The NIT is a body-of-work thing

Raise your hand if you thought it was a lock for the Boise State men’s basketball team to get a bid to the National invitation Tournament, especially after the Broncos’ unceremonious dismissal from the Mountain West tourney last Thursday night. The obvious fear was that it would be a “what have you done for me lately” decision by the NIT committee. But Boise State is in, earning one of the four No. 6 seeds in the 32-team field and a game against Utah tomorrow night at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City. The survivor faces the winner of the matchup between Illinois and Valparaiso. Alas, the Broncos got some credit for a solid season, and Nick Duncan gets his wish to play at least one more college game.

There is some irony in this matchup, as it comes almost exactly 30 years after Boise State’s first-ever appearance in the NIT—against Utah in 1987. It happened before what I still believe to be the loudest crowd in the history of what is now Taco Bell Arena. And it came down to this: the Broncos had a 62-61 lead when Albert Springs drove the length of the floor in the final seconds and was fouled by Arnell Jones. With 10,000-plus fans screaming at him, Springs missed both free throws to preserve a Boise State victory. One of the Utes’ starting guards was Borah High grad Tommy Connor—son of former Bronco coach Bus Connor—who scored 13 points in a return to his home city. And Tommy is on the Utes’ coaching staff today. (More on the Connor family below in “This Day In Sports.”)

Boise State has been handed an opportunity to erase the sour taste of last Thursday—if it can play well against a quality opponent. Utah finished fourth in the Pac-12 and is 20-11 overall. At least there won’t be any intra-conference bickering about which Mountain West schools were invited to the NIT. The other teams to finish in the top four in the league (in addition to Nevada), also landed NIT spots. Colorado State, a No. 4 seed, gets to play at home tomorrow night against College of Charleston, the team that defeated the Broncos in the season opener in November. Fresno State, a No. 5 seed, plays Wednesday night at TCU, the team that upset Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament.

San Diego State was picked to win the Mountain West this season, but anybody who was paying attention knew Nevada could do this. The Wolf Pack is the champion after wearing down Colorado State 79-71 in the conference tournament title game Saturday. It was the eighth time the top two seeds have played for the crown at the Mountain West Tournament—and the first time in that circumstance the No. 1 seed has actually won it. Now Nevada gets a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a date with Iowa State Thursday in Milwaukee the Midwest Region. An upset here is doable.

When you hand out the platitudes following Boise State’s second Mountain West women’s basketball championship in three years, you have to start with coach Gordy Presnell. He’s capping his 30th season as a head coach—and 12th at Boise State—with a school-record 25 wins and a third trip to the NCAA Tournament. Presnell’s just getting better with age. He coached the Broncos out of a mid-season slump and into their current 10-game winning streak. The plum so far is the 66-53 victory over Fresno State Friday in the Mountain West championship game, with Brooke Pahukoa named tournament MVP, matching the award she won in 2015. The Broncos learn their NCAA destination on the Women’s Selection Show today at 5 p.m. on ESPN.

College of Idaho came oh-so-close to taking down Union College’s 29-game winning streak at the NAIA Division II Championships Friday night. But a wild rally from a 10-point second half deficit fell short when Emanuel Morgan’s floater rattled off the rim at the buzzer, and the nation’s No. 1 team prevailed over the Coyotes 83-82 in Point Lookout, MO. The Yotes finished the season at 24-10. Also, the University of Idaho made it to the semifinals of the Big Sky Tournament in Reno Friday night. The Vandals were then turned away 69-64 by eventual champion North Dakota. Idaho’s season is not over, though. The Vandals will host Stephen F. Austin Wednesday night in Memorial Gym in the first round of the Tournament (the CIT).

Boise State football has at least filled the roster spot of Joey Martarano, who has chosen to pursue baseball full-time with the Chicago Cubs organization. Whether the Broncos can replace Martarano’s considerable skill set is to be determined. Joseph Inda, a linebacker from Golden West College in California, has committed to the BSU program according to and will have two years to play two seasons. Inda had been holding out for an FBS offer after receiving a number of them from FCS schools leading up to National Letter of Intent Day. He said his recruiting had picked up, with the Broncos, Louisiana-Lafayette, Nevada, Charlotte and Utah State all in the mix. Inda is a 6-2, 230-pounder who logged 48 tackles, two sacks and an interception in nine games last season.

Defensemen ruled the roost for the Idaho Steelheads Saturday night as they earned a split with the Cincinnati Cyclones in a 5-3 victory. The Steelheads scored in bunches in the first and second periods, with blue-liners Travis Walsh, Brandon Anselmini, and Aaron Harstad all contributing tallies in CenturyLink Arena. Branden Komm made 32 saves to earn his third straight victory for Idaho. The triumph offset a table-turning 5-2 loss to Cincy Friday night. The Steelies had been feasting on third-period explosions lately, but the Cyclones scored three times in the final frame themselves to win going away.

After three lukewarm rounds at the Valspar Championship, Graham DeLaet connected with a four-under 67 to finish in a tie for 22nd in Palm Harbor, FL. DeLaet earned $60,480 with his rally, although it could have been about $50,000 more had he not bogeyed two of his final three holes. It was the former Boise State star’s fourth straight top 25 result and pushed his season money total to $664,168.

This Day In Sports…March 13, 1976:

In its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, Boise State runs into the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV in the first round of the West Regional in Eugene. The Broncos trailed by only seven early in the second half, but the Rebels ended up with another 100-point game—putting up an incredible 87 field goal attempts in their 103-78 victory. The late Steve Connor, a sophomore guard and the son of BSU coach Bus Connor, was the game’s high-scorer with 26 points.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)