Last season, Boise State guard Mikey Thompson had to rely on his teammates for a taste of what life was like on the road in the Mountain West.
Thompson, a redshirt freshman, will get his first in-person look Wednesday when the Broncos (12-2) visit Wyoming (13-0) in the league opener. The game starts at 8 p.m. on Root and KBOI (670 AM).
They told me the pressure level, plus the fans, it gets crazier, Thompson said. They just want me to stay poised.
Thats good advice for the entire basketball team, which was picked to finish eighth in the nine-team Mountain West but has become an NCAA Tournament contender with successful nonconference play.
Boise State, which has won six straight, set a school record for nonconference wins in a season. Victories figure to be harder to find in conference play.
The Mountain West has never been better. The league, which finished fifth in the RPI league power rankings each of the past two seasons, is third this season.
Could a team get red-hot and win close game after close game? Absolutely. Could it be where we beat up one another and have four or five losses win the league? Absolutely, San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. I know you better find ways to win close games, home or away.
Eight league teams have winning records and four are ranked, including Wyoming (No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll). Preseason favorite San Diego State is No. 16 in the AP.
Its the places you have to play. ... The first one we play at is 7,000 feet and one of the toughest places to play in the country, Boise State coach Leon Rice said.
BOISE STATE VISITS UNDEFEATED WYOMING
The Broncos first task in their Mountain West opener has nothing to do with making baskets or defending the perimeter. They must not let Wyomings deliberate offensive style and tough defense get under their skins.
They frustrate so many teams they play. Thats what they did to us last year. They completely frustrated us. At Wyoming, we were down two with the ball and it felt like we were miles and miles behind them, Rice said. You probably never use the word comfortable when playing them. We just have to be able to be tough enough to battle through it.
Wyoming won both meetings last season, including 64-54 in Laramie.
The Cowboys have seven new players, but coach Larry Shyatt has gotten them to execute their style perfectly. Wyoming is 13-0 behind senior Leonard Washington (15.1 points, 8.8 rebounds).
It will be a battle of styles. Boise State is No. 1 in the Mountain West in scoring offense (79.1 points per game). Wyoming is the No. 1 scoring defense (54.6 ppg).
Its not going to be 90-85. We prefer that, but its not going to be like that, Rice said.
The Broncos (12-2) have impressed Shyatt with their ability to spread the ball around and their understanding of offense and defense.
Not only do they play to a high intellect, but theyre very unselfish, Shyatt said. Those are two commodities that are rarely talked about.
FIVE KEYS FOR BOISE STATE
Avoid foul trouble: The Broncos arent particularly deep and can ill afford serious foul trouble. Guard Derrick Marks, in particular, must stay away from cheap fouls. He has 40 personal fouls this season. At Texas-Arlington, a game Rice equated to a Mountain West road game, the Broncos were in horrible foul trouble. They cant make that a regular occurrence.
Develop depth: Guard Mikey Thompson and center Kenny Buckner have been consistent contributors off the bench, giving the Broncos a solid seven-man rotation. Wing Thomas Bropleh has shown flashes, including 14 points against Walla Walla. Consistent efforts from Bropleh and, perhaps, a bit more from guard Joe Hanstad will help. We need those guys that are eight, nine, 10 to keep improving so we can get them in more, Rice said. Through the course of the league barring any injuries, youd like to expand your bench a little bit and youre probably going to need to.
Rebounding: It has been a focus since the start of practice for Boise State, which usually plays with four guards or wings and one big man. Center Ryan Watkins has been terrific (7.2 rebounds per game), but rebounding must be a team effort particularly against bigger teams.
Stay hot from 3: Boise State is 10th in the nation in 3-point percentage at 41.3 percent. Jeff Elorriaga is eighth individually at 48.4 percent. Anthony Drmic is 45th in the country at 41.9 percent. With the size of our team, its got to be an equalizer, Rice said.
Keep cool: Boise State has 10 freshmen and sophomores on the roster. It wont be easy to pull out games on the road (or at home) in the Mountain West. Most games will be decided in the final minutes. In this league its going to come down to who can get stops down the stretch, Rice said. Theres probably a lot of teams ahead of us in that right now.
FIVE MOUNTAIN WEST PLAYERS TO WATCH
Anthony Bennett, UNLV: The preseason pick for Freshman of the Year is now the favorite for Player of the Year. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward from Canada played for Idaho Stampede coach Michael Peck at Findlay College Prep in Nevada. He is averaging a league-best 19.9 points per game and is third in rebounds at 9.1 per game. Bennett has scored in double figures in each of the Rebels 15 games this season as star Mike Moser has been battling an elbow injury.
Leonard Washington, Wyoming: The 6-7, 235-pound senior was a second-team All-MW pick last year. He is playing even better this season, averaging 15.1 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State: Dont count the reigning conference Player of the Year out for a repeat. Franklin is averaging 17.2 points (third in the league) and 9.9 rebounds (second) for the 12-2 Aztecs, whose losses came to then-No. 9 Syracuse and then-No. 3 Arizona.
Derrick Marks, Boise State: The sophomore is fifth in the league in scoring (16.3 points) and fourth in assists (4.0). And hes developed a reputation for delivering when it matters most. He really is a true gamer, Rice said. The bigger the moment, the better he is.
Michael Lyons, Air Force: The 6-5 senior has upped his scoring percentage each season for the Falcons. Hes averaging 19.6 points per game, up from 15.6 last year. Air Force (8-4) was picked last in the league, but Lyons & Co. look tougher than that.
HOME SWEET HOME
Mountain West teams are 66-7 at home this season. Without Fresno State (3-3 at home), the remaining eight teams are 63-4 and none have more than one home loss. Boise State (7-0) is one of four Mountain West teams without a home defeat.
Its going to be hard enough to win home games, much less go on the road and win at altitude, UNLV coach Dave Rice said.
BOISE STATE WOMEN HOST WYOMING TONIGHT
The Broncos open Mountain West play at Taco Bell Arena. Tip-off is 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on KTIK (1350 AM).
Boise State (7-6) has alternated wins and losses in seven games since Dec. 1. The team beat the College of Idaho 61-47 in its last game on Jan. 2.
Lauren Lenhardt leads the Broncos in scoring (14.4 points) and rebounds (7.7).
Boise State was picked to finish seventh in the nine-team Mountain West in the preseason poll. Wyoming (11-2) was picked to finish fourth.
The Cowgirls have won three straight games and are led by forward Chaundra Sewell (14.9 points, league-best 10.3 rebounds).
Brian Murphy: 377-6444,Twitter: @MurphsTurph