"BCS" may be a dirty word to broach the Boise State football team with in the fall. "Tournament" is not for the Broncos' men's basketball this spring.
Boise State (20-8, 8-6 Mountain West) inched closer to its first-ever at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament after a victory over Colorado State on Saturday at Taco Bell Arena. Third-year coach Leon Rice believes in being open with his team about its chances, especially during its current four-game winning streak.
"I want them to be aware of it, just embrace it," Rice said. "I think it's helped. I don't think there's any sort of pressure, the kids know what they're playing for. It definitely affects a team, because they're playing for something special, but they've also done a great job of taking each game seriously."
Boise State has a great chance to build its case during a tough final week of the regular season, starting at UNLV (22-7, 9-5 MW) on Tuesday (8 p.m., KBOI 670 AM, Time Warner Cable Sports, channel 691 on DirecTV only).
The Runnin' Rebels have won four straight and are 16-1 at home this season. They are No. 14 in the NCAA's latest RPI rankings, with Boise State at No. 44.
"This is what it will be like from here on out - UNLV, then San Diego State (at home) on Saturday, the conference tournament, and then hopefully the NCAA Tournament," Boise State guard Jeff Elorriaga said. "If we slip up, we may not get in, so we're not comfortable. We have to keep playing at a high level."
UNLV coach Dave Rice, whose team lost 77-72 at Boise State on Feb. 2, said the Broncos' recent streak in a conference with seven teams in the top 85 in RPI, is enough to get them into the Big Dance.
"Without question, I think Boise State will be in the NCAA Tournament," he said. "They're very capable of winning their next two games. They're playing as well as anyone in our league."
The Broncos know they're on the tournament bubble, and while the focus is on their own business, they also keep a close eye on other teams in their position.
"In March, you have to control your destiny," Elorriaga said. "We notice who is on the bubble and who isn't, but we don't want to have to pay too much attention to that. We want play our way in."
The Broncos, with three wins against teams in the top 36 in the RPI and potentially two more this week, are on 53 of the 88 mock brackets tracked by the website The Bracket Project. One of those 35 listed that don't have the Broncos in, ESPN's Joe Lunardi's, is expected to be updated Tuesday, and he wrote that "The Broncos' win against Colorado State (Saturday) was impressive enough to move BSU 'above' the Last Four In category."
"We won't be distracted," Boise State's Rice said. "At the same time, I don't want the guys to be here this summer and not know what was on the line. We know what's on the line, and we have to go take it."
Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_southorn