Boise State opens the Mountain West Conference basketball season Saturday by hosting Air Force, 10-4 on the season.
For Air Force, this ironically will be just the fifth game out of 15 in which they'll be flying. The Falcons have already had 10 home games. This is a team that loves to pound the ball inside to their big men, Michael Lyons and Taylor Brookhuis. Both shoot over 50% from the field. Lyons leads the team with 16.3 points and five rebounds a game and has connected on 51-of-102 shots. He will also step back and shoot the three. Brookhuise is averaging 8.6 points but has hit 43-of-83 from the field.
Then you have Todd Fletcher. The Broncos would be very wise not to send Fletcher (10.2 ppg) to the free-throw line, where is a 96.2% shooter (25-of-26). Fletcher is the long-distace flying ace, successful on 40.8% of his three-point tries. Mike Fitzgerald, 10.4 points a game, is also money from the charity stripe at 79.4% (27-34).
With so many players lost from Boise State's outstanding team from a year ago, many thought this would be a rebuilding year for Coach Leon Rice. Yet the Broncos are off to a 10-5 start. As good as the young team has done, that overall record ranks next-to-last in the Mountain West, one of the best basketball conferences in the land.
Anthony Drmic has been outstanding in his freshman season; his 14.4 points per game average ranks 17th in the country among freshman. Drmic has hit 40.6% of this three-point attempts. Although Boise State lives and dies from three-point shooting, when they want to get the ball inside, they go to Ryan Watkins, a 6-9 sophomore. Watkins is averaging 8.0 points a game and leads the team with a 4.8 rebounding average. Drew Wiley, a 6-7 junior guard, is hitting 49.2% of his three-point attempts. With that percentage, I'm sure the Broncos would like to see him put it up more as he is averaging just 7.3 points. Senior Westly Perryman (6-2) is scoring 6.6 points a game and is averaging 2.6 assists. Jef Elorriaga, the heady 6-2 sophomore, averaged 6.2 points and 2.4 assists in the non-conference season.
Boise State is 41st in the nation in scoring at 76.5 points a game, which is a much-faster pace than Air Force likes to play. The Falcons average 65.9 points but allow just 56.6 on defense so that is how they've been successful. They play solid defense the way the Broncos used to play in the 80's under Bobby Dye. They play tough and in-your-face and excel at swatting the ball away (15.7 turnovers forced per game).
So the game seems to be a contrast in styles. Boise State loves to get the ball up the court; Air Force is more deliberate and patient, working the ball inside where they can do damage. Air Force features a solid-shooting team, while Boise State's defense allows a field goal percentage (46.2%) that ranks 293rd in the country. The Broncos love to shoot the three-point shot, but Air Force allows just 30% from the perimeter.
So if Boise State hits the threes and plays tough defense, they have a chance to win their MWC opener. But if Air Force can stop the long-range bombing, it will force Coach Rice to go to Plan B and the Falcons' chances are much better. The focus for Air Force will be to do what they do best--be patient, play defense until the other team makes a turnover, rebound well and connect on their free throws.
Don't forget it's an early tipoff Saturday (4 p.m.) in Taco Bell Arena.