Boise State is aware of the challenge ahead — or at least the coaching staff is. The last time the Broncos visited was 2012, when the Utes blew them out 76-55 in a non-conference game following the death of Rick Majerus. It was one of Larry Krystkowiak’s first big wins with Utah, one that he still calls "pretty special."
"I’ve thought about it," he said. "I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it. But that’s five years ago."
Similarly in the rearview is Utah’s first-round NIT loss to St. Mary’s in 2014, but it is a cautionary tale. If you’re not ready to bring it in the postseason, you can get bounced.
Getting into the gritty:
Time, Place and [radio waves in] Space • The first-round match-up is one of the last of the Tuesday NIT games, tipping off at 8 p.m. at the Huntsman Center. You can watch the game on ESPNU or listen at ESPN 700 AM.
The Line • As of Monday evening, Utah is favored by 10.5 points. The Utes are 14-13-2 against the spread this season, in case you were wondering how well Vegas has done finding a nice balance on its lines.
Pregame Quotable • Larry Krystkowiak said he saw something telling on Thursday night: "I saw some disappointment on some guys’ faces in the locker room in Vegas. Sometimes you don’t know how important things are to guys until you see that situation arise."
Opposing coach • In seven years, Leon Rice has had a pretty good run in Boise. The former Gonzaga assistant has led the Broncos to five 20-win seasons (a sixth on the line on Tuesday night) and NCAA Tournament berths in 2014 and 2016. The Broncos have yet to win a tourney game in their history, but getting there is a solid step. He’s 141-86 as head coach in Boise State, finishing in the top three of the Mountain West each of the last three years. He’s 2-1 against the Krystkowiak-led Utes, but 0-2 at the Huntsman Center dating back to the Boylen era.
Telling Stat • The Broncos were road warriors this year, at least in Mountain West play. They were 6-3 against league opponents on the road, equal to their home mark. But against non-conference opponents they were just 1-3 — although it’s worth noting one of the losses was by just five points to Oregon.
Broncos Roster Overview • One area where Utah has struggled recently is their proverbial drive to cut off the head of the snake. The head of the snake on this team is clearly junior Chandler Hutchinson — think of him as the Kyle Kuzma of Boise State. He leads the team in scoring (16.9 ppg), rebounding (7.9 rpg) and steals (1.2 spg) while dishing out 2.7 apg and being a 39 percent 3-point shooter. The backcourt is helmed by Paris Austin and James Reid, both of whom average double-digit scoring. Reid is more of a 3-point shooter, while Austin is a driver who can get to the line despite measuring at only 6 feet. Known well to Utah State fans is Nick Duncan, a unique player who at 6-foot-8 and 265 pounds looks like a lineman but has taken more 3-point shots than anyone on the team. Boise State has some bigs, particularly Zach Haney, but he’s often in foul trouble. Justinian Jessup, at 7.7 ppg, rounds out Boise State’s main scoring threats. Perhaps known to some locals is Malek Harwell, a guard from Pocatello, but he’s spent the majority of his career injured. Boise State has few elite strengths as a team, but is better than average at shooting (45.2 percent, No. 126), defending (42.6 percent, No. 114) and getting to the free throw line (No. 91 in free throws made). They’re sub-standard in blocking shots and forcing turnovers.
Behind Enemy Lines • The Idaho Statesman posted some video of Rice speaking shortly after the NIT selection, including his opinion of Krystkowiak-coached teams.
Something's Gotta Give • Can Boise State stop Utah’s execution inside the arc? Utah remains one of the best shooting teams in the country this year, ranking at No. 4 (50.6 percent), and the big part of that is 2-point percentage, which clocks at 57.4 percent. The Utes have only shot under 50 percent inside the arc four times this year. On the flip side, the Broncos have only allowed opponents to shoot above 50 percent a little over a third of their games, even without a shot-blocker. They might try to stack the paint against the two-headed attack of Kuzma and Collette.
Boise State's Edge • Utah has played pretty well without fouling this year, but the way the Broncos attack has been excellent: They are No. 36 in the ratio of free throws attempted to field goals attempted (41.3 percent), and Hutchinson and Austin are aggressive players. In the NIT format, there’s going to be odd rules: With 10-minute quarters, there will be only four fouls allowed per team per period, and after that, teams will be allowed two free throws for every foul — no one-in-ones. That could be beneficial to Boise State, which hits at 71.4 percent from the line.
Utah's Edge • It could be a big game for Utah’s frontcourt in a couple ways. Boise State is a weak offensive rebounding team (27.8 percent, No. 226 KenPom), while Utah is a very strong defensive rebounding team (75.5 percent, No. 13). That will limit the Broncos’ second chances provided Utah can give a better effort than it did last week. An undersized group, Boise State is also one of the most-blocked teams in the country (13.7 percent, No. 349 KenPom). While Utah doesn’t have a prodigious shot-blocker, it could be a game for David Collette, Tyler Rawson or Jayce Johnson to step up and protect the rim. Even Lorenzo Bonam and Devon Daniels have shown some blocking ability this year.
Injury Watch • The main contributors of each team are expected to be ready to play. David Collette practiced Monday, for those who harbor lingering concerns about the shots to the head he’s taken this year.
Watch Out For • Who wants it more? In the NIT, that’s always a legitimate question. And chances are we’ll find out pretty quick.