There’s more on the line than first place in the Mountain West when Nevada comes to Taco Bell Arena on Wednesday night.
The Boise State basketball team (12-6, 5-2) and the Wolf Pack (16-4, 5-2) are tied atop the standings. Both teams feature leading candidates for Mountain West Player of the Year in Boise State junior guard Chandler Hutchison and Nevada senior guard Marcus Marshall.
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“If you’re a competitor, you always want to play against the best players,” Hutchison said. “That’s just more motivation to me to want to work hard and go out there and play my best.”
Here’s the MVP case for each player heading into one of the Broncos’ biggest home games of the season (8 p.m., CBS Sports Network):
CASE FOR MARSHALL
▪ Leading scorer: Marshall, a transfer from Missouri State, averages a conference-best 21.7 points per game, more than 3 better than Elijah Brown of New Mexico. He is also efficient: Marshall has the seventh best shooting percentage in the conference (44.3 percent) despite taking the most field goal attempts per game (14.8).
“Those great scorers, you’ll be watching them, like with (former Boise State player) Derrick (Marks). Sometimes you take those shots and you’re like, ‘Oh that’s too tough,’ and he’ll make it,” Boise State head coach Leon Rice said. “They can make the tough ones that nobody else can.”
▪ Played well in big games: Against No. 17 Saint Mary’s and Washington, Marshall scored 25 and 32 points, respectively. He hit the game-winner against the Huskies, leading the Wolf Pack to an 87-85 road win. In his team’s four losses, Marshall is averaging 24.3 points.
▪ Team success: The Wolf Pack, by almost every metric, are the best team in the Mountain West. In addition to win-loss record, Nevada also boasts standouts in forward Cameron Oliver and guard Jordan Caroline. Oliver averages 14.3 points and 7.6 rebounds and blocks a conference-best 2.9 shots per game. Caroline notched the best scoring performance of any Mountain West player this year, a 45-point outburst in an overtime win at New Mexico. The Wolf Pack have four players who average 13 points or better per game.
CASE FOR HUTCHISON
▪ Best all-around game: Hutchison averages 17.6 points, which ranks fifth in conference, but he also averages 8.9 rebounds (third in the MW). Hutchison is the only player in the league who ranks in the top five in scoring and rebounding. He’s shooting 52 percent from the field, which ranks third.
In addition to carrying the load on offense, Hutchison carries a lot of responsibility on defense. Because of his height (6-foot-7) and wingspan, Hutchison is difficult to shoot over and can guard nearly every position.
▪ Less supporting cast: Boise State has a lot of good players, including senior Nick Duncan, freshman Justinian Jessup and sophomore Paris Austin. With no offense to them, they are not equal to Nevada’s depth. Duncan and Austin average double-digits in scoring, but the two have combined for 15 games in which they scored in single digits.
Hutchison has been the focus of defenses for the majority of the season and still produces, scoring single-digits just once, a 68-63 loss at Oregon. Though Marshall has reached double-digits in every game, he has the luxury of not always being the focus.
▪ Most important: Hutchison, bar none, is the most important player in the Mountain West. He has played well all season, and Boise State has won games because of it. In six losses, Hutchison averages 15.3 points a game. Marshall can play poorly and still win games; Hutchison cannot. If this was a “Most Valuable Player” award, Hutchison would win in a landslide.
Michael Katz: 208-377-6444
Boise State (12-6, 5-2 MW) vs. Nevada (16-4, 5-2)
- When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
- Where: Taco Bell Arena (12,480), Boise
- TV: CBS Sports Network (Cable One 139/1139, DirecTV 221, Dish 158)
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM (Bob Behler and Abe Jackson). Fans can also listen to the game at BroncoSports.com.
- Tickets: Prices start at $10 (adults), $9 (seniors) and $8 (juniors) and are available at the Taco Bell Arena box office and broncosports.com.
- NCAA trophy in Boise: The 2017 NCAA men’s basketball national championship trophy will be at Taco Bell Arena on Wednesday night. Fans can take pictures with the trophy, which will be located at the Fan Zone on the concourse behind section 12.
BSU women: The Broncos (14-4, 4-3) play at Nevada (7-11, 1-6) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (1350 AM, MW Network).