Because of its recent four-game losing streak, the Utah men's basketball team's chances of playing in the NIT — assuming the Utes don't win the Mountain West Conference tournament and get an NCAA berth — are looking dim.

The Utes (16-12) seemed like a lock for the NIT this year when they were 15-8, but they may not be looked upon so favorably by the NIT committee with 13 or 14 losses.

However, don't fear Ute fans, there's always the CBI.

The CBI?

It's the latest postseason college basketball tournament, put on by the same group that produces several preseason tournaments, including the Coaches vs. Cancer and Legends Classic.

It's called the College Basketball Invitational.

The new event will feature 16 teams not playing in the 2008 NCAA tournament or the NIT. It means 113 of the 341 Division I teams will be playing in a postseason event, and the winner can proclaim "We're No. 98!"

Actually, the CBI, which is not associated with the NCAA as the NIT is, will compete with the NIT for teams that don't make that tournament.

Games will be played at campus sites of the higher-seeded team on March 18 or 19. A 16-team bracket in four regions of the country will lead to a three-game playoff between the top two teams in early April.

With a win Saturday and a win or two in the MWC tourney, the Utes could still make the NIT.

Utah coach Jim Boylen said he would be happy for his team to play in the CBI, and athletic director Chris Hill said he would be happy for his team to play some extra games.

"I think it would good for our team," he said.

The CBI Web site made a mock bracket of winning teams that were left out of both the NCAA and NIT. It included the likes of UConn, LSU, Oklahoma, Washington, California, Missouri and Hawaii.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Utes may not know until Saturday night what their fate is for the upcoming Mountain West Conference tournament.

We put all of the possibilities on our Web blog, but in short, the Utes need to root for BYU and San Diego State to win Saturday.

The Utes can guarantee themselves the No. 5 spot with a win over UNLV Saturday, but if they lose, they need TCU to lose at home to BYU and Air Force to lose to San Diego State at home.

If both TCU and Air Force win, the Utes will be stuck with a first-round game against UNLV as the No. 7 seed if they don't beat the Rebels on Saturday afternoon.

BOYLEN'S GUYS: Earlier this year, after scoring a measly 20 points in a 29-point loss to George Washington, former Utah coach Rick Majerus referred to his players at Saint Louis as stepchildren, saying, "I didn't pick them, they didn't pick me."

Utah's Boylen is another first-year coach who inherited a team with none of his own recruits. But he's not going to blame them for any lack of success this year.

"People are trying to separate me from them," he said. "That ain't happening. You're never going to hear me push people below the water to raise myself up. These are my guys. This is my team. I like my team. I like my guys. I'm proud they're here."

Boylen made the comments at his weekly press conference, apparently in response to some folks who have said he's burdened by having to use Ray Giacoletti's recruits.

"We have improved in a lot of areas, on and off the floor," Boylen continued. "So I don't want (people saying) 'They're not your guys.' These are my guys. I said it from day one, these are my guys."

UTE NOTES: Saturday's game will be at 2 p.m. MST and will be televised on Versus Network. ... Luke Nevill and Johnnie Bryant both passed Kelvin Upshaw on the all-time Utah scoring list earlier this week against Colorado State. Nevill now has 1,236 career points, while Bryant has 1,232 points. Depending on how many more games Utah plays, both could surpass No. 20 Alex Jensen at 1,279. ... The Utes are still ranked high in all three shooting categories in the latest NCAA statistics — 13th in 3-point percentage (40.8), and 22nd in both field goal percentage (48.0) and free throw percentage (74.8).


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