Before the season tipped off, if you would have told Wolf Pack diehards that the men’s basketball would be 8-8 in Mountain West Conference play and tied for fifth place with two games left in the season, I think you’d be hard pressed to find many complaints.

After all, this is a Wolf Pack team that was in the MWC cellar a year ago, having won only three games. After all, this was a Wolf Pack team that threw in the towel in 2013, leading to four players transferring elsewhere. After all, this was a Wolf Pack team predicted to finish ninth in the conference by preseason media polls.

However, a surprising 7-2 start to the season spoiled fans. The bar was raised after a hot start, and in the past seven games, Nevada has failed to clear that bar. Miserably.

Sunday’s 72-58 loss to No. 25 New Mexico epitomized the Wolf Pack’s up-and-down season. Nevada raced out to a stunning 14-point lead against the second-place Lobos in front of a rowdy “white-out” home crowd. New Mexico then proceeded to outscore Nevada 55-27 in the game’s final 24 minutes and 28 seconds.

After the game, head coach David Carter and company pinned the 28-point swing on energy — that’s been the Wolf Pack’s biggest bugaboo during its slump.

Sunday’s game was an oddity, though. It was a role reversal of sorts for Nevada. This time around, the Wolf Pack came out with guns blazing before fizzling down the stretch — opposite of the usual.

Few words are tossed around more by players and Carter in post-game conferences than “energy,” and no one seems to have an answer why Nevada can’t play a complete 40-minute game.

Last week, I blamed the lack of energy on leadership, but I stand corrected. Against New Mexico, I saw a leader. I saw Deonte Burton yelling at teammates throughout the game, trying at all costs to light a fire under one of them.

However, no one answered Burton’s call. Outside of the senior point guard, the team shot a combined 16-of-50 from the field and allowed the Lobos to shoot 49 percent the entire game.

But I have new reasoning for the Wolf Pack’s consistently inconsistent energy levels: Nevada plays to the level of its competition, which is both a curse and a blessing.

Against the Lobos, the Wolf Pack came out with a fire against a nationally-ranked foe with the dominant big-man duo of seven-footer Alex Kirk and conference-leading scorer Cameron Bairstow, alongside one of the best guards in the in West Coast, Kendall Williams.

On the flip side, Nevada sleepwalked against bottom feeder teams like Air Force and San Jose State.

The Wolf Pack’s intensity level has a direct correlation with the record of the team its facing. The problem is, Nevada runs out of gas against top-level competition. Simply put, it doesn’t have enough talent to stand toe-to-toe.

That’s why it is essential for a player not named Burton to step up big. If Nevada is going to win another game this season, it will be because someone else has a career game.

Who will it be? The senior Jerry Evans Jr.? The wildly inconsistent AJ West? The over-hyped freshman D.J. Fenner? Richard “I take more shots at The Wal than in my college career” Bell?

Eric Uribe can be reached at