SCOTT SLANT: To the ‘Lower Left’ in the NIT

Presented by GREENWOOD’S SKI HAUS.
Monday, March 15, 2021.

Can Boise State pull itself back together for a game against SMU in the NIT Thursday night? Maybe the more important question is: can the Broncos set aside the disappointment of playing its way out of the NCAA Tournament and get genuinely fired up for a consolation event? This is kind of like lower-level bowl games—more often that not, the team that really wants to be there wins. Boise State goes into this a bit discombobulated with its four-game losing streak. SMU is a team hungry for competition after finishing the season 11-5 and having 11 games postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19. The Mustangs have played all of one game the past five weeks. A good chunk of Bronco Nation has cashed in its chips on the 2020-21 season. It up to the Broncos themselves to prove they have not.

The entire 16-team NIT will be playing in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex this year. SMU will be just 23 miles from its campus on Thursday—in Frisco, TX. The Broncos are a No. 2 seed in the “Lower Left” bracket; under normal circumstances, they’d be hosting No. 3 seed SMU. Plus, Boise State will be without not only Abu Kigab due to a torn labrum, but also Max Rice, who apparently boke a bone in his foot against Nevada last Thursday. The deck is stacked against them. There is some recent history here. The Broncos have played the Mustangs twice in the past five years, winning 71-62 in Boise in 2016-17 and getting blown out 86-63 in 2017-18 in Dallas.

MOUNTAIN WEST: A 2½-BID LEAGUE

San Diego State, which won the Mountain West Tournament Saturday 68-57 over Utah State, got a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will face Syracuse in the first round. The Aggies got an invite, too, and they weren’t even one of the last four in. USU landed a No. 11 seed and was able to bypass a First Four game, facing Texas Tech on Friday. The Mountain West got what you might call another “half-seed,” with Colorado State one of four teams placed on “standby” for the NCAAs. The Rams were one of the first four out, but are second in line to get a tournament berth if teams are unable to compete due to the coronavirus. Otherwise, CSU will be the No. 1 seed in the “Upper Left” bracket of the NIT and will take on Buffalo.

NNU: A DIVISION II CINDERELLA

Northwest Nazarene traveled to Golden, CO, over the weekend and came away with their first two NCAA Division II Tournament wins in school history. It was amazing. The first one came against a team that had beaten the Nighthawks by 30 points in January, as Point Loma was bested 85-73. Then NNU shocked the nation’s No. 1 Division II team, Colorado Mesa. The Nighthawks not only shocked the Mavericks, but annihilated them 74-54. Ezekiel Alley scored 20 points in the first game and 30 in the second one. NNU now faces host Colorado School of Mines tonight in the Sweet 16.

BIG SKY WRAP

Eastern Washington opened the Big Sky championship game on a 20-3 run Saturday night, and it was too much for Montana State to overcome. The Eagles won their first conference title since 2015, beating the Bobcats 65-55 in Idaho Central Arena. Former Borah High star Ellis Magnuson played six minutes and went scoreless for EWU, but he and his teammates are off to the NCAA Tournament, where they’ll face third-seeded Kansas on Saturday. On the Big Sky women’s side, Idaho State routed Idaho 84-49 Friday. The Bengals will learn their NCAA Tournament itinerary tonight.

THE PASSION IS REAL

Two months and two days after Andy Avalos was introduced as Boise State’s head coach, he took the field for his first spring practice on a beautiful Friday afternoon on the blue turf. Since he was hired, players have been going nuts (in a very good way) on social media about the energy surrounding the team and the program. We found out Friday that there’s something to it. Khalil Shakir may be “limited” at the outset of spring football, but his mouth certainly wasn’t as he delivered a fiery pre-practice speech. Shakir was followed by fellow captain Riley Whimpey, who was also in rare form. And with a loud, extended whoop, the Broncos began their drills. They hit the field with practice No. 2 this morning.

YOTES PICK UP WHERE THEY LEFT OFF

College of Idaho waited 15½ months to capitalize on its season for the ages. When the Coyotes finally took the field again for the spring season opener Saturday, a cast mixing old with new handed Montana State-Northern a 26-12 defeat at Simplot Stadium. Senior Nick Calzaretta, the running back mainstay, rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns, while new starting quarterback Jacob Holcomb threw for 231 yards and a TD. Defensively, C of I shut out the Lights through three quarters, forced four turnovers and logged five sacks. Calzaretta’s younger brother, Joe, was one of the newbies and led the Yotes with 12 tackles.

OLYMPIC SPORTS ITEMS

Boise State had a banner weekend in its Olympic sports. Among the highlights was the 18th-ranked women’s gymnastics team upsetting 10th-ranked Arizona State in ExtraMile Arena Friday night. The Broncos overcame a .325-point deficit in the final rotation, posting one of the top 10 floor exercise scores in school history to capture the victory, their fourth against the Pac-12 this season. Also, Boise State men’s tennis blanked San Diego State 4-0 Saturday. It was the Broncos’ first road win over the Aztecs in 10 years. Today, the Boise State women, ranked 10th in the country, compete in the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships today in Stillwater, OK.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by COMMERCIAL TIRE…keeping you and your family on the road.

March 15, 2001, 20 years ago today: One of Boise’s finest sports day ever, as the Pavilion hosts the closest first round bracket in the history of the NCAA Tournament. First, Georgia State upsets Wisconsin by one…then Maryland holds off George Mason by three…then Georgetown beats Arkansas by two at the buzzer. But the last game was one for March Madness lore. Hampton became only the fourth No. 15 seed to ever upset a No. 2, bringing the house down by rallying for a 59-58 upset of Iowa State and former Idaho coach Larry Eustachy.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

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