If you looked at it strictly based on win-loss, heading into Mountain West play, the Boise State Broncos were on the outside looking in as an NCAA Tournament contender and the sixth-best team in a top-heavy conference.
Conceptually, there was truth to that too. In our first bracketology rankings, we listed five teams as NCAA Tournament: Colorado State, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State and Utah State, who were all ranked within the top-40 in NET Rankings. Did mean Boise State couldn’t be in the mix? No, but now, it just might be.
Our initial omission wasn’t due to underperforming in non-conference; Boise State went 9-4 with arguably the toughest non-conference schedule in the Mountain West with multiple nailbiters against San Francisco (win), Virginia Tech (loss), Saint Mary’s (win) and North Texas (win), who were all quality opponents.
But the Broncos ranked over 30 spots below in the NET relative to Utah State, the fifth-ranked team who ranked No. 38 in the NET. Boise was also one of two teams inside the top-7 in the MW without a Quad 1 win, despite possessing a league-most three Quad 2 victories.
Fast forward two-and-a-half weeks, Boise State’s 3-1 in conference play with the most Quad 1 wins (3) and combined Quad 1-2 wins (6) in the conference.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Leon Rice’s squads have rarely slipped up once January rolls around. Boise’s finished in the top-4 in the conference in eight of Boise’s 12 seasons in the MW and in the top-5 10 times. It’s perpetually produced 20-win seasons with double-figure MW wins. They might be on track to do it again, too.
Despite losing at home on Tuesday, we can’t ignore that the Broncos secured two very strong victories in MW play over the last week: A seven-point win at home against then-No. 17-ranked Colorado Sste followed by an eight-point road win against Nevada, handing the Pack their first home loss of the season after Boise out-rebounded Nevada by 19.
“It took everything we had,” Rice said after downing Nevada last week, according to B.J. Rains of Bronco Nation News. “Not a lot of teams are going to win here. It was deafening. These guys couldn’t hear a thing I was saying. But we responded. What a great game and what a great win for our guys.
“I’m just really proud of our guys, to come in here and out-rebound them like we did. That took a lot of grit and toughness. … We’re doing a good job defensively and we’re just getting better every time out as a team.”
Boise State’s record mere weeks ago might’ve been deceiving, and while questions still persist in the backcourt, its non-conference made this core one of the most battle-tested groups in the conference.
It owns arguably the conference’s top newcomer in O’Mar Stanley, a punishing presence in the frontcourt in Tyson Degenhert, a lengthy multi-dimensional wing in Chibuzo Agbo, a point-of-attack hound in Roddie Anderson plus a marksman in Max Rice, Leon’s son, who is having a down year in that department.
This conference is also very fragile on a night-to-night basis. Anybody can beat anybody—just like UNLV (who’s been a roller coaster) did to Boise inside ExtraMile Arena this week. That’s not the lone example, nor will it be the last. My point is: Don’t think Boise State—whose next eight games include six Quad 1 foes—can’t become a potential contender for a Mountain West title, even if they haven’t been lumped with the top of the MW for the majority of the season.