Heading to Las Vegas for the Mountain West Conference tournament in early March has not been Boise State’s forte since joining the conference.
In 2017, a year that looked like the Mountain West Conference tournament was wide open, the Broncos went home early yet again, following their opening night loss to San Diego State, 87-68.
Now, Boise State has to refuel and prepare for a National Invitation Tournament matchup with University of Utah, in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 14.
“The NIT is a hard thing to get in. There is 250 schools that wish they were us. We feel pretty fortunate to still be playing in March,” said Head Coach Leon Rice.
The NIT is the longest-running postseason tournament in College Basketball, and was the main tournament before the NCAA Tournament began to expand to 64 teams and become the premier college basketball postseason tournament.
The Broncos were on the bubble of getting into the NIT after their quarterfinal loss, but they will go into the tournament as a No. 6 seed and play the No. 3 Utes who finished the year 20-11, 11-7 with a fourth place finish in the PAC-12.
Before the Broncos knew they were playing Utah, the wait was a different experience compared to 2015, when the Broncos sat around watching the NCAA Tournament Selection Show before finiding out they were selected for an at-large bid.
“We kind of milled around the practice gym to see if we got in, and boom, we got in. I had no indication one way or the other,” Rice said. “You start to get like, ‘Oh we would have heard, there would have been something.’ It tells you how bad I wanted to keep playing with these guys, because I was starting to get pretty sad again.”
The Mountain West will send Fresno State and Colorado State to the NIT while Nevada ends up as a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Broncos were projected to finish fifth in the conference in the preseason Mountain West Media Polls.
The year previous, Boise State was picked to finish second in the conference and possibly get into the NCAA tournament. Instead they finished third, did not play in any postseason tournament, and exited after their first game in the Mountain West Tournament.
“It’s exciting. It speaks to the step we’ve taken this year. You talk about things like that, but an at-large bid to the NIT tournament is a big step for a place like Boise State in the Mountain West,” said senior James Reid.
This will be the first NIT appearance for Leon Rice at Boise State. The last time the Broncos played in the NIT, they found some success.
In 2004, they beat UNLV and Milwaukee before falling to Marquette by three points.
“Winning games in the tournament, like the NIT and some of those other tournaments this time of year is all about if you can get up for them. We know we’re good enough to make a run and so our focus is getting better and showing up excited to play,” Reid said.
This will be the first time Boise State and Utah will have played each other since December 2013 when they played at Taco Bell Arena. The two schools matched up against each other for four straight years with the home team winning each game.
This is the second time the Broncos have played Utah in the NIT. The first time came in 1987 and Boise State won, 62-61.
“I know about (Utah) because they’re down the road and I watch a lot of PAC-12 games. Number one, I know they have gotten better throughout the year. They were a little bit like us as far as; they didn’t have a ton of guys with experience. They had one stumble that maybe cost them into the NCAA tournament,” Rice said.
The game is set for an 8 p.m. tip on ESPNU.