Boise State coach Leon Rice was hoping for the best and secretly dreading the worst when he gathered his team to watch the NCAA tournament selection show.

The Broncos went 21-10 in the regular season, but lost in the first round of the Mountain West Conference tournament. For a team that doesn't play in one of the so-called power conferences, that usually means curtains on any NCAA tournament hopes.

"You almost feel like a parent," Rice said in a phone interview on Sunday night. "You don't want the kids to get their hearts broken. When our name popped up, it was just the greatest feeling."

Boise State earned its first at-large bid in school history on Sunday and will play fellow at-large small fry La Salle in the first round on Wednesday.

After years of getting pushed aside by the higher profile schools in the six conferences that make up the core of football's BCS, the little guys are starting to get some big respect in the NCAA tournament. For the second straight year, the selection committee chose 11 teams from outside the big six conferences, the highest number since 12 were chosen in 2004.

Some worried when the tournament expanded to 68 teams in 2011 that it would just mean a few more mediocre teams from the power leagues would get chosen over smaller schools that did not win their conference tournaments.

Those fears have been unfounded the last two years.

"It's a reflection on how the landscape of college basketball has changed so much," Rice said. "We're breaking down the old stereotypes that you have to be in a BCS league to have a great basketball program. That's just not the case."

The budding trend was most noticeable with the last four teams chosen for the field on Sunday. The committee chose La Salle, Boise State, St. Mary's and Middle Tennessee State over the likes of Tennessee, Kentucky and Iowa, all 20-win teams from bigger conferences.

"For us to have our commitment at La Salle rewarded and to be in this tournament is a big deal," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "Think about some of the names that are not in this tournament and it shows just how hard it is to get there."

Let's face it, they've earned it. Butler, which is a No. 6 seed in the East this year, played in two straight championship games. VCU and George Mason have made the Final Four and Gonzaga has been anything but a mid-major come tournament time with 15 straight tourney appearances and five Sweet 16s since 1999.

The respect was also shown in the seeding of teams big and small. Virginia Commonwealth lost in the Atlantic-10 tournament championship to St. Louis, but still earned a No. 5 seed, probably thanks in large part to its performance in the tournament in recent years under Shaka Smart.

Middle Tennessee will play St. Mary's in the first round on Tuesday, with the winner being seeded 11th in the Midwest region.

"Having that much respect to get an 11 seed at-large, it kind of shows where our program has gotten to," Blue Raiders coach Kermit Davis said.

St. Louis parlayed that win over VCU into a No. 4 seed in the Midwest, while bigger schools from bigger conferences saw their seeding plummet. Oregon won the Pac-12 tournament, yet only received a No. 12 seed in the Midwest. Mississippi ran the table to win the SEC tournament but is seeded 12th in the West and Miami settled for a No. 2 seed, making the Hurricanes the first ACC team to miss out on a top seed after winning the regular season and tournament titles.

Finally a little guy – albeit the biggest of them – got the top slot. Miami was denied because Gonzaga got the ultimate sign of respect – a No. 1 seed in the West region.

"You've got to savor this being a No. 1 seed, being No. 1 in the nation," Zags forward Mike Hart said. "You have to realize how special that is. To do it here at Gonzaga, a storied program that has done a lot of things, but those are two things it hasn't done, you definitely savor it and cherish it but at the same time you have to have that forward mentality looking forward to that next game and understand that you're only in this position because of how you've played in games."

___

AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle and freelancer Dave Zeitlin in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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  • 1992: Duke vs. Kentucky - Elite 8

    With just 2.1 seconds left, Duke's Grant Hill heaved a pass down to Christian Laettner, who was all the way at the free throw line. Laettner caught it, stepped back and swished a fade away jumper to beat Kentucky as the Blue Devils advanced to the Final four.

  • 1983: N.C. State vs. Houston - National Championship

    Tied at 52, Lornezo Charles put back Derrick Whittenburg's air ball and dunked it as time expired to give N.C State a 74-72 victory over Houston in the 1983 National Championship game.

  • 1998: Valparaiso vs. Ole Miss - 1st Round

    In the first round, No. 14 seed Valparaiso's Bryce Drew nailed a 3-pointer as time expired, giving the Rebels a 70-69 victory over Ole Miss.

  • 2003: Maryland vs. UNCW - 1st Round

    Down 73-72 with five seconds left in regulation, Maryland's Drew Nicholas dribbled down the court and nailed a desperation 3-pointer to put away UNCW in the first round, 75-73.

  • 1995: Missouri vs. UCLA - 2nd Round

    Down 74-73 in the second round of the 1995 NCAA tournament, Tyus Edney of UCLA drove the ball the full length of the court and made a tough layup, leading the Bruins past Missouri and into the Sweet 16.

  • 1998: UCONN vs. Washington - Sweet 16

    Down 74-73 in the Sweet 16, Rip Hamilton of Connecticut grabbed the loose ball and hit a fade away jumper at the buzzer to beat Washington 75-74.

  • 2006: Texas vs. West Virginia - Sweet 16

    After West Virginia tied the game at 71 with five seconds remaining, Texas' Kenton Paulino knocked down a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Mountaineers 74-71.

  • 1981: Arkansas vs. Louisville - 2nd Round

    In the second round of the 1981 NCAA tournament, U.S Reed nailed a half court shot at the buzzer, giving Arkansas the victory over the defending champs Louisville.

  • 1990: UCONN vs. Clemson - Sweet 16

    Down 70-69 to Clemson with just one second on the clock, Connecticut's Tate George caught a full court pass, turned around and made a short jumper as time expired and Uconn won 71-70.

  • 1992: Georgia Tech vs. USC - 2nd Round

    James Forrest of Georgia Tech <a href="http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2004/03/21/gat_409468.shtml" target="_blank">hadn't made a 3-pointer all season. </a>With one second showing on the clock, Forrest received the inbound pass and threw up a 3-pointer. It fell right in, giving the Yellow Jackets a 79-78 victory over USC.

  • 2010: Michigan State vs. Maryland - 2nd Round

    After Greivis Vasquez and the Terps rallied to take a one-point lead with 6.6 seconds remaining, Korie Lucious nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send Michigan State into the Sweet 16.

  • 2010: Murray State vs. Vanderbilt - 1st Round

    Trailing by one point with 4.2 seconds left, Murray State's Danero Thomas received a pass at the top of the key and took one dribble to his right. Then he stopped, took a fadeaway jumper and nailed a game-winning buzzer beater to upset Vanderbilt.

  • 1984: VCU vs. Northeastern - 1st Round

    With his team trailing Jim Calhoun's Northeastern squad 69-68 with two seconds remaining, VCU's Rolando Lamb received the inbounds pass just inside the 3-point line. Lamb then turned around and threw up a quick shot and made it at the buzzer. The No. 6 Rams avoided the upset.

  • 1986: Iowa State vs. Miami (OH) - 1st Round

    With just two seconds remaining and the score tied at 79, Iowa State's Jeff Hornacek received the inbounds pass just beyond the 3-point line. He took one dribble, turned and nailed a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.

  • 2011: Butler vs. ODU - 1st Round

    Butler's Matt Howard was in the right place at the right time after a desperation shot missed in the final seconds. Howard was there for the rebound and quick put-back just as time expired, giving the No. 8 Bulldogs a 60-58 win.

  • 1990: UNC vs. Oklahoma - 2nd Round

    No. 8 UNC inbounded the ball underneath the Oklahoma basket with eight seconds remaining and the score tied at 77. Rick Fox got the ball on the right wing, drove the baseline and made a running layup as time expired to knock off the No. 1 Sooners.

  • 2008: Western Kentucky vs. Drake - 2nd Round

    Trailing by one point with time winding down, No. 12 Western Kentucky's Ty Rogers got the ball well behind the 3-point line on the right wing. He hoisted a desperation 3-pointer and hit nothing but net, ending No. 5 Drake's season.

  • 1977: Marquette vs. UNC Charlotte - Final Four

    Marquette had to inbound the ball from under its own basket and score in three seconds to avoid overtime. Butch Lee launched a pass toward Jerome Whitehead all the way in the far paint. Whitehead recovered the deflected ball, turned around and made a layup at the buzzer to send Marquette into the championship game.

  • 2000: Florida vs. Butler - 1st Round

    Trailing by one with seven seconds remaining, Mike Miller of the No. 5 Florida Gators got the ball on the left wing. He dribbled to his right and through the lane, throwing up a running layup. It fell through the net as time expired, sending Florida to the second round.