LOGAN — The good news for the Utah State men's basketball team is that it gets to open Mountain West Conference play on its home court against Boise State Wednesday night.
Or is that bad news?
While the Aggies (6-5) are 2-0 in road games this season, USU is a rather pedestrian 4-2 at the Spectrum, including the program's first home loss to Weber State since 1993. Meanwhile, the Broncos (7-4) come in having won two straight games in the Spectrum under head coach Leon Rice after going winless in their first 19 trips to Cache Valley.
“It has been a really unique series that way," USU head coach Tim Duryea said. "If you look at the last four or five years that we’ve gone to Boise, we’ve led those games 80 percent of the time and have only won one. They have always come in here and played well. They have always competed well and they have been close games.
"The two games last year were frustrating for us because you never want to lose on your home court. And then going to their court and playing as well as we did for as long as we did and then lose, was also frustrating. It has been a unique series and a very competitive one.”
Heading into conference play, Boise State is tied for fifth place in the Mountain West with San Jose State. Nevada (11-2) and the surprising Wyoming Cowboys (10-3) sit on top of the league standings, just ahead of Fresno State (8-4) and San Diego State (8-4).
Colorado State (8-5) and New Mexico (7-5) are in seventh and eighth place, followed by Utah State, Air Force (7-6) and UNLV (7-6).
Coming into the season, the Aztecs and Wolf Pack were slated to finish first and second in the standings, while the Cowboys, playing under a new coach (Allen Edwards) and without 2016 Mountain West Player of the Year Josh Adams, were picked to finish in 10th place.
"It is a wide-open league," Duryea declared. "Overall, I think teams are playing smaller. San Diego State is playing smaller inside at the five. Colorado State is playing a little smaller. Wyoming plays a perimeter-orientated game. Overall, teams are playing smaller and playing a little more athletic and a little more versatile offensively. Air Force is playing a little faster and pushing the pace a little bit more. They are still playing their Princeton system, but have tried to up the tempo in scoring points.
“That is the mentality in college basketball right now. With the shot clock down, possessions are up and teams are taking the mentality of getting to 80 every night."
Led by 6-foot-7 junior Chandler Hutchison,Jr., who is third in the conference in scoring (17.5 ppg) and fourth in rebounding (8.5 rpg), the Broncos are currently averaging 74.1 ppg. Sophomore guard Paris Austin (10.8 ppg) and senior forward Nick Duncan (10.2 ppg, 26 3-pointers) are also averaging double figures in scoring for Boise State, which led nearly the entire game at Oregon on Nov. 28 before falling to the then-No. 23 Ducks, 68-63.
“Boise is a typical Boise State team in terms of being very skilled," Duryea said. "They have a good group that shoots the ball from the perimeter and are dangerous from the 3-point line at four spots. The guy that is really the wild card and effects your defensive game plan is Nick Duncan. It feels like he has been there for eight years.
"He is an unusual player to prepare for because he is a big guy that shoots the ball well from the perimeter and is unique to defend. He makes everyone better, not in making plays like a good-passing point guard would, but in terms of how you have to guard him opens up a lot of space for guys like Chandler Hutchinson and Paris Austin. They are the beneficiaries of the space created by the way you have to guard Nick Duncan."