BOISE — Gordy Presnell did all he could to strengthen Boise State’s nonconference schedule in hopes of putting the Broncos in position to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament next month.

There wasn’t anything he could do about the poor teams in the Mountain West.

Despite sporting a 21-3 record, Boise State’s current RPI is No. 53, which means the Broncos don’t have a strong chance of making it to the NCAA Tournament if they don’t win the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas in March.

“I believe we have to win the tournament, there’s no question,” Presnell said Wednesday.

One of Boise State’s losses came to No. 5 Louisville, which currently sits at 23-2. Another was a road game at Wyoming, which has a 16-5 record and is in third place in the league standings. The game holding them back was a surprising 95-71 loss at Washington State in December. The Cougars are 9-16 and are near the bottom of the Pac-12 standings.

Boise State has made the NCAA Tournament in three of the past four years by virture of winning the automatic bid of winning at the conference tournament. But they’ve been a 15 seed twice and a 16 seed once due to their poor RPI and had virtually no chance of winning their first-round game.

So Presnell beefed up Boise State’s nonconference schedule the best he could to try and help their RPI by hosting Louisville in Boise, playing road games against Washington and Washington State and neutral site games against Northern Iowa and Idaho.

But the Broncos have hovered in the mid-50s of the RPI the past month due to playing several bad teams in the Mountain West, and teams in the 50s likely don’t have much of a shot at earning a spot in the 64-team field due to the amount of automatic qualifiers from weaker conferences.

Seven of the 11 teams in the Mountain West have overall records below .500. That list includes San Jose State (2-21), Colorado State (8-15), Air Force (8-16), Nevada (8-15), San Diego State (10-13), Utah State (11-13) and UNLV (9-15).

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“I used to defend our league a little bit more, but we only have four teams above 200 (in the RPI),” Presnell said. “The second week of the conference season we were 40 RPI and we defeated San Jose State and Nevada and dropped 26 spots. The preseason schedule has to be good, but I don’t know (if it matters) if you do really well in the preseason but lose 26 spots by winning two games.

“Our whole league has to get better and the bottom has to get better for us to be a factor in getting two teams I believe.”

Boise State was projected as a No. 12 seed in the Spokane Regional in the ESPN Bracketology prediction earlier this week, but the Broncos were only in the field because they were currently winning the Mountain West. The Broncos don’t have the resume, according to most, to be considered for the tournament as an at-large bid because of the high number of bad teams they are beating up on in the league that has resulted in their sub-50 RPI.

Power five teams such as California (14-11, 5-9 Pac-12, No. 46 RPI) and Auburn (19-7, 7-6 SEC, No. 50 RPI) likely will get stronger consideration than the Broncos for the NCAA Tournament despite less-than-stellar conference records.

“I’m frustrated,” Presnell said. “There’s a lot of things you can say about the whole dynamic. In baseball the New York Yankees don’t play any more road games than the Milwaukee Brewers do but why in football and men’s and women’s basketball do the rich teams get all the home games and in our sport they get the home games in the first two rounds of the tournament. There’s a whole dynamic I don’t understand why it’s that way in college athletics.

“I think it’s the big conferences (that get the benefit of the doubt), but I’ll say this: we have some teams at the bottom of our conference that just have to get better. If they get better, instead of the second week of January we’re playing teams that are 11-2 and not 4-9 and it kills us even if we win.”

The reality of the situation leaves the Broncos in an almost unfair spot. Despite being 21-3 at this point and likely having a better record and a regular season conference championship, their entire season and hopes of making it to the Big Dance will come down to winning three games in Las Vegas.

“You have a lot of pressure down at the tournament,” Presnell said. “The whole intensity level goes up in those tournament games. All of a sudden everybody tries their hardest all the time and you have to perform. We’ve got that done in the past, but we still have a long way to go and obviously it starts on Saturday.”

Boise State (21-3, 12-1 MW) is back in action Saturday at 2 p.m. when it visits Utah State.

B.J Rains has covered Boise State athletics for the Idaho Press since 2013. He is an Associated Press Top 25 men's basketball poll voter, and also contributes to KBOI-TV as a Boise State insider.

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