First place on the line for Pack |

First place on the line for Pack

Darrell Moody

First place in the Mountain West Conference will be at stake today when Nevada (16-4, 5-2) visits Boise State (12-6, 5-2).

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. (CBS Network/ESPN Radio 94.3) at Taco Bell Arena.

Nevada is coming off a rare home loss, 81-76, to Fresno State. The loss dropped Nevada into a first-place tie with the Broncos, who are coming off a road win at San Jose State.

In the Eric Musselman era, Nevada has never lost two straight games

Musselman & Co. are expecting a tough game from the Broncos, who are led by Chandler Hutchison, Paris Austin and Nick Duncan.

“Obviously they do a lot well to have the record they have,” Musselman said prior to Monday’s practice. “Point guard Paris Austin gets to the basket, Nick Duncan has one of the highest basketball IQs in the Mountain West and Chandler Hutchison is playing at an MVP-type level.

“They are a well coached team. Leon (Rice) has done a good job there. It’s a hard place to win since he took over. We are in the most difficult part of our schedule with Fresno State, Boise and New Mexico. Three of our toughest games in a row back-to-back-to-back. We are going to have to play as well as we’ve played all season to win at Boise.”

Boise State coach Leon Rice also has been impressed by Nevada thus far.

“They are a really talented team,” Rice said. “I’ve seen some great things out of those guys. They are athletic and strong. They have an entertaining product. It should be a great college basketball game.

“I told the team they have put themselves in position (for a game like this) in January, and nobody gave them a chance.”

Mainly because the Broncos had seven newcomers in 2016-17. That’s a lot of new faces to mesh together.

The 6-7 Hutchison is averaging 17.6 points a contest, while Duncan is at 10.1 and Austin at 10.4.

“With young players, it’s opportunity and confidence,” Musselman said. “He (Hutchison) has great length. It’s not a surprise. Last year you saw glimpses when he got opportunities. He can really score in transition.”

Four of Nevada starters average in double figures led by redshirt senior Marcus Marshall, who averages 21.7 a contest, and is a deadly shooter from beyond the arc.

“He can score,” Rice said. “He is a natural scorer. He can take a shot and you think it’s too tough, and he makes it. Great shooters make the tough shots.

“They have the type of offense where you can do everything right and they make the shot.”

Nevada senior D.J. Fenner is impressed with Hutchison and Duncan, but he believes that rebounding will be the key to victory.

Nevada has been beaten by both Air Force and Fresno State in the rebounding department. What stands out is the lack of offensive rebounding.

“Everybody has to step up,” Fenner said. “Cam and Jordan can’t do it by themselves. We all have to help out.”

“Look at our rebounding numbers and they are pretty good,” Musselman said. “We give up the least amount of offensive rebounds. We have to rebound for a full 40 minutes; not just rebound for a half.”