I’m struggling with the notion that college basketball season is just around the corner, particularly since it seems that last-second midcourt heave by Butler’s Gordon Hayward that nearly took down Duke in the NCAA tournament title game seemed to occur about six weeks ago, not six-plus months ago.

I had some summer assignments for national entities like Athlon Sports magazine and USA Today’s College Basketball preview issue (both periodicals are now in your favorite bookstores) but neither task hammered home the point that the start of the season was nearing.

But Friday’s start of practices that includes televised coverage of Midnight Madness certainly drums it home.

One of this season’s intriguing programs to watch will be one that never is in the national spotlight for hoops: Boise State.

The program has never won a single NCAA tournament game – hey, sounds eerily like that San Diego State program I covered for 13 seasons – and was prone to late-game meltdowns last season while finishing eighth (out of nine teams) in the Western Athletic Conference with a 15-17 overall record, including a 5-11 WAC mark.

But the school is beginning a new era under Leon Rice, a Gonzaga assistant the past 11 seasons. You might have noticed that Gonzaga has had a bit of basketball success over the years. The school is the mid-major basketball version of what Boise State’s non-BCS football program has become on the national stage.

If you study the situation closely, you will see a lot of parallels to the circumstances former Gonzaga assistant Bill Grier inherited when he became coach of the University of San Diego prior to the start of the 2007-08 season. Grier molded a talented yet underachieving group into a team that cracked the 2008 NCAA tournament and notched a first-round upset of Connecticut for the Toreros’ first-ever NCAA tourney win.

As Rice said Thursday, the cupboard isn’t bare at Boise State. He returns four of the top five scorers from last season’s team, including double-digit scorers Robert Arnold and Daequon Montreal. Guys like La’Shard Anderson, Paul Noonan and incoming junior-college recruit Tre’ Nichols give Rice some pieces to work with in his first season.

Only time will tell whether Rice is cut out to be the guy who can take Boise State to new levels in basketball. But there are worse things than giving the Gonzaga blueprint a try.

Here’s a stellar Associated Press story on Rice’s task as Boise State begins a new era of basketball: http://www.greenwichtime.com/sports/article/Boise-State-basketball-beginning-new-era-707234.php

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