CHICAGO — With a CRJ hop from Fargo under our belts (we had a nice conversation with seatmate Jose Mohler, NDSU’s starting quarterback), we had some time to mull over the Vandals’ stats after three games. Thanks to WAC media relations honcho Jason Erickson for getting the WAC Stat Pack out so quickly.
There’s a lot of reasons for the Vandals to be pleased with themselves right now, because Idaho is at or near the top of the WAC in an array of statistical categories.
- The Vandals have the No. 2 scoring offense, averaging 80 points per game and trailing only Nevada.
- Idaho has the No. 2 team field goal percentage, averaging .488 shooting, and the No. 3 team field goal defense, holding opponents to .406 shooting.
- Surprisingly, Idaho has the No. 3 free-throw shooting percentage, averaging .725 at the line.
- Only Nevada hits from downtown more, as the Vandals are No. 2 in 3-point shooting and efficiency. Idaho drills 42 percent of its shots from outside, for an average of 7.3 per game.
- The Vandals also rank No. 4 in blocked shots and steals.
Individually, there’s another slew of superlatives:
- Luiz Toledo ranks No. 2 in field goal percentage, making 79 percent of his shots.
- Mac Hopson ranks No. 3 in assists, with 4.3 per game, while Steffan Johnson is No. 4 with 4.0.
- Johnson is tied for No. 1 in free-throw percentage, nailing all 8 of his shots from the charity stripe.
- Johnson has the conference’s No. 1 assist-to-turnover ratio, dishing 12 assists for just 4 turnovers.
- Johnson is No. 3 in 3-point shooting, averaging 3.0 treys per game.
- Marvin Jefferson gets in on the stat action, as he’s No. 3 in blocks, averaging 2.3 per game.
- Jeff Ledbetter ranks No. 6 in 3-point percentage, making 50 percent of his shots from downtown.
Even where the Vandals don’t excel, they’re vastly improved from last year. While Idaho sat at or near the bottom of the WAC in rebounding throughout the 2008-09 season, the Vandals now have a respectable No. 3 rebounding defense, No. 4 rebounding offense and No. 5 rebounding margin. Those numbers could still use improvement, to be sure, but the jump made already is something to celebrate.
What makes that rebounding stat even more interesting is the fact that Idaho doesn’t have a single player among the WAC’s top-10 glass-cleaners. That’s a double-edged sword — it speaks to the Vandals’ inconsistency so far this season, but it also speaks to the depth of a team that doesn’t require perfect performances every night. Against Utah, it was Kyle Barone pulling down all the boards — last night in Fargo, it was Toledo and Jefferson doing the work. Individually they don’t average to the top 10, but together they’ve created a team that can hold its own on the glass.
Now for the bad news: Idaho has regressed, and regressed a lot, when it comes to taking care of the basketball. The Vandals were second-best in the WAC with a 1.16 assist-to-turnover ratio last season. This year, Idaho’s dropped to No. 5, coughing up the ball more than dishing it with an 0.82 assist-to-turnover ratio. The nadir was the disastrous outing at Texas Southern which featured twice as many turnovers as assists.
Whether it’s mental lapses, increased game pace or unfamiliar players still trying to get on the same page, turnovers have hurt Idaho in all three of its games — with losing consequences in one of them. Against NDSU, the Vandals made progress — but 18 assists to 16 turnovers is a stalemate, not a victory. We’ll be watching that stat closely, as it should be a good benchmark to see how well the Vandals come together in the season’s opening stanzas.