The Boise State men’s basketball team completed the first round of Mountain West Conference play with last Saturday’s win at Air Force.
The Broncos’ 8-2 league record puts them alone in second place, and according to multiple NCAA Tournament bracket experts, the Broncos’ 18-4 resume to date has them sitting on the tournament bubble.
That news doesn’t change the way coach Leon Rice and his team plan to attack their final eight regular-season games.
“Our focus is always on us, nothing around us or the other teams,” Rice said. “... We’re always focused on how we can get better, how we can improve and what we can do to keep making our team better.”
Boise State’s only guaranteed path to the NCAA Tournament is to win the Mountain West championship — a goal the Broncos were outspoken about even before they played their first game of the 2017-18 season.
It’s why Rice took a gamble and brought in one-and-done graduate transfers Lexus Williams and Chris Sengfelder. It’s part of the reason Chandler Hutchison came back for his senior year.
“I came here to win a Mountain West championship,” Williams said.
But Boise State’s best 22-game start in nearly 30 years hasn’t made it a lock for an NCAA Tournament spot just yet. Only the Mountain West champion has advanced to the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons, which means the Broncos can’t bank on receiving an at-large berth.
In his latest projections released Monday, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Boise State as a No. 12 seed playing N.C. State in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio. Lunardi lists Boise State as one of his last four teams to make the field.
Three other bracket experts were less favorable this week about the Broncos’ chances of making the field of 68. Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com, TheAthletic.com’s Stewart Mandel and SportingNews.com’s Ryan Fagan each listed the Broncos among their first four out.
Boise State has made seven NCAA Tournament appearances and last heard its name called on Selection Sunday in 2015.
The second leg of the conference schedule lines up favorably for Boise State, which may help the Broncos move from a team on the bubble to a team capable of bringing home the program’s first NCAA Tournament win in history.
The Broncos are 12-0 in games played at Taco Bell Arena this season, and they’ll have a chance to avenge their two league losses — against first-place Nevada (Feb. 14) and Wyoming (March 3) — with the backing of a loud home crowd.
Both of Boise State’s byes come over the final five weeks of the regular season. The Broncos will have gone a week between games when they host UNLV on Saturday (6 p.m., CBS Sports Network) and will have another break between Colorado State on Feb. 21 and San Diego State on Feb. 27.
The Mountain West Tournament is March 7-10 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
While Rice has been reluctant to talk about anything beyond the Broncos’ next game on the schedule, it is a positive sign that the Broncos remain in the tournament conversation this deep into the season.
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas picked the Broncos as one of his “best mid-major, bust-your-bracket teams“ last week and ranked them at No. 34 out of the 68 best teams in the country earlier this month.
“They know what’s going on around them,” Rice said of his team. “But you put the blinders on and try to go 1-0. That’s the only thing that matters.”
Wilson picked for All-Star challenge
Earlier this week, Boise State wide receiver Cedrick Wilson was selected as one of 24 college football players to participate in the 2018 State Farm All-Star Football Challenge.
The event begins at 7 p.m. Friday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and will air on ESPN2.
Players will be divided into six teams representing the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, plus a “Wild Card” team.
Wilson is the only Mountain West representative on the Wild Card team, and he will be joined by Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside, UTSA defensive end Marcus Davenport and UTEP guard Will Hernandez.