Inside Slant: Boise State Basketball

Boise State is hoping to capture a little Gonzaga magic. The Broncos hired long-time Bulldogs assistant Leon Rice on March 26 to be its new head coach, replacing the fired Greg Graham. Rice, 46, had been at Gonzaga for 11 years, during which time the team became a fixture in the NCAA Tournament, a national darling and one of the dominant teams on the West Coast.

GETTING INSIDE

"Leon (New Head Coach Leon Rice) has been intimately involved in building one of the most successful programs in the country," said Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier. "Our goal is to do the same here."

Greg Graham, who led Boise State to the 2008 WAC tournament championship and the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1994, was fired on March 12.

Graham had a winning overall record in eight seasons (142-112), but he was under .500 in conference games (65-69) and failed to make a consistent dent into the league's elite teams. He had one season remaining on his contract.

Rice will make $400,000 per year, slightly more than Graham did.

Boise State suffered through a disappointing 2009-10 season, finishing 15-17 overall and going into the last weekend of the regular season unsure of it would avoid a last-place finish in the WAC, thereby missing out on the conference tournament.

The Broncos made it but were promptly dumped by top-seeded Utah State, 84-60.

NOTES, QUOTES

FINAL RECORD: 15-17, 5-11, eighth in the WAC.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Boise State did win three of its final four WAC games to end the regular season, avoiding a last-place finish in the league, which would have meant sitting at home for the conference tournament. Still, its conference record of 5-11 marked the program's fewest league wins since the 1984-85 season, when the Broncos were 5-9 in the Big Sky.

Boise State received solid contributions from junior college transfers, including F Daequon Montreal, who was chosen to the WAC All-Newcomer team. Another transfer who played well was forward Robert Arnold, who actually joined the team in January 2009 and redshirted for the rest of that season.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Boise State didn't have a go-to scorer and, other than the efforts of reserve forward Paul Noonan, struggled from outside the 3-point arc, making 33.2 percent for the season. This is an area that needs to improve through recruiting.

The Broncos didn't challenge themselves much in a soft nonconference schedule, then started 0-7 in the WAC. The team's usual dominance at home disappeared, as did the crowd. Boise State averaged 3,061 fans, about 1,000 less than the previous season and approaching half of what it had (5,578) in its NCAA Tournament season of 2008. The lagging attendance played a part in coach Greg Graham's dismissal.

Boise State was 9-7 at home this season after going 47-9 at Taco Bell Arena in the previous three seasons.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "When you look around the WAC, schools say we're the model for football, but in basketball it's Utah State or Nevada. We think that's achievable with our community and our facilities. I think we can establish a strong fan base and grow our basketball program." -- Athletic director Gene Bleymaier, in the Idaho Press-Tribune, after the firing of coach Greg Graham.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THE GOOD NEWS: Four of the team's top five scorers are slated to return, and the team gets back junior guard Wes Perryman, who played in only eight games because of an ankle injury. That provides a solid on-court nucleus for new coach Leon Rice, who will find nice facilities and a willing fan base as solid building blocks for a program that is trying to approximate the success of its football team.

THE BAD NEWS: Boise State loses three scholarship seniors, including PF Ike Okoye, the team's leading scorer (12.9) and rebounder (7.9). PG Anthony Thomas, a former WAC Freshman of the Year, averaged 7.6 points and 3.8 assists this season. Part-time starting center Kurt Cunningham (7.7 points, 3.5 rebounds) is gone, too. There is some solid talent left behind, but there does not appear to be an elite WAC player on the roster.

KEY RETURNEES: Boise State will bring back three starters, all of whom will be seniors next season, plus sharp-shooting sixth man Paul Noonan, who also will be a senior. Noonan increased his 3-point accuracy from 33.8 percent in 2008-09 to 39.3 percent this season. F Daequon Montreal, continuing a pipeline from the College of Southern Idaho to Boise State, averaged 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds.

F Robert Arnold put in 11.8 points per game, and G La'Shard Anderson added 9.9 points per game, but both were about 30 percent shooters from behind the arc.

ROSTER REPORT:

--Junior G Wes Perryman played in only eight games this season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. The resulting thin backcourt left Boise State unable to pressure as much as it typically likes.
--PG Anthony Thomas finished his career with 1,005 points, which was good enough for 18th on the school's all-time list. He also wound up as the career leader in games played (129) and was second in career assists.

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