For the first time, Boise State has landed an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament without being saddled with a First Four game. The Broncos landed a No. 10 seed instead of the feared No. 11 Sunday and will face Northwestern Thursday in Sacramento. Boise State was an at-large selection in 2013 and faced LaSalle in a play-in game, falling 80-71. It happened again in 2015. And in one of the great travesties in the NCAA selection process, the Broncos had to face Dayton on its home floor, losing 56-55. Nevada has to go the First Four route this week, getting a No. 11 seed with a date against Arizona State Wednesday night. But the Wolf Pack are fortunate, as they were the last team in the 68-team field.
BENCH IMPROVING, BUT IT’S THIN
The biggest challenge for Boise State, as it has been all season, will be its depth when it takes on Northwestern. It certainly was a factor in the semifinals of the Mountain West tournament Friday night against Utah State. You couldn’t ask much more of Jace Whiting and Lukas Milner in the first half as the Broncos went into the break with a six-point lead. But the team clearly wore down in the second half and said as much after the game. Foul trouble was at the core, and with only seven players in Boise State’s recent rotation, it was runnin’ on empty. Included in that foul barrage is the call that will live in infamy, the one on Tyson Degenhart that should have been a charge on USU with 7:53 left, changing the dynamic of the game and allowing the Aggies to take the lead.
CHANCES OF A RESURGENT MAX RICE
Max Rice will be an interesting study come Thursday. Utah State built its defensive game plan on stopping him last Friday in the Mountain West semifinals, and it worked. Rice could not get a clean look and took only six shots the entire game—only one from three-point range. He scored one point, a week and a half after putting up 26 against San Diego State. The Broncos compensated for Rice in the first half, but compensation became condensation in the second half when the air went out of the balloon. Rice rightfully gave the Aggies a ton of credit after the game. He also said he’d be all about dissecting the film in the days following the game, and his family lineage will tell you he’s pretty good at that. I look for him to have a good game against the Wildcats.
THE SEEDING ALL WORKED OUT
Boise State has to feel good about its No. 10 seed. The selection committee could have looked at three losses in the last five games and sent the Broncos to dreaded Dayton. They’re not going to Sacramento Thursday with a ton of momentum against Northwestern, but the Mountain West got the benefit of the doubt this year. Now Boise State sets its sights on something it’s never done: win a game in the Big Dance. The Broncos are 0-8 all-time, including the 64-53 loss to Memphis last season. The conference overall needs to win a game or two in the main tournament after getting a second chance this year. Last March, the Mountain West went 0-4. Not even San Diego State is comfortable—the league champions are a No. 5 seed but have to face 31-2 Charleston on Thursday in Orlando.
THE WESTERN PORTION OF THE WEST REGION
“It’s in Sacramento. You can get there,” said Boise State coach Leon Rice after the NCAA Tournament announcement Sunday. It won’t be as easy as driving to Portland last year, especially with the kind of winter they’re having in the Sierra Nevada. Wednesday’s looking okay right now over Donner Pass, though. Outside of the two trips to Dayton for the First Four, the Broncos’ Big Dance appearances have been in Eugene, Salt Lake City (twice), Birmingham, Portland and one other time in Sacramento—that was against Louisville in 1994 under coach Bobby Dye. One other bit of housekeeping: this marks only the second time Boise State has made back-to-back trips to March Madness. The first came through the Broncos’ Big Sky tournament championships in 1993 and 1994.
YOTES DO THE KANSAS CITY THING TODAY
College of Idaho is right where it wants to be. The Coyotes have settled in Kansas City and will face LSU-Shreveport this afternoon in the Round of 16 at the NAIA Championships. The Yotes can break the school record for season victories with their 33rd today. The 32 they have now, of course, have all been in a row. The last 14 have been by double figures. The essence of C of I is its depth. No Yote plays as many as 26 minutes per game, and nine play at least 14. They’ll be fresh for LSU-Shreveport, which comes in at 26-7.
STEELIES IN WITH A LOT OF ROOM TO SPARE
I think I was a little confused last week about the Idaho Steelheads’ division-clinching timeline. But there’s no confusion now. The Steelheads are ECHL Mountain Division champions and are in the Kelly Cup Playoffs via their 6-4 win over Allen Friday night in Idaho Central Arena. They got there with 16 games to play. The Steelies followed with their ninth shutout of the season Saturday night in a 5-0 blasting of the Americans. They’re season record is now a stunning 45-9-3.
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March 13, 1991: Sophomore center Tanoka Beard sets a Boise State school record by going a perfect 10-for-10 from the field in a 75-74 loss to Southern Illinois in the first round of the NIT. It was an otherwise gut-wrenching night for the Broncos. They led the entire way in the Pavilion—until the final shot of the night, when the Salukis took their only lead and won the game. Beard went on to become Boise State’s all-time leading scorer two years later with 1,944 points, and he remains the leader now. The NIT berth marked the Broncos’ fourth postseason appearance in five years.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)