Fresh off a dominant 98-70 victory at Air Force, Boise State heads to Las Vegas with its eyes on a Mountain West Tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Though the Broncos (19-10) started the season with little to no experience outside of senior Nick Duncan, head coach Leon Rice’s team fought for the regular-season title with Nevada and Colorado State until the final week of the season. Boise State earned a first-round bye in the Mountain West Tournament with its third-place finish and faces San Diego State or UNLV at 9:30 p.m. Thursday (CBS Sports Network).
No. 6 San Diego State (17-13) plays No. 11 UNLV (11-20) at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
All tournament games are at Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus.
If history is any indicator, not knowing who they’re playing might be best for the Broncos.
“We’ve been best, especially with this team ... with the shortest prep,” Rice said. “It’s probably better for our guys in some ways, because you just keep a clear mind and just worry about what we do.”
The Mountain West bracket is loaded with uncertainties — here is our breakdown of how things could shake up in Las Vegas (picks in all caps):
WEDNESDAY FIRST ROUND
No. 8 UTAH ST. vs. No. 9 San Jose St.
Though former Boise State assistant coach Dave Wojcik has done an admiral job leading the Spartans, the Aggies have better all-around talent and a senior in Jalen Moore who has been in this tournament before.
No. 7 WYOMING vs. No. 10 Air Force
Air Force was 0-13 in away/neutral games this season. The Thomas & Mack Center is not Colorado Springs.
No. 6 SAN DIEGO ST. vs. No. 11 Nevada-Las Vegas
The Runnin’ Rebels have lost 10 of the past 11 games, and finished last in a conference that includes Air Force. Even a homecourt advantage won’t be enough to beat Steve Fisher’s Aztecs.
No. 1 NEVADA vs. Utah St.
Nevada has, by far, the best starting lineup in the Mountain West. Marcus Marshall, Cameron Oliver, Jordan Caroline and D.J. Fenner are each capable of going for 25 points. The Wolf Pack have too much firepower.
No. 4 Fresno St. vs. No. 5 NEW MEXICO
This could be the most underrated game of the tournament. Fresno State swept Boise State and, at times, looks like the most athletic team in the Mountain West. New Mexico, which also swept the Broncos, has star power in Elijah Brown and a now-healthy Tim Williams. The Lobos have a great shot at advancing because of their two stars.
No. 2 COLORADO ST. vs. No. 7 Wyoming
The Rams have senior guard Gian Clavell, the Mountain West Player of the Year. They also have Emmanuel Omogbo, who ended the season as the only player in the conference to average a double-double. Colorado State won seven games in a row prior to its regular-season finale at Nevada.
No. 3 BOISE ST. vs. San Diego St.
San Diego State is the most difficult team in the conference to figure out. The Aztecs had sky-high expectations in the preseason but struggled mightily for much of the year. That being said, they still have a Hall of Fame head coach in Fisher. The Aztecs will keep it close, but the Broncos are a better team.
NEVADA vs. New Mexico
Nevada and New Mexico played the most entertaining game of the conference season, when the Wolf Pack came back from a double-digit deficit with a minute left in regulation to win in overtime. The Lobos have a lot of talent, but not enough to get them past Nevada.
Colorado St. vs. BOISE ST.
The two meetings this season were decided by a combined four points. Boise State has far better depth than Colorado State, which has seven available players. That might end up being the difference.
NEVADA vs. Boise St.
Boise State has hung with Nevada for the majority of both meetings this year. But Nevada is a team on a mission. The Wolf Pack have the best lineup in the Mountain West and a collection of players who have a tendency to hit clutch shots down the stretch. The Wolf Pack win a close game and earn the Mountain West’s automatic bid to the NCAAs. A deep run could be enough to get Boise State into the NIT.
MOUNTAIN WEST TOURNAMENT
At Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas
Game 1: No. 8 Utah St. (11-19) vs. No. 9 San Jose St. (14-15), noon (MW Network)
Game 2: No. 7 Wyoming (18-13) vs. No. 10 Air Force (11-20), 2:30 p.m. (MW Network)
Game 3: No. 6 San Diego St. (17-13) vs. No. 11 UNLV (11-20), 5 p.m. (MW Network)
Game 4: No. 1 Nevada (25-6) vs. Winner 1, 1 p.m. (CBSSN)
Game 5: No. 4 Fresno St. (19-11) vs. No. 5 New Mexico (17-13), 3:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Game 6: No. 2 Colorado St. (21-10) vs. Winner 2, 7 p.m. (CBSSN)
Game 7: No. 3 Boise St. (19-10) vs. Winner 3, 9:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Game 8: Winner 4 vs. Winner 5, 8 p.m. (CBSSN)
Game 9: Winner 6 vs. Winner 7: 10:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Game 10: Winner 8 vs. Winner 9, 4 p.m. (CBS)