Archive | December, 2009

Good Afternoon Vandal Nation: Morning-After-H-Bowl Edition

31 Dec

BOISE — The snow is falling again on the Treasure Valley, and we’re at the Boise Airport waiting for our flight home after a wonderful weekend for Vandal sports.

To recap:

There’s news and notes aplenty, so let’s get right to them.

  • Reporters and pundits across the country are calling the Humanitarian Bowl one of the best games of the year. As CNATI.com’s C. Trent Rosecrans wrote, “The Humanitarian Bowl: exactly why I’ll never complain about too many bowl games.”

Idaho’s ‘Cardiac Kids’ find gold on Humanitarian Bowl’s blue turf

30 Dec

BOISE — For Idaho, the calculus was simple: 28 seconds to go 66 yards for a Humanitarian Bowl-tying seven points. Either that, or make the long drive back to Moscow as losers.

But the Vandals, who were picked last in the Western Athletic Conference but stunned the football world by making their first bowl in a decade, redid the math.

The result is destined to be remembered as one of the greatest games in Idaho football history.

With just eight seconds to play, quarterback Nathan Enderle found Max Komar in the end zone from 16 yards out, and the Vandals’ leading wideout made a diving catch — his first of the night — for the score. Bring out Trey Farquhar, kick the extra point to tie and head for overtime, right?

Wrong.

Coach Robb Akey asked his players what they wanted to do. The unanimous decision? Go for two.

“If my players have confidence in the play, they’re going to make it work,” Akey said. “Why make everybody wait for overtime? Let’s get it done.”

They did.

Enderle took the snap, rolled left and spotted Preston Davis back by the goalpost. The veteran shot-caller heaved a strike across the middle, straight at the sophomore wideout.

Catch. Score. Wild celebration. Penalty flags. A streaker. Pandemonium.

Four seconds and a stuffed kickoff return later, a Vandal team dubbed the “Cardiac Kids” for their last-minute heroics became the 2009 Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl champions, defeating Bowling Green by the final score of 43-42. Idaho finishes the 2009 season with an 8-5 record.

The triumph is only the second bowl win in the history of the University of Idaho, following a 1998 victory over Southern Mississippi — also in the Humanitarian Bowl.

Many of the 26,726 fans in attendance — a heavily partisan Idaho crowd — charged the Bronco Stadium field to celebrate a comeback victory capping a comeback season. Defensive end Aaron Lavarias summed up the feeling for a team, a university and the long-suffering Vandal Nation.

“This is destiny,” he said. “Playing in our state’s capital in a stadium filled with Vandals, we were born to win this game.”

But they almost didn’t.

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Humanitarian Bowl postgame interviews

30 Dec

BOISE — We’ll consolidate our many, many Humanitarian Bowl postgame interviews with Idaho Vandals players and coaches in this post. This will be frequently updated as the night progresses and more get uploaded.

Robb Akey:

Max Komar:

Brian Reader:

Aaron Lavarias:

Shiloh Keo, Jeromy Jones and Preston Davis:

Nathan Enderle, Shiloh Keo, Mike Iupati and JoJo Dickson:

JoJo Dickson:

Miracle in Boise: Idaho 43, Bowling Green 42

30 Dec

BOISE — Unreal.

Your Idaho Vandals are the 2009 Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl champions, defeating Bowling Green tonight in Bronco Stadium by the final score of 43-42.

The Vandals trailed by seven points with 32 seconds remaining, but put together a 66-yard, 28-second drive capped off by Max Komar’s first catch of the night — a diving completion in the end zone for the potentially-tying score.

Then the miracle: Idaho went for two.

Quarterback Nathan Enderle stepped back and tossed a strike to a wide-open Preston Davis in the back of the end zone — and there was pandemonium.

Fans stormed the field after the final whistle, as Idaho capped off a remarkable comeback season with its first bowl win since 1998.

More coming shortly.

Vandal Football Gameday: Humanitarian Bowl

30 Dec

BOISE — In a snow-covered Treasure Valley, we’re just about six hours away from Idaho’s second-ever bowl game. The Vandals will take on the Bowling Green Falcons in the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl at 2:30 p.m. Mountain Time, and we’ll be right there in Bronco Stadium with the call.

After the best season in a decade, Akey’s Army wants to prove its early success was no fluke, and uphold conference pride by becoming the first Western Athletic Conference team to win a bowl game this season.

Vandal Nation Live will have all the action for you, with pregame coverage starting at 1 p.m. Pacific, 2 Mountain. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Pacific/2:30 Mountain. We’ll have scoring updates on the Vandal Nation Twitter as well.

Click here for Vandal Nation Live: The Humanitarian Bowl!

Pregame Roundup

  • Merlin Verlin’s Vandals got the bowl festivities off to a great start with a 19-point victory over Lewis-Clark State in front of 4,111 fans in Qwest Arena last night. We’ve got the game story, and Sandra Kelly of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News chimes in with her take.
  • Kelly also says to expect fireworks when the Vandals and the Falcons clash today.
  • Sports Illustrated writer Bill Trocchi breaks down the H-Bowl, predicting a 3-point Bowling Green victory in a no-defense shootout.

Blowout in Boise sends Idaho into WAC play on a high note

29 Dec

Marvin Jefferson throws down a highlight-reel jam against Lewis-Clark State.

BOISE — With the Qwest Arena clock reading 38.0, the Vandals’ Travis Blackstock grabbed a feed on the wing and launched a contested midrange jumper that didn’t seem to have a prayer.

His shot caught nothing but net.

The 4,111 fans in attendance exploded in cheers and applause for the beloved walk-on forward from nearby Kuna, as Blackstock put an exclamation point on a night that was all Idaho from start to finish. The Vandals rolled Lewis-Clark State, 71-52, in a neutral-court non-conference game that was never as close as its score would indicate. The contest was held as part of festivities for tomorrow’s Humanitarian Bowl.

Idaho, which improved to 7-4 on the eve of Western Athletic Conference play, was led by a strong showing from floor general Mac Hopson, who posted his first double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds on 4-10 shooting and 5-for-7 from the charity stripe. The Vandals outrebounded the Warriors, 42-32, and shot 50 percent for the game, 35 percent from beyond the arc.

“It’s always good to get a win, but in this great environment in front of a packed house, this was something special,” coach Don Verlin said. “I thought we played pretty well at times, especially defensively, and we rebounded the basketball well which is a real key.”

A near-NBA-range 3-pointer from Hopson sparked a crowd-pleasing 18-0 Vandal run early in the first half that put a quick end to any thoughts of a Warrior upset. The streak was punctuated by a two-handed fastbreak slam from Marvin Jefferson, who took a beautifully-placed feed from Steffan Johnson and jammed it home. LCSC coach Tim Walker called a timeout, but Idaho would score five more out of the break before giving up a bucket.

“I talked to Coach (Verlin) after the last couple games, he said I should try to be more aggressive about attacking the lane rather than settling for threes, and that’s what I did tonight,” Johnson said. “I have to keep developing my game week in and week out.”

Unlike Idaho’s last game against an NAIA foe, there was to be no miracle second-half comeback from the underdog this time. The period featured sloppy play all around, as LCSC was whistled for 7 fouls in the first 4 minutes while Idaho missed four of its first five shots.

After being down by as many as 20, the Warriors managed to cut the lead to 13 points with just under 7 minutes to play, backed by six straight points from forward Alex King. But they’d get no closer, as Vandal long-ball specialist Luciano de Souza drilled a dagger from downtown with five minutes left, snapping the run and putting paid to LCSC’s miracle hopes.

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Idaho 71, Lewis-Clark State 52

29 Dec

BOISE — The Vandals got the Humanitarian Bowl week off to a winning start tonight with a dominating 71-52 victory over Lewis-Clark State in Qwest Arena. Idaho, which improves to 7-4 on the season, never trailed in the game and was powered by a solid defensive effort, holding the NAIA Warriors to 30 percent shooting in the first half and 35 percent overall.

Idaho was led by 15 points from senior point guard Mac Hopson, who also grabbed 11 rebounds to post his first double-double of the season. He was joined in double figures by senior guard Steffan Johnson who had 11 points, and the best performance of the year from reserve 3-point specialist Luciano de Souza, who had 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting.

Perhaps the most promising sign of improvement came in the ball-handling department, as Idaho posted 17 assists to just 7 turnovers — by far their cleanest showing of the season.

We’ve got raw video interviews with Johnson and coach Don Verlin.

We’ll have a complete postgame report tonight.

Vandal Nation Live: Idaho vs. Lewis-Clark State

29 Dec

BOISE — We’re live from Qwest Arena tonight as Don Verlin’s Vandal hoopsters close out pre-conference play with an extra-special game against the Lewis-Clark State Warriors. It’s a big opportunity for Idaho to get back on the winning track after a series of disappointing performances in the last three games. WAC play begins this weekend and this is the last chance to tune up before the games in parentheses start coming — and those will help decide who goes to the NCAA Tournament.

Click here for a breakdown of the Warriors’ lineup.

We’ll have pregame at 5:30 p.m. Pacific/6:30 Mountain, tip at 6P/7M.

Join us for Vandal Nation Live play-by-play coverage, commentary and chat!

Better Know a Foe: Bowling Green

29 Dec

BOISE — In our Humanitarian Bowl edition of Better Know a Foe, we talked with BJ Fischer of FalconBlog, which has been documenting Trials and Triumphs in the BGSU Falcon Nation since 2004 — we salute that kind of commitment to the alma mater!

We reciprocated over on FalconBlog with a Vandal Blog Swap.

Tell us about Bowling Green — football history, bowl history, etc.

Bowling Green has been playing football since 1910. During the 1950 and 60s we had a very strong program, winning the small college national title in 1959. The 70s, 80s and 90s saw on and off success, ending the decade with among the worst periods in the history of the program. Starting in 2001, the program turned around under the leadership of Urban Meyer and this continued for a couple years under his OC, Gregg Brandon. Brandon was let go last year, and replaced by Dave Clawson.

This is Bowling Green’s ninth bowl appearance, and BG is 4-4. The Falcons have won four of their last five. However, no conversation about BG’s bowl history would be complete without a couple of disaster stories. The first was in 1985 when BG was undefeated but Coach Denny Stolz took another job the week of bowl prep. Stolz, his assistants, and his entire team apparently had their mind on other things as Fresno State beat BG 51-7. Then, in 2008, BG went to Mobile for the GMAC Bowl, playing Tulsa. Despite a seemingly even matchup, BG never showed up and was beaten 63-7, the worst defeat ever in bowl history.

How do Bowling Green fans view this bowl/matchup – is it a ho-hum affair or a pretty solid game from your perspective?

Bowling Green fans are excited about being in a bowl game this year. To come off a 6-6 season with a new coach, and actually get better and earn post-season play is a nice reward for our team. I especially feel good for our seniors, who are getting the opportunity to play in a bowl game after toiling in an underachieving system.

We certainly understand that it is a “see your breath bowl” and not in a glamorous warm weather climate. (Other MAC tie-ins include Toronto and Detroit, so, you know…). We have a cohesive team and they are happy to have been able to stay together for another month to prepare for this game.

We are also looking forward to playing Idaho, which presents a nice challenge to us.

Freddie Barnes — an unreal individual performance this season. What’s he been like to watch and how key will his play be?

It has been a true honor to watch Freddie Barnes this year. I was at the Catch-22 game where he nabbed 22 passes, and it was simply an incredible performance. Obviously, teams know that we are looking to get him the ball, and yet he can still get open. He gets a lot of credit for this… he is a smart player who knows how to find open spaces against almost any defense. Also, our unheralded OC Warren Ruggerio has done a great job moving Freddie around to find him space.

One misconception people have is that Barnes is some kind of system creature. Yes, he does catch the occasional bubble screen, but most of his catches have been downfield, and he has made some huge plays, earning key first downs and touchdowns with hard running after the catch. He delivered a withering stiff arm to help spark a miracle comeback against Kent and he scored the winning TD in the last minute against Buffalo. He is a true football player.

Offensively, who are the Falcons’ playmakers and what lineups should we look for?

Well, aside from Barnes, the next key playmaker is senior QB Tyler Sheehan. Sheehan has a great senior season, and was the second best QB in the conference, after Dan LeFevour. While BG’s running game has struggled most of the year, Willie Geter is a great playmaker and can catch the ball as well. Jimmy Sheidler is dangerous at TE as well.

BG plays a lot of multi-receiver sets, however, is no longer a pure spread team. Coach Clawson says he is not a “system” guy, and will do whatever is needed to get the ball to playmakers in space, and that’s what you should look for.

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Good Morning Van-Bowl Nation: Dec. 29, 2009

29 Dec

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s Humanitarian Bowl Week in Boise and we’re staring out at N771SK, the SkyWest CRJ-700 that’ll take us on up to the Treasure Valley, so this will be a quicky. We’ll have Better Know a Foe with FalconBlog posted up this afternoon, along with a complete game preview.

Tonight at 6 p.m. Pacific, 7 Mountain, we’ll have live play-by-play coverage of Idaho hoops, as the Vandals take on Lewis-Clark State in Qwest Arena.

Then, be sure to join us tomorrow at 1 p.m. Pacific, 2 Mountain for Vandal Nation Live at the Humanitarian Bowl — Akey’s Army has one last battle to fight, against the Bowling Green Falcons out of the Mid-American Conference.

Football

  • Donald Emmons of the Toledo Blade takes a look at how the Vandals hope to stop NCAA-leading receiver Freddie Barnes.
  • ESPN.com’s Graham Watson predicts a Falcons victory, albeit by only a touchdown — 45-38. She predicts an exciting, fun-to-watch shootout between two of the nation’s top offenses.

Men’s basketball

Women’s basketball

  • Idaho’s women finally got their second win of the season last night with a stifling defensive performance at home, shutting down UC Santa Barbara for a 47-40 victory. The Vandals missed their first 20 shots from the floor but capitalized on 29 Gaucho turnovers.

Hoops Preview: Lewis-Clark State (Neutrality violated edition)

29 Dec

Welcome back, Idaho fans — tonight it’s a showdown between the Vandals and Lewis-Clark State on a Qwest Arena floor that promises to be anything but neutral. Word is, the game’s nearly sold out, and with the Humanitarian Bowl tomorrow, it’s going to be a house packed with Vandal backers.

On paper, this should be a blowout — a Division I program that should contend for the WAC title against a middling NAIA squad. But the Vandals are in a deep funk, having lost two of their last three games and playing terribly in the one game they did win — a squeaker over NAIA Eastern Oregon. Conference play begins on Jan. 2 in Hawaii, and last year the Vandals were torched in Honolulu by the bottom-feeding Rainbow Warriors. If Idaho hopes to live up to its billing and fight for the WAC championship, they’ll have to turn their play around, and quickly.

Tonight’s contest is their last shot to show it.

We’ll be courtside with Vandal Nation Live play-by-play coverage. Pregame starts at 5:30 p.m. Pacific, tip at 6. Click here to join.

Lewis-Clark State Warriors (8-5)

Frontier Conference — 2009 record: 11-14 (lost to MSU-Northern in Frontier Conference Tournament First Round)

The Warriors started the season hot, but much like the Vandals, have struggled of late. They’ve lost four of their last six, including a narrow loss last night at home to NCAA Division III (non-scholarship) Wisconsin-Stout. They’ll jump on the bus and head for Boise today to play on one night’s rest, which does not bode well for their chances at pulling off a shocker upset.

In their two prior games against NCAA Division I opponents, Lewis-Clark State was comprehensively destroyed — an 82-53 pasting by Montana and an 73-51 beatdown by Washington State.

Nor does history provide comfort for the Warriors — the Vandals have won all 13 previous regular-season meetings between the Gem State’s northernmost four-year colleges.

However, for the Warriors the game counts only as an exhibition, not as part of their win-loss record, so there’s not much penalty for losing. Therefore, going for broke is always an option, and we’ll probably see LCSC throw everything they have at Idaho. It almost certainly won’t be enough, but as the Vandals found out to their terror against Eastern Oregon, it could scare the living daylights out of Idaho fans if Don Verlin’s crew don’t come out firing on all cylinders.

The “Key statistic” feature is taking the night off because it’s not particularly illuminating to compare season-long stats between NAIA and NCAA teams.

Projected Starters:

  • G #20 Markus Monroe, Jr. — 19.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.9 apg

A bigtime scoring machine for the Warriors, Monroe quickly earned himself a starting spot with smart shooting and bigtime moves. He’s the best backcourt shooter LCSC has, hitting at a .461 clip, and like Mac Hopson, he can clean up the glass, too. But Markus has been off the mark from beyond the arc, making 9 of 35 attempts for an awful .257 pace. Nor is he a great ball-handler, with 32 turnovers for just 19 assists. But he can go off for 30+ points in a game, so keeping him in check will be another key test for Idaho’s defense.

  • F #24 Tanner McIntosh, Sr. — 12.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.0 apg

Boasting some serious power forward size, the 6-8 big man has been the workhorse of Lewis-Clark State’s paint rotation. McIntosh is the team’s best shooter, knocking ‘em down at a .542 pace, and leads the Warriors in rebounding. He also plays nearly 32 minutes per game, also a team high. While McIntosh’s moves might not be up to Division I standards, the Vandals have proven vulnerable inside and Luiz Toledo needs to lock him down if Idaho wants to quickly dispel any upset hopes. Hack-a-McIntosh is a valid strategy, as he averages just .500 at the charity stripe.

  • G #5 Daniel Williams, Sr. — 11.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.2 apg

OK, forgive us for chuckling, but this guy is listed at 6-4, 220. Yipes. That’s not the normal setup for a shooting guard, and he might be huffing and puffing up the court against the Vandals’ Kashif Watson. That said, Williams can score in bunches. He’s not a great shooter — just .410 on the season — but he’s a solid ball-handler and grabs plenty of rebounds while cutting and slashing to the hoop. Note to Idaho’s defense: Let him shoot outside all he wants. He’s 3-for-22 (yeah, that bad) from downtown.

  • C #22 James Craft, Sr. — 8.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 0.3 apg

A Division I-quality big man who’s filtered down to the NAIA ranks, Craft’s 7-foot frame will even overshadow (if barely) Idaho center Marvin Jefferson. For a guy in the paint, he doesn’t shoot that well — just .444 from the floor — but he’s an astounding .864 free-throw shooter, so the Vandals’ inside rotation will have to be very careful not to send him to the foul line. One reason he might have lost his spots at Wright State and Tennessee State? Terrible ball-handling. He has 25 turnovers in 12 games for a .12 assist-to-turnover ratio.

  • G #2 Terrell Wallace, So. — 6.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.2 apg

As a freshman last season, Wallace was thrust into the starting spotlight after the Warriors’ returning point guard was sidelined with a season-ending back injury. He made a fine account of himself, posting a team-best 1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio and hitting a respectable .341 from downtown. Now a sophomore with a year of starting experience under his belt, Wallace is picking his shots better and is dishing up assists more efficiently. He’ll present an interesting defensive challenge for Mac Hopson.

Key reserves:

  • G #4 Derek Gianukakis, Jr. — 6.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.8 apg

The Warriors’ designated Annoying White Jump Shooter, Gianukakis takes two-thirds of his shots from beyond the arc and cans them at a team-best .426 clip. When he’s out on the floor, Idaho’s defense will have to watch out and lock down, or risk being peppered with 3-point rainbows. The good news? That’s pretty much the only dimension to his game, as he’s neither a great ball-handler nor does he have strong inside moves.

  • G #3 Jared Giammona, Jr. — 6.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.4 apg

Another reserve guard with a weird last name that starts with a G, Giammona is nearly as committed to the 3-point shot as Gianukakis. He’s started more than half of the Warriors’ games but seems to have fallen out of favor with the rise of Markus Monroe. Giamonna doesn’t seem to excel anywhere but he’s got a good set of skills all over the ball and that makes him a solid candidate to be first off the bench for Lewis-Clark State.

It’s Bowl Week on Vandal Nation!

27 Dec

We hope our readers have had a wonderful holiday season — we certainly have.

But the break ends now, because it’s time for Idaho Vandals sports to kick back into high gear — on Tuesday, the men’s hoops team takes on Lewis-Clark State and on Wednesday, it’s Idaho’s second-ever bowl game — the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl against Bowling Green.

On the hardwood, the Vandals need to rebound from a three-game stretch of ugly and prepare for the beginning of Western Athletic Conference play. Playing LCSC would seem to be a gimme, but Merlin Verlin’s bunch nearly lost to another NAIA squad, Eastern Oregon, so there is nothing guaranteed about the neutral-court showdown.

On the Smurf Turf of Bronco Stadium, coach Robb Akey and his can-do Idaho squad can complete a miracle comeback season with a victory over Bowling Green — but to do it, the Vandals will have to dig deep defensively and get some stops against the pass, or else all-world receiver Freddie Barnes will run the Silver and Gold right out of Boise.

It’s a double dose of Vandal excitement and we’ll have all the action for you live, right here on Vandal Nation. Thanks for joining us!

Turnovers, shooting woes lead to 30-point pasting at Portland

23 Dec

For the third straight game, the Vandals looked more interested in sleeping in than playing basketball last night. The Portland Pilots, hungry for revenge at home after a 20-point Idaho beatdown knocked them out of the Top 25 last week, gladly took advantage.

Canning a school-record ten 3-pointers in an unstoppable performance, Portland guard Jared Stohl made up the margin of victory himself in leading the Pilots to a blowout 82-52 victory over the Vandals in the Chiles Center.

Idaho has looked disjointed, sluggish and indifferent ever since its home win over then-No. 25 Portland two weeks ago. There’s nothing good to talk about from this game, as virtually every stat was a season low for the Vandals: 38 percent shooting, 19 turnovers, even a spectacularly bad 12-for-29 performance from the free-throw line. The loss drops Idaho to 6-4 on the season, with a game next Tuesday against Lewis-Clark State remaining before Western Athletic Conference play opens.

“I’m at a little bit of a loss because I felt like we practiced hard,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “This basketball team simply has got to get ready to play on the road because we didn’t come out to play tonight and I’m disappointed.”

Mac Hopson led the Vandals with 15 points on a respectable 5-for-9 shooting performance, but he turned the ball over three times and was just 1-for-4 from downtown. Idaho’s shooters combined for a season-worst 2-of-11 performance outside the arc, and Steffan Johnson once again was dead quiet — he was just 1-for-8 on the night.

The game was never really competitive, as for the first time all year Idaho didn’t even get a taste of the lead. The Pilots broke open a 7-4 game with a 15-1 run that left the Vandals trailing 22-5 with 11 minutes to go in the first half, keyed by 3-pointers from Stohl, Nik Raivio and Ethan Niedermeyer.

Out of the locker room, the Vandals seemed ready to spark a comeback, as six unanswered points in the paint to open the second half closed the deficit to just 10. But Portland turned to Stohl again, and he delivered — a pair of buckets from downtown keyed an 11-0 Pilots response that broke Idaho’s back.

The Vandals allowed the Pilots to drill 55 percent of their 29 shots from beyond the arc, by far the worst defensive performance of the season, and with Stohl racking up 10 makes on 15 attempts, it’s as if Idaho’s defense didn’t even try.

“You have to give credit to Portland, they shot the ball well and we weren’t ready for it,” Verlin admitted.

Adding to Idaho’s troubles, backup point guard Marcus Lawrence has been suspended indefinitely for unspecified violations of team rules. The oft-troubled UNLV transfer is playing as a walk-on this year after being charged with theft during his redshirt season, leading to the revocation of his scholarship.

A season that started with much promise now seems to have peaked with the home win over Portland, and a tough, deep set of WAC contenders won’t tolerate nights off. One tuneup remains before conference play gets underway, and it’s those contests that will determine whether Idaho’s “Road to Glory” is paved to tournament success — or covered in fool’s gold.

“This team has to get better and it will get better,” Verlin promised. “We’ll get back to work and we’re going to get it done.”

The Vandals get Christmas week off before returning to action Tuesday in Boise with a neutral-site game against Lewis-Clark State, the night before the Humanitarian Bowl.

“Our guys are looking forward to playing in Boise and we’re hoping all the Vandal fans will come out and cheer us on,” Verlin said.

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Hoops Preview: Portland (Deja vu edition)

22 Dec

Yes, the Vandals are playing Portland tonight — and yes, we’ve been there before.

Idaho took down the then-No. 25 Pilots in Moscow on Dec. 6. The stunning 20-point blowout helped knock Portland out of the Top 25.

Now, Idaho travels to Portland, and the Pilots will undoubtedly be out for revenge. Can the Vandals do on the road what they did at home? We’ll find out — the game tips at 7 p.m. We’ll have live scoring updates on Twitter.

The Pilots opened the season with five straight wins, including victories over Oregon, UCLA and No. 22 Minnesota, before losing a close fight to West Virginia. That was enough to earn them their first Top 25 ranking since the 1950s. But from there it was downhill — Portland dropped a close game at home in the city battle with Portland State and then fell to the Vandals.

In their two games since, they’ve edged Denver at home and were torched by Washington on the road. So the Pilots are 6-4.

A win over Idaho would avenge the brutal defeat in Moscow and put the Pilots back on the right track.

For the Vandals, the story is much the same — a win tonight would exorcise the demons of back-to-back disappointments against Washington State and Eastern Oregon, launching Idaho into the WAC season on the right track.

To get the win, the Vandals will need to return to the formula that made them a formidable hoops power: a balanced scoring attack with inside power from Marvin Jefferson and Luiz Toledo and outside sharpshooting from Steffan Johnson and Mac Hopson. After sitting the last two games with injury troubles (a big reason why Idaho struggled) Toledo’s scheduled to return to the lineup tonight. He’s got to play well for Idaho to leave the Beaver State with a win.

For our full breakdown on the Pilots from the last game, click here.

WAC Power Rankings: Dec. 19. 2009

19 Dec

SPOKANE, Wash. — Finals are done and we’re back from hiatus, ready to rock and roll with you all the way to March Madness. We’ll kick things off with our hoops power rankings.

All stat links go to Basketball State — it’s far and away the best hoops stats Web site around and the $16 subscription is well worth it. Use promo code DREAMHOSTSUCKS to sign up. (Yeah, they had some hosting issues earlier.)

1. Idaho, 6-3 (1) — Justifying this was not easy, and I’d love to find a reason to put someone, anyone above the Vandals. Two unimpressive games last week — a near-blowout loss to Washington State and an awful, far-too-close-for-comfort win over NAIA Eastern Oregon — show that coach Don Verlin still has a lot of work to do before conference season rolls around. But the “good” news (which really isn’t good for the conference) is that the rest of the WAC has been just as inconsistent. The Vandals will rematch against Portland on Tuesday, a game that is absolutely key to Idaho’s season. A win sends them into conference play on a high note, while an emotional revenge victory by the Pilots could blow things up at precisely the wrong moment.

2. Louisiana Tech, 9-2 (3) — If the Bulldogs had beaten, or even hung tough, with Arizona, they’d be an easy pick for first. They didn’t, though, and that raises a lot of questions about how they’ll fare against the best of the WAC. The Murray State win is solid, granted, but we’re still just not convinced by all the other victories over palookaville foes. Two more unimpressive opponents — McNeese State and Texas-Pan American — await this week… but if Louisiana Tech pulls off the sweep to go to 11-2, we’ll be hard-pressed to keep them out of the top spot because that kind of record is impressive in and of itself.

3. Utah State, 6-4 (2) — The season isn’t falling apart for Stew Morrill’s Aggies, but nor is it exactly going to plan. As expected, they annihilated Utah Valley and easily manhandled Cal State-Bakersfield, but then dropped a tough one at Long Beach State after coming unglued in the second half. The absence of go-to man Gary Wilkinson is clearly being felt, as Utah State has had to resort to an unbalanced outside attack from its guards, and when they’re off, they’re way off — like, 4-for-20 against the 49ers. There’s no question the Aggies will be one of the top teams in the WAC when conference season rolls around, but it’s not looking like they’ll be the unstoppable juggernaut of a year ago.

4. Nevada, 5-4 (5) — The Wolf Pack move back up a spot, as they’re in the midst of a four-game homestand against a string of ridiculously tasty cupcakes. But the danger signs for their season are no less apparent — edging Eastern Washington at home in the final seconds does not impress, and Nevada got just 4 points off its bench in a 3-point win. Every real test the Pack have faced, they’ve failed — their best victory has come over South Dakota State, 170th in the RPI. No road wins, no quality wins, no depth… the jury is still very much out on Nevada. Neutral-site games against BYU and Tulsa or Oklahoma next week are the Pack’s last chance to show something in non-conference play.

5. Fresno State, 5-5 (7) — A quality week for the Bulldogs, as they grabbed a road win at Pepperdine, hung tough with BYU and took down UC Davis. There’s still questions to be answered about Fresno State, though, centering around one of the conference’s most inefficient offenses — a .991 points-per-possession stat won’t get it done in when it comes time for WAC play. Also unusual: despite having one of the deepest and best front-courts in the WAC, Fresno State is just eighth in rebounding. Make no mistake, this is a vastly improved West Coast Bulldog squad, but we don’t see anything in the preseason that makes us think anything better than a midpack finish is in the offing.

6. San Jose State, 5-4 (4) — Poor Spartans, we cursed them, because no sooner did we talk about their cupcake schedule for the week to come than… they lose at San Francisco, one of Division I’s worst teams. They’ve rebounded with back-to-back wins over a pair of bottom-tier California squads — Cal State-Bakersfield and UC Irvine — but there’s a lot of work to do in San Jose. For instance, they’ve got the conference’s worst 2-point shooting percentage, making just 45 percent of their shots inside the arc. Playing at Northern Colorado on Monday will be a good marker for the Spartans’ progress.

7. Boise State, 5-4 (6) — Who are the Broncos, really? We just don’t know. Their non-conference schedule has been absurdly easy — ranked 310th in the nation by strength of schedule — and yet they’re barely managing a split. The latest insult was a home loss to San Diego, a team that had lost five straight coming into Boise. The Broncos combined to go 3-for-12 from beyond the arc in that game and were outrebounded despite the efforts of glass-cleaning machine Ike Okoye. Boise State isn’t done with the cupcakes, either — two of their final four non-conference opponents boast sub-200 RPI ratings while a third is an NAIA team. Only Monday’s battle against scrappy Portland State promises a challenge.

8. New Mexico State, 4-6 (9) — A big, big road win over UTEP bumps the Crimson Aggies out of the conference basement, but that’s been overshadowed by the news that both NMSU power forwards, Wendell McKines and Troy Gillenwater, are academically ineligible for the season. That takes what should have been a WAC title contender and knocks them down to, at best, a team scrapping for the midpack seedings. They got another road win this week, against woeful Pepperdine, and have three palookas at home before conference season. So, the Aggies could head into WAC play 7-6, but it would be a very, very hollow record.

9. Hawaii, 5-4 (8) — Bob Nash’s coaching career in Honolulu is on the ropes, and the Rainbow Warriors’ deceptively-mediocre record hides a team in crisis. Their four D-I wins have all come against teams in the bottom 70 out of all 347 teams, and two of those are against, literally, two of the worst five teams in D-I hoops (Chicago State and McNeese State). They’ve basically been blown out by every quality opponent, have zero road wins and have shown no sign at all that they’ll do anything more than fight for the eighth and final seed in the WAC Tournament. In fact, we’ll give even money right now that Hawaii will be the team left home from Reno come March.

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