Boise’s NCAA Tournament is odd. There’s not a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the field Thursday. Nor is there a No. 3. Taco Bell Arena got two 4’s and two 5’s as March Madness returns for the first time in nine years. But no complaints here. I was among those who thought that—amidst shiny new arenas in the West—the Big Dance would probably never return after the 2009 NCAA’s were done. But the city of Boise has earned its way back, and this is going to be fun. Arizona and Kentucky may be tabbed fourth and fifth seeds, respectively, but they have the aura of top two seeds. No. 4 seed Gonzaga, even if it hasn’t played here in 19 years, is eminently familiar (and popular), and Ohio State, as a No. 5, brings an elite overall brand of its own. Conversely, the lowest seeds in Boise are 13’s. Upsets are possible.
Gonzaga, with a 30-4 record after another run through a weaker-than-usual West Coast Conference, plays the first game of the day session Thursday against UNC Greensboro. Ohio State, on the rise after jelling under new coach Chris Holtmann, the former Butler head man, faces pesky South Dakota State in the afternoon matchup. Kentucky, who plays the early game of the evening session against Davidson, is the most intriguing team of the Boise bracket. The Wildcats are 23-10 and are not the same as some of the UK behemoths of the past decade. But it’s still Kentucky, with enough talent to get hot and make a run. And Arizona completes the evening versus Buffalo, who’s on a roll with six straight victories.
The timing is interesting for the Bulldogs, as rumors of a move to the Mountain West continue to swirl. The Zags, who a year ago marched all the way to the national championship game against North Carolina, could play a conference game in Taco Bell Arena as soon as next winter as if this comes together as quickly as some are predicting. That wouldn’t bother Gonzaga coach Mark Few, not just because Boise State coach Leon Rice is a close friend, but also because his wife, Marcy, is from Parma.
There had to be some hearts sinking in Reno when TBS announced the at-large field yesterday in alphabetical order. When they got to the N’s, they first unveiled “NC State.” I see that version of the Wolfpack as North Carolina State, and “North” comes after Nevada alphabetically. Well, the selection committee, thankfully for the Western Wolf Pack, considered it “NC.” So after the brief scare, Nevada was in and will be a No. 7 seed when it faces Texas Friday in Nashville in the South Region. San Diego State, who beat New Mexico 82-75 in the Mountain West championship game Saturday, is seeded 11th and is pitted against Houston in the West Region Thursday in Wichita. The Mountain West thus snaps a two-year streak of one-bid status in the NCAA Tournament.
Yes, Boise State’s exit from the Mountain West Tournament was a colossal bummer. But this should be able to get the Broncos’ juices going again, as they get an NIT date with Washington Wednesday night. Boise State is seeded fourth in its eight-team bracket and the Huskies fifth, but UW will host the game since the NCAA Tournament is occupying Taco Bell Arena. The NIT apparently didn’t want to pull a Ford Idaho Center switcheroo like in 2004. This will be the Broncos’ second NIT matchup with Washington—the first was a 73-68 Huskies win in the second round in Seattle in 1987 that ended coach Bobby Dye’s breakout season at Boise State.
Washington is in its first year under coach Mike Hopkins, who turned things around this season after coming over from Jim Boeheim’s staff at Syracuse (and whose defensive coaching ability got a big shout-out from Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski yesterday on the NCAA Tournament Selection Show). The Huskies are 22-10 and tied for sixth this season in the Pac-12 at 10-8. They were upended in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament by Oregon State in Las Vegas last week. UW’s signature win is a 74-65 decision on the road at Kansas early in the season, and it also beat Arizona at home. The Broncos and Huskies have one common opponent: Loyola Marymount. Boise State beat the Lions 68-48 in November, and Washington edged them 80-78 in December.
College of Idaho is starting to feel it as the Coyotes move into the Final Four of the NAIA Division II Championships tonight in Sioux Falls, SD. The Yotes drilled 24th-ranked Marian University 75-47 in the quarterfinals Saturday night, holding Marian to a woeful 27 percent shooting performance and 41 points below their season scoring average. It was C of I’s 30th win of the season against six losses. The fourth-ranked Yotes now play their first NAIA semifinal game since they won the national championship in Nampa in 1996. Tonight’s opponent is Saint Francis of Indiana, who interestingly enough won the NAIA football championship last fall.
Other postseason comings and goings: the Boise State women will learn their NCAA Tournament destination later today during the Women’s Selection Show. It’s likely going to be a difficult draw for the Mountain West champions, as a low seed is expected, and first-round games are played on the higher-seed’s home court. The Idaho men’s season is complete at 22-9—the Vandals won’t be participating in the CBI or CIT this year.
Today is, in effect, the first day of Brett Rypien’s senior season as Boise State spring football dawns. There’s plenty of time to talk about what needs to happen for Rypien this year, but here’s something on how far he’s come. A story by the Fresno Bee’s Robert Kuwada on what lies ahead for Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion notes that McMaryion completed just 38 percent of his attempts last season on third-and-long “obvious passing downs.” And Kuwada pulls out this comparative nugget on Rypien’s progression with throws “on third-and-7 to third-and-9.” He went from 57.7 percent as a freshman to 66.7 as a sophomore to in 73.9 as a junior. It doesn’t get much better than 73.9 percent on third-and-long.
Other weekend notes—it was 3-2 in overtime and 3-2 in overtime for the Idaho Steelheads in a pair of victories over Kansas City at CenturyLink Arena over the weekend. Goalie Michael Bitzer, making his Steelheads debut, faced only 19 shots-on-goal Friday night and saved 17 of them, while Cole Ully scored the game-winner in OT. And Steve McParland, who returned late last week from an AHL call up in Texas, found the net with 53 seconds left in overtime Saturday night. And Boise State’s Allie Ostrander finished second in the women’s 3,000-meters at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships Saturday in College Station, TX. The Broncos’ sophomore star was just ninety-nine hundredths of a second behind the winner, Missouri’s Karissa Schweizer. Boise State was 17th at nationals, its highest indoor finish ever.
This Day In Sports…March 12, 1988, 30 years ago today:
Boise State wins its first Big Sky championship in 12 years by taking the conference tournament title game in Bozeman. With the score tied at 61, Chris Childs drove the baseline and hit a layup with two seconds left to beat Montana State, 63-61. It was the Broncos’ 24th win of the season, a school record that would stand for 20 years, and sent them to the NCAA Tournament for a first-round game against Michigan.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)