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A day in the postseason life of the Mountain West

A day in the postseason life of the Mountain West

by Tom Scott

Bio | Follow: @thescottslant


Posted on March 16, 2012 at 7:15 AM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 5 at 4:43 PM

Friday, March 16, 2012.

Bubble teams that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament have to be grumbling today about the egg Colorado State laid in the first game of the day yesterday.  Did the Rams deserve to be there?  Things looked decent at halftime, when they led sixth-seeded Murray State by two points.  But CSU collapsed after the break, scoring only 17 points in a 58-41 drubbing at the hands of the Racers.  The Rams ended up with 22 turnovers.  You can hear Drexel grousing as we speak.

New Mexico had a better fate, albeit against a lesser opponent than 31-win Murray State.  Long Beach State gave the Lobos all they wanted before New Mexico survived, 72-65.  The evening ended with UNLV, whom many predicted would short-circuit in the postseason given its inconsistency during the regular season, facing Pac-12 champion Colorado.  The cold-shooting Rebels obliged, although they did stage a dramatic rally from a 20-point second-half deficit before losing to the Buffaloes, 68-64.

San Diego State, seeded sixth in the Midwest, has an interesting draw this morning in the second round, taking on North Carolina State, the last at-large team into the tournament.  The Wolfpack almost—and probably should have—knocked off North Carolina in the ACC Tournament.  But they’re 0-7 against teams in the Big Dance and have not been to the NCAA’s since 2006.  The Aztecs are really a reconstructed marvel this season, having to replace four starters from last year’s squad that won 34 games and made it to the Sweet Sixteen.  Their go-to guy is now Jamaal Franklin, the one who hit the off-balance three-pointer to beat Boise State in the Mountain West Tournament.  When you watch Franklin, Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames play, you’d never know they’re newcomers to the starting lineup.  It’s been a masterful coaching job by Steve Fisher.

You’d think this manufactured conference game in the postseason would be anticlimactic.  But Idaho guns for its first 20-win season in 19 years tomorrow night, and how symbolic it would be for coach Don Verlin if the Vandals get it.  Idaho travels to Logan to meet familiar WAC foe Utah State in the second round of the College Tournament.  The Aggies are eminently familiar to Verlin, who spent 14 years as an assistant under USU coach Stew Morrill (the first four at Colorado State) before being hired by Idaho.  They talk a lot about who really wants to be there in tournaments like this.  The Vandals are energized by this shot at 20 wins.  Utah State, accustomed to trips to the NCAA Tournament and NIT, is trying to reconcile this disappointing 18-15 season.

Boise State’s Chris Petersen spent a lot of time at his Tuesday press conference talking about the move of kickoffs up to the 35-yard line—and touchbacks coming out to the 25.  “We’re still researching that,” Petersen said.  “The stubborn part of the coaching staff says we’re just going to hang it up at the two and do what we’ve always done.”  But Petersen says the average field position after kickoffs is the 23-yard-line, so the Broncos have to consider having Trevor Harman knock it out of the end zone, start at the 25, and call it good.  The new rule also may have him encouraging Boise State kickoff returners, who have regularly brought the ball out from five yards deep in the end zone (and, in the case of Titus Young, deeper), to take a knee more often.

The Boise State coaching staff has been identifying leaders all through the winter, with the process intensifying now during spring football.  “We have a crew that we talk to on a regular basis,” said Petersen.  “There’s a lot of leadership training going on.”  Petersen says that core group includes more than just seniors, because the different classes on the team tend to stick together and need someone among them to steer the ship.  “We try to get a cross-section throughout the team,” he said.

The Idaho Steelheads, winners of four of their last five games, hope they have finally turned the corner as they return home tonight and tomorrow night against the Ontario Reign.  With eight games to play before the Kelly Cup Playoffs, Idaho is one point behind Utah for sixth place in the ECHL Western Conference and three points in back of fifth-place Stockton.  The Steelheads will be toiling without defenseman Andrei Plekhanov, who has left the team to return home to Russia.  Coach Hardy Sauter calls it a “family decision,” as Plekhanov has a wife and young child in Russia.  He played 36 games for the Steelies, scoring one goal and adding 12 assists.

The crew at CenturyLink Arena has one of those overnight basketball-to-hockey conversions finishing up this morning, with the Idaho Stampede having hosted the Texas Legends last night.  The Stampede fell to Texas 94-92, offsetting a team-leading 19 points and 11 rebounds from former Boise State star Reggie Larry.  The Stamps had rallied from an eight-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter to take a four-point lead with a minute remaining but couldn’t hold it.  With the loss, the Stamps are assured of a third straight losing season.

The new Sports Illustrated should be in most local mailboxes today.  And it doesn’t paint a particularly pretty picture of life in the D-League in its feature story on the Stampede’s Antoine Walker.  The intent of Chris Ballard’s piece seems to be magnifying how far off-course Walker’s career and life have careened, while simultaneously lampooning the D-League (and Boise, to a lesser extent).  Most enlightening as far as Walker’s future goes was Stampede coach Randy Livingston’s observation.  "I keep telling Toine that you need an exit strategy," Livingston said.  To be sure, though, Walker does not throw Boise under the bus in the story.

Other notes: there wasn’t much of a carryover yesterday from last week’s top10 finish at the Puerto Rico Open for Graham DeLaet.  The Boise State product carded a six-over 77 in the first round of the Transitions Championship in Pearl Harbor, FL, and can forget about making the cut today.  After a 25-game season-opening road swing, the Boise State softball team beat Minnesota 2-1 in its home opener yesterday at Mountain Cove Field.  It was part of the Broncos’ Spring Hill Invitational, which continues this weekend.  The Boise State men’s tennis team, 9-0 at home this season, hosts Arizona this afternoon at the Appleton Center.  And Bronco wrestlers Brian Owen and Jake Swartz remain alive at the NCAA Wrestling Championships in St. Louis.

Taking note of something very special about St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow—it’s the birthday of “the father of Bronco football.”  Lyle Smith, who built Boise Junior College into a powerhouse in the late 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s, is considered the man who inspired the Boise State program to grow into what it is today.  His career record at BJC was 156-26-6, with five undefeated seasons, a 37-game winning streak, 51 shutouts, and the school’s original national championship—in the JC ranks in 1958.  Lyle Smith…96 years old tomorrow.  And still sharp as a tack.

This Day In Sports…March 16, 1964:

Paul Hornung and Alex Karras are reinstated after a one-year suspension for betting on NFL games and associating with gamblers.  Hornung, the Green Bay Packers running back and 1961 league MVP, would later be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Karras, the Detroit Lions All-Pro defensive tackle, would go on to star in the movie “Blazing Saddles” and would spend three years as an analyst on Monday Night Football.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket.  He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)