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Boise State staying tough in highly-competitive Mountain West

After an eight-game winning streak, the Boise State Broncos are sitting second in a top-heavy Mountain West and are looking to compete with the conference elite.

NCAA Basketball: Fresno State at Boise State
Redshirt senior guard Marcus Shaver leads the Broncos, averaging 14 points in 33 minutes per game.
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Under 11-year veteran coach Leon Rice, the Boise State Broncos are on a run of eight straight wins after picking up back-to-back Mountain West conference victories to sit second in the standings with an overall record of 11-4.

Recently Mountain West basketball has been dominated by a select few programs, such as San Diego State, Utah State and Nevada. Colorado State was undefeated up until a week ago and was ranked as high as No. 19 in the nation.

One Mountain West program that seems to fall under the radar is Boise State, who has put together a string of average finishes with records ranging anywhere from 23-9 to 13-20 since its last tournament appearance in 2015.

Led by a quartet of redshirt or fifth-year seniors and a 6-7 freshman, the Broncos have ridden out to their best start since 2014-15. At 11-4, they have already picked up wins against Temple and Ole Miss as well as two over top-100 KenPom teams in Santa Clara and Washington State.

Despite having several conference games postponed, Boise State took down each conference opponent it faced, highlighted by a recent 85-70 win over Nevada in Reno.

Redshirt senior guard Marcus Shaver, a transfer from Portland, is one of Boise State’s top scorers averaging 14 points in a team-leading 33 minutes per game. He is followed by fifth-year forward Abu Kigab, an Oregon transfer, who’s managing just under 14 points per game to go with seven rebounds.

Rice built this starting lineup in the 2019-20 transfer portal with all four of his current redshirt/fifth-year seniors sitting out their sophomore or junior campaigns due to NCAA transfer rules. After bringing in Kigab from Oregon, Rice was able to add former 5-star recruit Emmanuel Akot from Arizona and Serbian Mladen Armus from ETSU before rounding it out with Shaver.

This pushed the Broncos to a solid 19-9 finish during the 2020-21 season, good for fourth in the Mountain West but the lineup was solidified with the addition of freshman forward Tyson Degenhart, who tops the team in 3-point percentage (41%).

While they’ve hung tough through non-conference play and the early portion of the conference slate, Boise State has some difficult tests on the horizon, including New Mexico, Air Force, Utah State and San Diego State, all within the next week. Having played just once since Dec. 28, the Broncos will use these games to prove that their early-season success wasn’t a mistake and that this team is here to compete in a highly-contested Mountain West conference.

Though the do not rank at the top in the Mountain West in any statistics, the Broncos can score, assist, rebound and defend with the best in the conference.

Rice’s squad finished fourth without receiving a single first-place vote in this year’s Mountain West preseason poll behind Colorado State, San Diego State and Nevada (who Boise State just beat 85-70 on the road). They might not be talked about as much as the conference standouts in the Rams and Aztecs but the Broncos have all the tools to make a strong case for themselves in this year’s top-heavy Mountain West.