Experience, youth, size, speed, depth and balance; all traits the Boise State team boasts heading into the 2006-2007 season. For the first time since the 2003-2004 team advanced to the NIT, Greg Graham can look at his roster and see a team without a hole.
Experience should be a key as the Broncos challenge for their first Western Athletic Conference title. Boise State returns seven of its top nine players from last season, including the team’s three leading scorers and six of their top eight scorers from last year.
Senior guard Coby Karl (17.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg) returns after leading the Broncos in scoring and finishing third on the team in rebounding as a junior. He will be joined by three other players who started at least 16 games last season-senior guard Eric Lane (11.4 ppg), junior guard Matt Bauscher (8.5 ppg), senior forward Seth Robinson (7.2 ppg) and junior forward Tyler Tiedeman (5.9 ppg)-as well as the addition of junior forward Matt Nelson, a two-year starter at Eastern Washington where he played in the NCAA Tournament as a freshman.
In all the Broncos return 80.2 percent of their scoring, 70.8 percent of their rebounding and 91 percent of their assists from last season. With the addition of Nelson, redshirt-freshman Anthony Thomas and junior college transfer Reggie Larry, the Broncos figure to be better in all three areas.
Depth shouldn’t be an issue for the Broncos as they battle the best schedule in a number of years. The Broncos figure to go 10 deep with the ability to play big or small. The Broncos have three players 6-foot-9 or taller who can man the post with three 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7 guys who can play inside or outside. Throw in a group of guards who range from 6-foot to 6-foot-4 and the Broncos have the ability to mix and match to make it difficult for other teams.
"That should be one of our strengths this year," Graham said. "We are deeper and can do some different combinations, whether we want to play big or play small. We have three new guys (Larry, Nelson, Thomas) coming in who will help us."
Boise State’s pre-season schedule should have the Broncos battle tested for WAC play. The Broncos have traded in last year’s Big Sky Conference heavy schedule for a non-league slate that includes four games against Mountain West teams and one against a Pac-10 team.
While two of those games are at home (BYU and Colorado State), three are on the road (Colorado State, Wyoming and Washington State) and should help the Broncos get ready for the grueling road swings in the WAC. In addition the Broncos have road games against NCAA Tournament team Montana, West Coast Conference runner-up Loyola-Marymount and Cal State Northridge, and home games against Southern Utah, Montana State, Sacramento State and Idaho State.
"It is going to probably be the toughest and most competitive schedule that we have had for some period of time," Graham said. "We have upgraded it quite a bit. It’s hard to get people to come and play, as you see the big percentage of it is Mountain West and Big Sky schools, we have to play each other because other teams won’t travel."
Boise State is position to get off to a quick start in the WAC. The Broncos play three of their first four league games in Taco Bell Arena and five of their first seven at home. Unlike last year’s schedule that had Boise State hosting just one two-game home stand during the entire league season, this year the Broncos have three separate back-to-back home games in WAC play. The Broncos also host a Bracket Buster game that will give the Broncos a three-game home stand before finishing WAC play at Fresno State and Hawaii.
THE BRONCO BACKCOURT
Karl (6-4, 204) leads a Bronco backcourt that averaged 37.1 points between the three returning players. Karl, a second-team All-WAC pick as a junior, led the way averaging a team-best 17.2 points per game which he boosted to 19.1 in WAC games, the third highest scoring average in the league. The three-year starter for the Broncos also finished among the WAC leaders in seven of the 12 major categories including rebounds and assists. He is on pace to become Boise State’s all-time leading 3-point shooter and should finish third all-time in scoring at Boise State.
Lane (6-1, 194) compliments Karl in the backcourt with the ability to flip-flop with his fellow senior between the point and off guard positions. Lane finished second on the team in scoring averaging 11.4 points per game and should join Karl in the Broncos 1,000-point club this season.
Like Karl, Lane is one of the most potent 3-point shooters in school history, but he needs to attack the basket and not settle for threes to be most effective.
Bauscher (6-2, 197) should start along side Karl and Lane in the backcourt. The former walk-on from Caldwell, Idaho, started 20 of Boise State’s 29 games last season and finished third on the team in scoring. Bauscher is a hard-nosed player who prides himself in doing what it takes to win. He led the team in scoring three times, rebounding three times and assists four times as a sophomore.
Thomas (6-0, 202) gives the Broncos an added dimension at the guard position. The former all-league high school player from Texas is Boise State’s toughest on-ball defender and quickest player. He provides a lockdown defender in the backcourt that the Broncos lacked last season and should also provide solid defense that leads to offense in transition. He can play point guard and allow Graham to play Lane and Karl at the wings at the same time, something he couldn’t do last season.
The wing position offers a plethora of options for Graham. Along with Karl, Lane and Bauscher the Broncos return a pair of tested veterans in Tiedeman and Kenny Wilson.
Tiedeman (6-7, 210) started 16 games as a sophomore after a productive freshman season at a junior college. Tiedeman’s adjustment was slowed last season because he was forced to learn two positions in the Broncos’ complicated offense, but at times showed flashes of brilliance. With the addition of a couple of frontcourt players, Tiedeman should be able to focus on the wing position and Graham expects his play to benefit as a result.
Wilson (6-4, 178) should see more time coming off the bench as Boise State’s best long-range bomber. The junior college transfer led the Broncos in 3-point shooting last season making 44.6 percent of his shots. Originally schedule to redshirt as a junior, Wilson was forced to play because of some early season injuries last year. He got better as the season progressed and Graham expects big things from him as a senior.
The Broncos added a pair of freshmen to the rotation at the wing position. Shawn Rouse (6-7, 180) and Paul Noonan (6-6, 200) both are scheduled to redshirt this season because of the Broncos’ depth at the position. Rouse prepped at the John Jay High School in San Antonio, the same high school Wilson attended, and was a productive scorer. Noonan comes to Boise State from Beaverton High School in Oregon and Graham says he may already be Boise State’s best perimeter shooter.
THE BRONCO FRONTCOURT
For the first time in a number of years, the Broncos’ frontcourt looks to be both talented and deep. Boise State returns a pair of players who made significant contributions last season, while adding a player who redshirted at Boise State after transferring as well as a junior college transfer from one of the marquee JCs in the country.
Those four players should see a bulk of the playing time in the frontcourt, but the Broncos have depth with a big-bodied sophomore who saw limited minutes last season and a 6-foot-10 true freshman.
Robinson (6-6, 209) returns to start for the Broncos at the power forward position. He is an energy guy who helps Boise State with hustle plays and high-energy play. Last season Robinson finished fifth on the team in scoring, while leading the team in field goal percentage making 57.9 percent of his shots. He also finished second on the team in free-throw percentage (79.4 percent) after struggling early in the season. Robinson could also see some time at the wing position if Graham wants to go big.
Nelson (6-9, 232) should move into the starting lineup up front replacing Tez Banks. Nelson has been compared to former Bronco Jason Ellis, Boise State’s all-time leading rebounder. The Eastern Washington University transfer sat out last season because of transfer rules. While at EWU, Nelson averaged 8.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in 52 games. He helped the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament and was named the Big Sky Freshman of the Year during the 2003-04 season.
Sophomore Kurt Cunningham (6-9, 277) should see plenty of time at the center position. Cunningham averaged 2.6 points and 1.7 rebounds in 10.5 minutes as a true freshman last season. He showed the ability to be an impact player at times and had big games against both Nevada and Utah State, both NCAA Tournament teams last season. Cunningham, who gives the Broncos size underneath, has great hands and is a good passer. Graham can play Cunningham and Nelson together if he wants to go big inside.
Larry (6-6, 225) joins the frontcourt this season after a productive career at the College of Southern Idaho. Larry is a slasher who Graham hopes adds some scoring to the Bronco lineup. Last season he helped the Golden Eagles to the Junior College National Tournament, where he was named to the all-tournament team after averaging 21 points and 11.7 rebounds in CSI’s three games. Larry should also help the Broncos on the glass after leading the Scenic West Athletic Conference in rebounding last season.
Sophomore Colin Hallberg (6-11, 260) returns as a backup after playing in 10 games last season and averaging 0.9 points and 0.9 rebounds per game. True freshman Zack Moritz (6-10, 230) joins the rotation and should redshirt after an all-state career at Columbia River High School in Vancouver, Washington.