Air Force Boise St Basketball

VIDEO: Boise State-ment: We belong in the Big Dance!

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This has been an epic season for the Mountain West. Today was no exception, as Boise State took down Steve Fisher and the SDSU Aztecs 69-65, making a statement that should carry them to the MWC tournament and beyond. The league may get five teams into the NCAA tournament this year – the same total number of berths as are predicted for the likes of the Big 12, ACC and Pac-12, and far more than the SEC is likely to manage.

Of the five tourney-worthy programs, Boise may have flown the farthest beneath the national radar. San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico got press from day one of the season, and have long-standing basketball history to fall back on. Colorado State came along during the season, and has a well-known coach in Larry Eustachy.

But who are these Broncos, with their blue-and-orange floor? We knew they were good at football, but hoops?

For starters, let’s look at Derrick Marks, who poured in 38 points to lead his team over Colorado State, but got himself overshadowed by Doug McDermott. Marks, along with three other players, was suspended earlier this season. How well the Broncos play with him is impressive. More impressive, for a team that hopes to maintain momentum going into the postseason, is what they did without him: they went into Wyoming and won in a tough road environment.

Marks is a great player. Boise State has had great players before, but the program is 0-5 in NCAA tournament games. Let’s talk about this being a great team, and why.

That, we can lay at the doorstep of Leon Rice, the little-known (for now, at least) head coach who has led Boise State since 2010. If you wonder how a quiet guy can go to a remote mountain location and win a bunch of games, the template is right there: Rice was Mark Few’s assistant at Gonzaga for eleven years. Rice showed his mettle on that tough day in January, when he suspended four crucial players for a league road game: he’s running a team – not a loose group of players who happen to wear the same shirts – and he’s building for March success, not a single league win.

Beating San Diego State was a big statement win for the Broncos. If you don’t know Marks, Watkins, Elorriaga, Rice and friends yet, you will very, very soon.
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Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: