A quick look back and look ahead for Boise State, MW hoops; my final AP top 25 ballot

The Boise State men’s basketball team entered this season returning all five starters and 92.4 percent of its scoring from last season’s NCAA Tournament team. The Broncos were able to rack up 21 wins in 2013-14, but won’t be playing in the postseason, they decided on Sunday night.

Boise State would have accepted an NIT berth, but with some key injuries, along with the cost of playing in a tournament like the CBI, its season is over.

Looking back, the Broncos’ eight losses by four points or less were the story. It wasn’t just one reason (if it were, it likely would have been fixed. From fatigue to defensive lapses to a thin bench, there aren’t easy answers. Could it be corrected next season? Who knows. Will it be part of what pushes the team in the offseason? Certainly. Losses to Fresno State, Nevada and Air Force in the last two weeks — the last two in overtimes — likely bounced the Broncos from NIT.

The 2013-14 season had some high notes, notably Ryan Watkins’ ascendance into one of the nations’ best rebounders. His 11.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per game were the first time a Bronco averaged a double-double since 1971-72. His 10.6 rpg were No. 6 in the nation, and his 361 rebounds were second-most in a single season for Boise State. His 170 offensive rebounds in 2013-14 were the sixth-most by a Division I player since 1996-97.

Who replaces, or who will help replace Watkins is a key element for the Broncos next season. Sophomore-to-be Nick Duncan likely will be part of the solution as he develops more of an inside game to complement his strong outside touch. Incoming freshman David Wacker could also be a factor. Should Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks continue to improve, the Broncos will have one of the nation’s better tandems. A healthy Drmic will be a major benefit, as his pre- and post-injury stats were notable. He had 19.2 ppg in his first 16 games (through Jan. 14) and 12.7 ppg in the 16 games after. Marks had some ups and downs, but showed at times why he is so trusted in late games — Boise State would not have won against UNLV if not for his performance. He also struggled late in a potential upset of then-No. 5 San Diego State, after which coach Leon Rice said he still wanted Marks to take shots late, but to trust that his teammates can, too.

Drmic has 1,423 career points, seventh in Boise State history and 522 shy of breaking school’s all-time record. He had 510 points this season despite the injury and missing two games. Marks has 1,291, good for ninth in school history.

Looking ahead some more, it will be interesting to see how Boise State attempts to replace two excellent outside shooters in Thomas Bropleh and Jeff Elorriaga, who combined to shoot 43.9 percent on 271 3-point attempts. Junior-to-be Mikey Thompson showed some flashes of being an excellent slasher, but he fired up only 43 3-pointers all season. Sophomore-to-be Dez Trent will no doubt see a bigger role, too. He played some solid minutes in the season-ending loss to New Mexico, and with some additional maturity could be a big spark as top bench player or starter next season.

Defensive improvements will need to continue to be made, as the Broncos struggled mightily at times stopping teams. The goal of improving from 214th in field goal percentage defense in 2012-13 to this season was not successful, as the Broncos are currently 224th (44.6 percent). That final rank was helped by holding Nevada and San Jose State to a combined 30.1 percent shooting in the Mountain West Tournament, which showed the potential the team had on defense, but also went largely unfulfilled.

The potential talent pool in the Mountain West next season should be strong — more akin to 2012-13′s five-bid league than the two-bid league this season.

Before any NBA departures or other attrition (and there has already been some, with third-team all MW guard Bryce Dejean-Jones no longer with UNLV), there is a good amount of talent expected to return. Seven members of the three all-Mountain West teams were non-seniors, including Boise State’s Anthony Drmic, UNLV’s Khem Birch and first-teamer Larry Nance Jr. of Wyoming, who will be coming off a torn ACL. He’ll team up with junior-to-be Josh Adams for a scary athletic 1-2 punch for the Cowboys.

Mountain West teams will have some strong freshmen additions, too. UNLV has an excellent recruiting class with three of Rivals.com’s top 50 players, including Rashad Vaughn, a Minneapolis native playing at Findlay Prep near Las Vegas. He’s Rivals’ No. 7 recruit in the nation, and the 6-5 guard should fill Dejean-Jones’ void quickly. The Rebels also added 6-7 forward Dwayne Morgan, ranked No. 15, and the excellent-named Goodluck Okonoboh, ranked 32nd.

San Diego State inked Rivals.com’s No. 17 player in the nation in 6-8 forward Malik Pope, along with the 73rd-ranked player in the nation in 6-7 forward Zylan Cheatham. Boise State’s two November signees, Wacker and Chandler Hutchison, should compete to play right away. The 6-foot-9 Wacker helped lead Converse Judson to the Texas 5A state title game with 11.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game this season. Hutchison, who has grown to a bit over 6-7, is a tantalizing prospect on the wing, with some big dunks and some big scoring games for Mission Viejo High in California. He had 37 points in two state playoff games last week.

Transfers of power will be a notable twist next season. Colorado State will add Louisville transfer Chane Behanan in December — he will be a senior, but one that averaged 9.4 ppg with the Cardinals. The Rams will also have transfers from North Carolina Central, UALR and Southern Illinois coming off their mandatory redshirt year after transferring. San Diego State will get an immediate talent boost from Arizona transfer Angelo Chol.

The final AP poll, on this the week of the start of the NCAA Tournament, was released Monday. Here’s my vote, along with my submissions for All-Americans, coach of the year and player of the year. The All-America teams will be announced March 31, and coach/player of the year April 4.
1. Florida
2. Wichita State
3. Virginia
4. Arizona
5. Louisville
6. Michigan
7. Villanova
8. San Diego State
9. Iowa State
10. Wisconsin
11. Kansas
12. Michigan State
13. Duke
14. New Mexico
15. Syracuse
16. Creighton
17. Cincinnati
18. North Carolina
19. UConn
20. Oklahoma
21. UCLA
22. Virginia Commonwealth
23. Baylor
24. Ohio State
25. Harvard

All-Americans
First-team

Doug McDermott, Creighton
Jabari Parker, Duke
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Russ Smith, Louisville

Second-team
Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Julius Randle, Kentucky
Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
Kyle Anderson, UCLA
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas

Third-team
DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
Joel Embiid, Kansas
Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

Player of the year: Doug McDermott, Creighton
Coach of the year: Gregg Marshall, Wichita State

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