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Previewing Boise State: Broncos led by trio of experienced guards

Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Initially this was going to be a quick overview but then it ended up being a long overview. What can I say, it's a more interesting team than I thought at first glance. About those Broncos...

Experience and talent in the backcourt

Three guards make Boise State go offensively: Anthony Drmic (16.6 PPG), Derrick Marks (15.8 PPG), and Mikey Thompson (11.6 PPG). These guys have been playing together for years; Dermic and Marks both arrived as freshmen in 2011-12, while Thompson was a year behind them.

Marks is shouldering an enormous workload (30.3 %Poss, 32.3 %Shots), which is not unique to this season. He is second to Drmic in scoring because this level of usage tends to come at a cost in efficiency. Marks is just 15-of-35 (42.9%) from two this season, though he is 6-of-11 from three. He's been a capable three-point shooter for the majority of is career but it's not a shot he leans on heavily; he's attempted over 800 twos in his career compared to 148 threes. He'll draw plenty of fouls and hit plenty of his FTs as well (he's a career 80% FT shooter). The 43% he's shooting inside the arc is probably going to come up some to put him closer to his 47.7% career average. Dude is just a solid overall scorer.

Drmic's work has been split almost evenly inside and out, as he's taken 500+ twos and 500+ threes. For his career he's a 52.2% shooter inside the arc and a 35.6% shooter outside of it. He's another guy you'd rather not put on the free throw line. He was also a preseason All-MWC pick.

Thompson is similar to Marks in that the three-pointer isn't his preferred poison but works well for him when does opt to take that shot. He has been turnover prone throughout his career in part because of his preference for attacking the rim. He drew fouls at a good rate last year while also hitting about 49% of his two-point attempts.

Patience, triples, and freebies

When Leon Rice took over the head coaching job in 2010, he pumped the brakes on the offense and put some additional emphasis on three-point shots. The Broncos went from regularly finishing in the top 50 in pace from 2006 through 2010 to a below-average tempo (they were 229th last year).

With the Marks-Drmic-Thompson trio on board, Boise's offense improved significantly, which is all that really matters anyhow--the Broncos finished 23rd in offensive efficiency in 2013 (when they reached the NCAAs), 28th in 2014, and currently rank 32nd this season. The recipe for them has been great shooting beyond the arc, great shooting at the free throw line, and strong ball security.

They finished in the top 30 in FT% each of the last two years and appear headed to a similar finish again. They shot 38.7% as a team from three-point land in 2013, which ranked 15th nationally; that dipped a bit to 36.5% (77th) last season, and they're over 41% this year. About 36 or 37 percent of their field goal attempts are threes, which puts them in the "perimeter-oriented" category but not quite the "Princeton-offense-let's-go-nuts-wheeeee-from-three" category.

Leon Rice, defensive rebounding guru?

The most impressive thing about Boise State under Rice is that the Broncos have always rebounded well defensively despite consistently being undersized up front.

Boise State under Leon Rice
Defensive Rebounding Pct. (National Rank) Effective Height (National Rank)
2015 73.4 (63) +0.8 inches (120)
2014 73.5 (8) -0.9 (235)
2013 75.6 (3) -2.6 (312)
2012 74.4 (4) -0.4 (199)
2011 71.4 (39) -0.7 (226)

(Effective Height = Average height of a team's center and power forward, weighted by minutes played, compared to the national average.)

Rice has had some big men who've been excellent rebounders, but he hasn't had a lot of them. What he's been able to do year after year is get his 6'2" to 6'5" guys to punch above their weight, so to speak--his rosters invariably have several guards with defensive rebounding rates much better than you'd expect from someone their size. Derrick Marks is a perfect case in point: he has a 17.6 DR% this year despite being 6'3". Which is to say that he grabs about 17.6% of the available defensive boards while he is on the floor. That ranks in the top 500 nationally. His career-low DR% is a still-respectable 13.2.

So what's all this then?

These guys can get them some buckets, man. It's not simply the product of their competition. The amount of court time their guards have had together is rare and I'm sure pays dividends in terms of offensive cohesion. Don't think they'll be too intimidated stepping onto the floor Friday night.

What I neglected to mention above is the Broncos' defense, which has been a weakness throughout the Leon Rice era. His teams tend to rate low in what I like to consider the disruption factors: block rate and steal rate. Rice has done an admirable job erasing his teams' size disadvantage on the glass, but that disadvantage is nevertheless glaring in other places (namely in their FG% defense), and the rebounding alone isn't enough to compensate.

NC State should have good looks regularly--it's what the Pack does with them that's going to dictate how this one goes. Assuming that the Broncos hold up on the defensive glass (by no means a foregone conclusion), second chances will be scarce.

State has the more well-rounded team which I think is going to earn it the win. Don't be surprised if this game is too close for comfort, though.