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Bubble burst: How Boise State went from first place to potentially out of the field in a blistering ten days

San Diego State v Boise State Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

Look, no one really expected the Broncos to pull in to Viejas Arena last week and leave with two dubs...but that’s just what the Broncos ALMOST did, taking the (now) 19th ranked Aztecs to overtime last Thursday (before running out of gas and falling by 12) and then coming up just short on Saturday. They were two “feel good” losses if we’re being honest. Boise State stealing a win probably could’ve improved their seeding in their eventual tourney berth, but no real harm was done in sunny San Diego...then last night happened.

Playing a previously postponed (due to a false Covid positive) game against Fresno State...and one that wasn’t entirely necessary, the Broncos stormed from behind and then stormed from ahead to drop their last home game of the season to the Bulldogs and in so doing went from “slim margin of error” to “probably needing to win the MWC tournament”. Now, there are scenarios where the Broncos don’t necessarily HAVE to win the tourney to still make the,..other tourney, but most of those scenarios focus on other bubble losses around the country. When the rubber meets the road, the Broncos had to win last night (in a game they were favored to by 13.5)...and well—they didn’t.

I’m sorry for this tweet. I stand by it—but I’m still sorry.

It’s become an all-too-common theme with the Boise State program—pulling off impressive and improbable wins during the regular season and collapsing in March, whether it’s in the conference tourney or the big dance. It’s been semi excusable in the past...the Broncos overachieved, but this year...with the depth and talent they had on the makes you wonder if this team will ever get over the hump.

Everyone knows we’re a football school, and Leon Rice has lent the appropriate respectability to the basketball program to make us competitive, but 20 win seasons ring sort of hollow if we can never take the next step. Believe me, I’ve pondered what it will take to take it and I’ve come up more empty than the front end of a one and one at the end of a pivotal basketball game (wink wink). Do the Broncos need a more athletic inside presence? Do they need to not rely on the 3 ball so much? Do they need to manage their roster better? Do they need to (gasp) fire Leon Rice? I only really know the answer to one of those—Leon Rice can and should stay as long as he’s happy. He’s the best basketball coach we’ve ever had and is about to put his third straight player in the NBA—the “fire Leon” crowd and the “Leon can do no wrong” crowd are honestly BOTH wrong. Leon is a great coach...and a better guy...who also struggles in March and probably should have a better postseason record.

Frankly, this might be a problem we can spend our way out of. Leon is generally a pretty good bargain, and is getting more out of this team than the payroll would tend to imply. More money in the coffers would mean more money for recruiting, more money for travel (which leads to better rested players), and more money to keep key assistants (we lost one to San Diego State just last season...and it’s widely believed he took a coveted recruit with him). The basketball program doesn’t have to carry the weight like the football program, but ranking in the bottom half of the conference in spending seems to catch up with us right around the end of February and the following month (whatever that month may be). Look, there isn’t a good excuse for last night’s meltdown—and I wish I was bullish on our chances in Vegas. Looking the other way won’t make these shortcomings disappear, but burning everything down won’t bring about the change we seek either.

If we want this program to be great, we gotta support ‘em. In the meantime, hold out hope for a reversal of fortune in the MWC tournament (and some outside help).