)

Source: Basketball State

Game particulars:  9:00 PM Tuesday, Dec. 10th, Rupp Arena.  Details at UKAtletics.com

About Boise St.

I think everybody who follows college football is familiar with the Boise St. football team, but maybe not so much with the basketball team. Last season, Boise St. had some very good wins against teams like Creighton (they of Doug McDermott fame), UNLV (then with 2013 #1 draft pick Anthony Bennett), Colorado St. and San Diego St. Boise also played Michigan St. very close (74-70) in East Lansing.

Boise St. also has a starter that was a teammate of former Wildcat Kyle Wiltjer at Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon, and like Wiltjer, he can shoot a little.

Season so far:

Boise St. is undefeated in this young season. The most challenging team they have faced is Idaho in a 2-point semi-home affair at CenturyLink Arena in Boise. Their most recent game was against NAIA Carroll College from nearby Montana, a game that they won handily, 80-52. Boise also played Portland St., a school we are all familiar with having played them from 2011 to 2013. They defeated the Pilots at home 76-60.

History

This will be the first meeting between Kentucky and Boise St.

Boise St. roster

No. Name Status Year Pos. Ht. Wt. Hometown (Prev School)
3 Drmic, Anthony S** JR Guard/Forward 6-6 196 Endeavor Hills, Australia (Australian Institute of Sport)
11 Elorriaga, Jeff S** SR Guard 6-2 180 Portland, Ore. (Jesuit HS)
12 Hadziomerovic, Igor S** JR Guard 6-4 202 Melbourne, Australia (Australian Institute of Sport)
2 Marks, Derrick S** JR Guard 6-3 206 Chicago (Plainfield Central HS)
0 Watkins, Ryan S** SR Forward 6-9 229 Canyon Country, Calif. (Reseda HS)
1 Thompson, Mikey MR* RS SO Guard 6-3 167 Las Vegas (Canyon Springs HS)
4 Bropleh, Thomas MR* SR Guard 6-5 212 Denver (George Washington HS)
13 Duncan, Nick MR FR Forward 6-8 241 Sydney, Australia (St. Augustine's College)
21 Dukulis, Edmunds R SO-RS Forward 6-9 225 Riga, Latvia (Riga Secondary School)
5 Hanstad, Joe R* JR Guard 6-4 193 Dickinson, N.D. (Dickinson HS)
22 Heyer, Robert R SR-TR Guard/Forward 6-3 207 Worland, Wyo. (Texas-Permian Basin)
14 Nealey, Chris R FR Guard 6-2 191 Newport Beach, Calif. (Mater Dei HS)
20 Nebeker, Joey R RS FR Forward 6-7 222 Melba, Idaho (Melba HS)
34 Ness, Jake R* JR Forward 6-8 214 Coeur d'Alene, Idaho (Billings West HS)
25 Trent, Dezmyn R FR Guard 6-4 201 Tacoma, Wash. (Foss HS)
23 Webb III, James R SO-TR Forward 6-8 185 Augusta, Ga. (North Idaho College)









Legend





S Starter





MR Major reserve





R Reserve





* Returner





** Returning Starter





TR Transfer






Player notes

  • Point guard Derrick Marks has the 25th highest steals rate in America at 5%. That's a cat burglar, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation.

  • Anthony Drmic is not just the leading scorer (17.7 points/gm), but also a very good thief in his own right.

  • Ryan Watkins is currently the best offensive rebounder, by percentage, in America. He gets 24% of the possible offensive rebounds available for Boise St. He is the leading rebounder (6.8/game) for the Broncos.

  • Jeff Elorriaga, Kyle Wiltjer's former teammate, has a similarly tight stroke from the outside. He currently enjoys the highest offensive rating, effective field goal % and true shooting % in America. In other words, when he shoots it, it goes in — from everywhere. He also has the 24th lowest turnover % in America. To top all that off, he shoots 63% from 3-point range.

Injuries

No known injuries reported, but leading scorer Anthony Drmic missed the last game with an undisclosed illness. I expect him to be available against Kentucky:

Likely matchups

Starters

  • Derrick Marks vs. Andrew Harrison — Marks is not like the small guards that Harrison has been facing. He is 3 inches shorter but he's thick to the tune of 206#. This should be a very interesting matchup for both players. Harrison needs to guard better, and generally play better. I'm not sure if this is the place he can do it.

Advantage: Draw

  • Jeff Elorriaga vs. Aaron Harrison — Elorriaga is a talented shooter who simply cannot be left, and is a major defensive challenge for Aaron. Elorriaga has a knack for getting enough daylight to get up his shot, and he makes an absurd percentage of the ones he takes, regardless of proximity to the basket. He is a very dangerous player, and even though he isn't the team's leading scorer, he is the heart and soul of this team. He has a unique ability to break an opponent's spirit.

Advantage: Boise St.

  • Igor Hadzimerovic vs. James Young — Hadzimerovic is a solid and experience player who defends and does the little things, like getting assists and taking good shots. We all know that James Young is the second-best player on Kentucky's team at minimum, and might even challenge Randle for the top spot.

Advantage: Kentucky

  • Anthony Drmic vs. Julius Randle — Drmic is Boise St.'s leading scorer and second-leading rebounder (18 ppg/4.6 rpg) and Randle's defense hasn't exactly set the world aflame. With that said, in no way whatever can Drmic hope to guard Randle anywhere near the basket.

Advantage: Kentucky

  • Ryan Watkins vs. Willie Cauley-Stein — WCS is bigger, stronger, thicker and faster than Watkins. But Watkins shoots the ball very well, is a good defender and a great offensive rebounder. If Stein can contest him on the glass, this is a mismatch, but if not, it's very close.

Advantage: Draw


Bench

Boise St. has a solid bench. Their best bench player Mikey Thompson, is a freshman shooting 44% from the arc. Kenny Buckner brings some size at 6'7"/251#, and Thomas Bropleh brings size and defensive ability.

But compared to Kentucky's bench, at least on paper, they are markedly inferior. They aren't even particularly experienced, and UK comes off the bench with three McDonalds All-Americans including 7'0" 270# Dakari Johnson. The thing is, the bench is only an advantage if John Calipari actually uses them. He didn't last game. Just sayin'.

Advantage: Kentucky

Game analysis

One thing you should understand about Boise St. — these guys are not only not pushovers, they are absolutely capable of coming into Rupp Arena and handing Kentucky their second straight defeat. Think of them as a poor man's Notre Dame from last season. These guys can shoot lights-out, they can defend, and they absolutely do not beat themselves. They are not nearly as tall and long as Baylor, but they are deadly shooters from outside and inside, and they know how to play fundamental basketball. Leon Rice is a vastly underrated coach who will have this team ready for combat. Do not be fooled by his classic movie quotes and his sharp wit, he is the kind of coach John Calipari should be very concerned about.

It may look like Kentucky is bigger, stronger, and more talented than Boise St., and they are. But make no mistake — right now, Boise St. is a better basketball team than Kentucky is. The talent differential is pretty great, but Boise St. plays team basketball, and that's the best basketball. They return all five starters, and you and I both know that matters. Boise St. will operate from both man and zone on defense, although you will see more zone than man. Any shooters left open by Kentucky will make us pay.

If Kentucky plays as a team, defends hard, blocks out consistently and takes good shots, they will win comfortably. If they lay down on any of those things, this game will be a dogfight that might swing more on the home-court advantage than anything else. Boise St. will not beat themselves — Kentucky will have to take it from them. The 'Cats are fully capable of sending the Broncos back with their first loss, and should in Rupp Arena, but if they run away from shooters and fail to block the Broncos off the glass like they did vs. Baylor, this will be a long and difficult night.

So strap in, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation. John Calipari knew what he was getting into when he scheduled this team. They are deadly dangerous and deadly serious. A win here may not look that great because of Boise's weak schedule, but trust me, they have what it takes to beat this young Kentucky team if Calipari's charges don't bring their "A" game.  I'll be thrilled with even a narrow victory. This is not a team you want to see on your schedule as a "cupcake."

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