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Nick Duncan, Boise State dart to the top of the MWC after SDSU win

Like their improbably sweet-shooting big man, the Broncos seem to be here to stay.

NCAA Basketball: San Diego State at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Boise State’s Nick Duncan drilled a three from about 30-feet midway through the second half against San Diego State.

The play itself looked improbable. A 6’8’’, 260 plus pound post man shooting from Curry-distance? That’s not a shot anyone would expect to go down.

But context is important. The senior has now made 215 career three’s after connecting on four against SDSU (37.5% on 534 attempts). So that particular long-distance bomb wasn’t improbable, and maybe the Broncos rise to the top of the MWC isn’t either.

Boise State wasn’t considered a factor after losing seniors James Webb, Anthony Drmic and Mikey Thompson from last year’s 20-12 team. The Broncos were picked fifth in the preseason poll, and got off to a 1-2 start.

That’s the recipe for becoming an after-thought.

But maybe we should’ve known better. The SDSU win pushed Leon Rice’s all-time home record to 83-17, and was the 77th of Duncan’s career. The early losses weren’t bad - non-home games against College of Charleston and Mississippi State - and the 11-4 Broncos still don’t have an ugly defeat.

Rice has also had new faces emerge alongside Duncan.

Junior wing Chandler Hutchison has exploded (18.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG) with expanded minutes, and sophomore point guard Paris Austin has grown into his role. Rice sees an identity emerging.

“I want them playing with passion and emotion. They’ve got a high, high level of caring and it shows up with the way Paris guards, it shows up with the way Chandler rebounds, it shows up with Nick and all the intangible things he does. I’ve told Nick that he’s best when he’s hitting his chest and playing with that kind of energy. That’s the way we want to play, that’s the way we have to play this game. That’s the group of guys we have. They all care about each other and they all care about this team.”

At 4-0, Boise State is the only team still unbeaten in MWC play. The 8-7 Aztecs are reeling and injured, but beating Steve Fisher’s program is always significant in this league.

“If we do make a statement, that’s cool,” said sophomore forward James Haney, who scored a career-high 19 points in the win. “But if it gets pushed under the rug, that doesn’t matter. We’re just trying to win every game, one by one. We’re not trying to get all the press or the media talking to us, we’re just trying to win games.”

The advanced stats also smile on Boise State. A balanced Broncos team has the second best adjusted defensive efficiency in the league (#77 overall) and third best offensive efficiency (#87 overall). They also have one of the MWC’s more impressive wins: a 71-62 home victory over SMU on Nov. 30.

Nevada, Colorado State (which nearly nipped the Broncos on the road) and San Diego State (which has had a brutal early schedule, by MWC standards) should all be in the mix.

But statement or not, it’s hard to consider Boise State anything other than the league front-runner after the early returns.