PORTLAND – This will undoubtedly go down as the greatest season in Boise State men’s basketball history, regardless of what happens in Thursday’s first round NCAA Tournament game against Memphis at the Moda Center.
But beating the Tigers – winning just one more game in what’s already been a history, memorable year – would take it from greatest to legendary.
The only thing left to accomplish – the only thing the Boise State men’s basketball team has never done – is win a game in the NCAA Tournament. And the Broncos have a chance to do it Thursday at 11:45 a.m. MT/10:45 a.m. PT on TNT.
“We made history but there’s still more we want to accomplish,” senior Emmanuel Akot said Wednesday. “That would definitely be something we’d talk about forever.”
Boise State (27-7) won both the Mountain West regular season and postseason tournament titles en route to a school-record 27 wins this season.
But the Broncos have their eyes set on one final piece of history. Boise State is 0-7 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
“A win means everything,” Boise State coach Leon Rice admitted.
But the Broncos are doing what got them here – not looking ahead. They aren’t thinking about possibly playing Gonzaga in the second round. They aren’t worried about the historical meaning of a win against Memphis.
As Rice said, “it’s business as usual” as the Broncos get set for arguably the biggest game in program history.
“We’re going to take it day by day, moment by moment,” senior Abu Kigab said. “We’re going to fall back on our habits and everything is going to take care of itself.
“We’re going to approach it with the same mentality we approach every game, whether it’s 10,000 people in the stands or 100 in the stands, it doesn’t matter. … This is what we’ve been working for the whole year, to get to these moments. We’re going to embrace them and take them one day at a time.”
Rice has done plenty in his 12 years in Boise. He’s led the Broncos to their first two at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament in 2013 and 2015. He has twice been named Mountain West Coach of the Year. Twice the Broncos have been Mountain West regular season champions. He’s led the best team in program history this year.
And he knows how much a win would mean to him and this program. He’s just not ready to talk about it yet.
“It’s one of those things that in a month or in a few weeks you talk about – oh that was great,” Rice said. “It’s another thing you can put up on your walls and all that stuff. But right now that’s not our focus.
“In a month or in two weeks or whatever we’ll look back on it and go, those are neat accomplishments. And we always love those milestones. I’ve said it since I got to Boise, milestones are – we don’t dwell on them, but they’re great because that means you’re accomplishing things. And that’s what this group has been able to do, no doubt.”
It won’t be easy though. Memphis has won 12 of its past 14 games and is led by likely NBA Draft lottery pick Jalen Duren. And the Tigers pass the eye test – they look bigger, longer and more athletic than any team Boise State has played this season.
But the Broncos are pretty darn good themselves. They’ve won 24 of the past 27 games and haven’t lost a game by more than eight points all season. Boise State is veteran, plays good defense and has success rebounding – typical keys for a team to have success in March.
Boise State looked calm and relaxed Wednesday while meeting with the media and holding a short open practice on the floor of the Moda Center. Rice used part of the practice time to allow the four players unlikely to play tomorrow to get their ‘March Madness moment’ during a game of two-on-two. He ended practice by having players, coaches and staff take half-court shots.
Years of work has finally paid off. The Broncos are back in the NCAA Tournament – and hoping to make the most of it.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Akot said. “It’s a spectacular moment.”
It could be even better on Thursday.