Boise State men keeping a slight eye on the bubble

Broncos’ NCAA Tournament hopes very slim — for now

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comFebruary 26, 2014 

Boise State senior forward Ryan Watkins is one of 17 players in Division I averaging a double-double. He averages 11.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, and is coming off a 22-point, 15-rebound performance Saturday against UNLV. No Boise State player has averaged a double-double since 1971-72. “It doesn’t matter who's on the other side, Ryan's going to come to play and he’s going to play hard,” junior guard Derrick Marks said. “With the stuff he’s doing, it sounds bad, but I expect that out of him.”

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com

A year ago, Boise State basketball was on the fringe of the NCAA Tournament field, and coach Leon Rice told his team as such.

As the Broncos head into the final two weeks of the regular season on a three-game winning streak, they are well aware of their position again — but this time, it’s even further off the bubble.

“That's probably the biggest difference. No one’s really talking about us being in it. Maybe only the NIT,’’ senior Ryan Watkins said.

Sure enough, nearly every mock bracket projecting the NCAA Tournament does not include the Broncos (18-9, 8-6 MW), though a mock NIT bracket — yes, they exist — has them facing Washington.

Seeking a second straight trip to the Big Dance, Boise State can help build more of a résumé with three of its final four games on the road, starting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Fresno State (14-14, 7-8).

The Broncos are 54th in the NCAA’s latest official RPI rankings. They got in as an at-large team last year, ranking in the low-40s.

“Those road wins are valuable … We’ve got some opportunities for that,’’ Rice said. “We’ve got a good RPI. We’re right there.’’

Through 27 games this year, the Broncos only have one fewer win than last season, but their case is hurt by having fewer quality wins. They have two victories over top 100 RPI teams, though there were losses by four points or less against Iowa State (ranked 11th), twice against San Diego State (20th) and Wyoming (83rd).

Racking up wins down the stretch and getting some in the Mountain West Tournament are naturally what the team wants. And should it do that, the NCAA talk will take care of itself.

“We definitely talk about it, because we’re getting closer and closer,’’ Watkins said. “Now it’s more important than ever to focus on it one game at a time, and if we stick to that, we could get right back into the conversation.’’

BracketMatrix.com, which analyzes 93 mock brackets from around the Internet, has the Broncos listed in the field on two. Though fairly far down the list, some have the Broncos lingering around the bubble. Rice admits he paid plenty of attention to the teams around Boise State in contention for at-large bids last year, but his heart may not take it now.

“I don’t want to get into bubble watch, and I’m not going to do it, because it’s absolutely the most painful, worst thing you can do,’’ he said. “But when you start looking at these games, one after another, ones that are in our ballpark are losing. If we can just control what we can control, then just let the chips fall.’’

Of course, winning the Mountain West Tournament on March 15 would solve any worries about making the field of 68. But going on a roll like the team did to end the regular season last year, winning five of its last six, can help with a résumé and with momentum entering the tournament.

“I always want them to see the forest from the trees. … I don’t want to pile pressure on them,’’ Rice said. “The focus is just on, ‘Let’s play our best.’ If we play our best, our best energy, our best emotion, whatever we can do in that space and time, we’ll have a great chance and put ourselves in a great position.’’

TOUGH TRIP FOR BRONCOS: This week is perhaps the toughest travel week of the season for Boise State, with games at Fresno State on Wednesday and at Wyoming on Saturday. To combat spending much time away from home, the team will take a rare charter flight home immediately after Wednesday's game, instead of the usual routine of flying commercially the next morning.

BOISE STATE AT FRESNO STATE

When: Today, 7 p.m.

Radio/TV: KBOI 670 AM; CBS Sports Network

Vegas line: Boise State by 1.5

Records: Boise State is 18-9, 8-6; Fresno State is 13-14, 6-8 (lost 72-66 at Wyoming last Wednesday)

Series: Boise State leads 19-15 (Broncos won 86-79 on Jan. 4 in Boise in last meeting)

Notable: Boise State coach Leon Rice said Wednesday’s game is between “two of the hotter teams in the Mountain West.’’ His Broncos have won three straight, and the Bulldogs have won five of six. … Fresno State’s Tyler Johnson, who had 22 points in the teams’ last meeting, is third in conference games with 18.8 points a game.

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