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What to Watch For: WSU at Boise State preview

The Cougs take on the reigning Mountain West Champs in this early-season test.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Boise State vs Memphis Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Cougs travel to Idaho for their second game of the season, taking on reigning the Mountain West champions in the Boise State Broncos.

The game tips off at 4 p.m. PT and you can watch it on the Mountain West Digital Network.

The Broncos struggled in their first game against South Dakota State, losing a close one, and it seems like it will take them some time to figure out how to replace the production of Abu Kigab, Emmanuel Akot, and Mladen Armus. Losing those three starters is difficult to overcome, but this is still a talented team with a lot of experience and a defensive mindset.

WSU’s first game was an impressive one, with some excellent showings from players new and old. The Cougs’ offense looked impressive, with a lot of elite passing that helped generate open looks. The shooting was also impressive and the floor was wide open for Mouhamed Gueye to get open looks down-low. The Cougs’ defense has some more questions, but the size was an obvious strong positive on that end. WSU will look to continue momentum against a solid Broncos squad.

Boise State Broncos

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Boise State vs Memphis Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports


Boise State is not a team known for their elite offense, but Leon Rice tends to build squads that can get the job done on that end. Last season, the Broncos ranked 86th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, and that was mostly due to their ability to get to the line and get on the offensive glass. They were also great at avoiding live-ball turnovers, ranking 47th in opponent steal percentage. Boise State was about average when it came to overall efficiency as they ranked 136th in effective field goal percentage, 159th in three-point percentage, and 134th in two-point percentage. Their main strength on that end is their size, and they love to play out of the post and let wings use their size on the ball.

Boise State’s sets are all built around a few actions with slight differences in the set-ups. One of these actions is a double-screen in the middle of the floor trying to get a guard into an advantaged position to attack. Here, they run a bit of a weave to set this up and the play comes within the flow of the offense rather than being something that is called and set-up from the beginning.

Boise State likes to run plays to generate threes for their guards, and they tend to lead to solid looks. Here, they run a simple north screen set for Max Rice to rise swiftly from the block and hoping for defenders to get stuck on the road block as the big-man rolls.

The Broncos will run some ball-screens, especially on a weakside. Emptying out a side and allowing maximum space for the pick-and-roll is how Boise State likes to counter their sometimes iffy spacing.

Boise State’s go-to on offense is the post. They love to get one of their bigs or forwards isolated in the post. They look to get into post-ups out of multiple different looks, whether it be out of the pick-and-roll or off of specific actions, they are constantly looking for one-on-one post-ups.

This is an example of their sets that lead to post-ups. This is a simple downscreen to get a forward an advantaged match-up down low. It is simple, but it can work if it catches the defense off-guard.

Boise State likes to be intentional about their spacing on post-ups. They tend to like to have the post-up side empty so that it is harder for defenders to dig on the ball-handler. Here, they have two players cut from that side and it gives the post player more time to execute down low.


The Broncos were one of the best defenses in the country last season, and that is despite not having an elite rim protector down low. Leon Rice loves to play big and that size allows his teams to contest shots, force turnovers, and rebound like crazy.

They ranked 20th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency last season and that was largely on the back of their elite rebounding (11th in defensive rebound rate) and playmaking (75th in opponent turnover rate). The Broncos are a little smaller this season, but it could be argued they are bigger down low and they might be even better at getting in passing lanes. This is still a formidable defense despite the lost talent and the Cougs will need to be prepared for their aggressiveness.

The Broncos play a more traditional defensive scheme than a team like Texas State. They drop their bigs in the pick-and-roll and look to force opposing ball-handlers into mid-range jumpers. Their bigs are not elite rim-protectors in drop, but their guards are aggressive at attacking the lanes and creating turnovers.

Drop defense is a good strategy when you have defensive talent to pull it off because it isn’t gimmicky. Oftentimes hard hedges or traps can be beat with a well-executed scheme — or a great passer such as Justin Powell — but drop puts the emphasis on the players to beat defenders. That is a major reason why NBA teams often play drop coverage, because their defenders are simply good enough to execute it.

The Broncos — and more specifically, Tyson Degenhart — are excellent at drawing offensive fouls. Whether it be getting in the way on charges or simply staying strong when guarding in the post, the Broncos are excellent at forcing turnovers through drawing fouls. Last season, they ranked 22nd in non-steal opponent turnovers and that was in large part due to their foul drawing.

The Broncos are also excellent playing in rotation on defense and creating havoc. They are aggressive getting into passing lanes and cutting off drives, often seeming to sag off shooters only explode and take away passes at the last second.

Something to monitor with Boise State is their new penchant to go small. The Broncos lack depth at the 5 behind Lukas Milner and they went to a lot of looks with Degenhart at the 5 during their season opener. This would give the Cougs an area to attack, as these minutes looked a bit rough defensively against SDSU.

Players to Watch:

Degenhart was a surprise star for the Broncos last season as a freshman, and he is a do-it-all forward type with NBA upside. He can make plays for others, score in the post, dominate the glass, and stretch the floor. Defensively, Degenhart brings a lot with his smart rotations and ability to draw fouls. He is one of the best players in the Mountain West and the Spokane native had a big game against WSU last year.

Marcus Shaver Jr. is the go-to scorer on BSU’s roster and he can get buckets in a hurry. The 6’1 guard is a confident pull-up shooter and he can get all the way to the rim consistently as well. He sets up his drives with good off-ball movement and his feel as a scorer makes him a threat at all times.

Max Rice struggled a lot during his sophomore season, but he had an excellent start to his senior season against SDSU. He had five steals in that game and he looked elite getting into passing lanes. He was also incredibly comfortable hitting shots off movement. He has a quick trigger on the jumper with touch and range.

Washington State Cougars

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Players to Watch

Justin Powell had an unbelievable start to his WSU career, putting up 14 points and 12 assists on 5 of 8 shooting from the field and 3 of 5 shooting from three. He struggled to break the paint early, but by the second half he had already settled into his point guard role. He ran a few great pick-and-rolls despite playing against a hard hedge, he looked uber-confident as a shooter, and his chemistry with Mouhamed Gueye has already developed. Boise State is a new test for him, but his height and passing should still be on display.

DJ Rodman had an excellent first game of the season, putting up 16 points, a block, and bringing a ton of energy to the floor. He energized the crowd and gave WSU a huge boost when they were struggling. With Andrej Jakimovski out for the foreseeable future with turf toe, Rodman will be the presumed starting power forward. Monitoring his shooting will be the key, as he struggled a bit last season but started out hot against Texas State. Staying around or above 37% from three is a major ceiling raiser for Rodman and the WSU offense.

Kymany Houinsou was the most impressive of the freshman during the first game and he will likely be looked at as the 6th man early in the season. His athleticism pops and he hit a three in the first game, boding him well for him playing on or off the ball. His rim pressure could be vital for the Cougs’ second unit and his playmaking will be interesting to monitor going forward. If the jumper can be even somewhat solid, he could be looked at to close some games where Rodman isn’t hitting shots or no one is getting downhill.

What to Watch For:

Who steps up off the bench is the major question for this season as a whole. One of Houinsou or Dylan Darling will have to step up in the backcourt and one of Adrame Diongue or Mael Hamon-Crespin will have to be the back-up big. The starting five might be elite for WSU, with a few all-conference contenders and an elite offensive group in general, but the bench looked questionable at best during the first game and the combination of injury and inexperience will leave it as a question going forward. The big spot is the most interesting to monitor, as Diongue seemed prime to play major minutes, but played only garbage time against Texas State. Hamon-Crespin had some standout moments in the first game, but he has some defensive issues that could be exposed going forward.

The point of attack defense was a bit of an issue against Texas State and it will be tested again by Shaver for BSU. TJ Bamba has had struggles against quicker, smaller guards before and Boise State’s solid spacing could make help responsibilities difficult. Against Texas State, the Cougs opted into a zone defense to counter this. The zone was well done and was a major factor in their rousing victory, but it is not something that will always work against better and better opponents. Fixing the issues at the point of attack, whether that be Bamba taking a step forward or someone like Darling proving to be good enough there, is a major key to this team’s success moving forward.

Question of the Game:

Will the Cougs surpass 8 blocks as a team?