NCAA Friday Night Basketball: Utah State/Boise State Preview

by Big Al Staff

Friday night on FS1 features a rematch from Wednesday involving two teams on the NCAA Tournament bubble battling for first place in the Mountain West Conference.

Boise State defeated Utah State two days ago, 79-70, as a 1.5-point favorite. Derrick Alston led the way with 26 points. The 6’9 senior is scoring 17.4 points-per-game while making 42.6% of his shots from 3-point range. Marcus Shaver, Jr. added 12 points, with the junior third on the team with an 11.6 points-per-game scoring average. Senior forward Abu Kigab is the Broncos’ second-leading scorer with a 12.5 points-per-game scoring average.

Head coach Leon Rice has built a consistently strong program in Boise. After failing to register at least 20 wins for the first time since the 2011-12 season two years ago, the Broncos’ rebounded with a 20-12 campaign last year that would have likely concluded with an invitation to the NIT. Rice returned four rotation players from that group, including Alston, who earned second-team All-Mountain West Conference honors. Alston may be the top NBA prospect in the conference. Kigab was a 20-game starter last season who averaged 11.1 points-per-game. Rice brought in six transfers, including Shaver, who averaged double-digits in scoring for two seasons at Portland. Two former top-100 recruits transferred from Arizona, Emmanuel Akot and Devonaire Doutrive, are averaging more than 20 minutes-per-game. Akot is finding a role with the team with three double-digit scoring efforts in his last five games. Doutrive is questionable tonight with a dental issue.

Boise State, 16-4, leads the Mountain West Conference with a 13-3 record. The Broncos may need the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament as they are ranked 60th in the current kenpom ratings. They have a quality non-conference victory against BYU. Their four losses are against Houston in non-conference play along with Colorado State and twice to Nevada.

Rice has a balanced team that ranks 59th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 54th in adjusted defensive efficiency at kenpom. Boise State makes the most of its offensive possessions. They are fifth in the nation, with only 5.5% of their shot attempts getting blocked. They only turn the ball over in 15.9% of their possessions, 26th nationally, due to opponents only registering steals in 6.9% of their possessions, 14th nationally. The Broncos limit their opponents to rebound only 22.1% of their missed shots, ranking 13th in the nation.

Utah State got 32 points and ten rebounds on Wednesday from Neemias Queta. The 7’0 junior is scoring 13.5 points-per-game while adding 9.2 rebounds-per-game. Marco Anthony added 11 points against Boise State. The junior guard, a transfer from Virginia, averages 11.2 points-per-game. Justin Bean scored another 10 points. The junior forward scores 10.1 points-per-game and pulls down 7.2 rebounds-per-game.

The Aggies, 14-6, are tied with Colorado State for second place in the Mountain West Conference with an 11-3 record. They have two quality wins against San Diego State. Their three losses in conference play are against UNLV along with the Rams and Broncos. They have non-conference losses against BYU, VCU, and South Dakota State, with the latter being the most significant liability in their NCAA Tournament resume. Craig Smith’s team ranks 52nd in the kenpom ratings.

Led by Queta and Bean, Utah State is 20th in the nation with a 34.9% offensive rebounding rate. The Aggies rank 110th in adjusted offensive efficiency. This team is elite on the other end of the court. Utah State is 16th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency at kenpom. Queta’s presence down low helps them block 14.7% of their opponent’s shot attempts, 11th nationally. These opponents make only 42.7% of their shots inside the arc, fifth nationally. Utah State also holds their opponents to second-chance scoring opportunities in just 20.9% of their possessions, fifth-best in the nation.

The weakness of this Utah State team could be their lack of a traditional point guard. That is the role Sam Merrill embraced while scoring 19.7 points-per-game. Queta is second on the team with a 2.8 assists-per-game mark. Freshman Rollie Worster leads the team with a 3.4 assists-per-game average.

Boise State hopes to extend their home winning streak to eleven games in tonight’s rematch at 10 PM ET. BetAnySports lists the Broncos as a 1.5-point favorite with the total set at 142.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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