BOISE — Just about the only sure thing in the Mountain West is to expect the unexpected.
Boise State, picked second in the conferences preseason mens basketball poll, is 1-2 in league play, coming off a 52-50 home loss to Wyoming on Saturday.
The Broncos will have to find an end to their two-game losing streak on the road Tuesday at Nevada. Easier said than done the Wolf Pack, who went 3-13 in league play last year, are 4-0 this year after going 5-8 in nonconference play.
Weve got a day shorter, and were playing the hottest team in the conference, Boise State coach Leon Rice said. Its crazy, but thats the tough part of the Mountain West.
After opening league play Jan. 4 with an 86-79 win over Fresno State, the Broncos fell at then-No. 13 San Diego State 69-66 on Wednesday before the loss to Wyoming.
Only twice since 2006-07 has Boise State started 1-3 or worse in conference play 2009-10 in the WAC in Greg Grahams last season, and 2011-12 in the Broncos first Mountain West campaign.
Its a fine line, and we can flip it, Rice said.
On its path to the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team last season, Boise State began Mountain West play 1-2, then won one of its next three before closing the regular season with a 7-3 streak.
Each year, weve had to go through tough stretches like this. Most teams do. But its the ones that get better who are around later in March, Rice said.
The Broncos feel their improvement is a little less tangible than something like shooting better, though their 20.6 percent shooting from 3-point range during their back-to-back losses will need to improve. Senior Ryan Watkins said Saturday the close losses were something the team cant prepare for, but needs to go through.
Weve got great leadership, Rice said. Theyll get us in the right mindset, do a few things a bit differently, maybe finish a little better.
On the other side Tuesday, one of the best senior leaders in the conference awaits. Guard Deonte Burton, named Mountain West player of the week Monday, leads the league with 21.8 points per game. The Wolf Pack have shown marked improvement in January, giving up 58.3 points per game in Mountain West games after yielding 80.1 ppg in nonconference.
Junior A.J. West, a 6-foot-9 transfer, has made an immediate difference inside since becoming eligible in late December. He has 14 blocks in six games, and averages 9.8 ppg and a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game.
The new guy, hes certainly helped them, Rice said. It starts with Burton, who might be the best guard in the league right now. Theyve continued to get better, and are hot at the right time.
Thompson a game-time decision
Rice said sophomore Mikey Thompson, who has averaged 9.3 points a game off the bench this season, will be a game-time decision Tuesday with a right knee bruise. The Las Vegas native did not play Saturday against Wyoming.
It threw us for a loop, Rice said. Hes such a big part of what we do, we didnt have much time to adjust without him.
Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_Southorn