Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Re-Racking the Big Sky

For Idaho State, the preliminaries are out of the way (except for that irritating non-con with Kansas State on Saturday -- whose idea was THAT, with a conference road trip coming up next week?). Big Sky Conference play begins Thursday afternoon with Northern Colorado, who won its BSC opener in comeback fashion over Northern Arizona Monday night. With the focus now clearly on Big Sky play, it's time to re-rack the league. First, here's how I voted in the pre-season poll:

1. Portland State
2. Montana
3. Idaho State
4. Northern Colorado
5. Northern Arizona
6. Weber State
7. Montana State
8. Eastern Washington
9. Sacramento State

How I would vote today and why:

1. Portland State. The Vikings are clearly the most talented team in the league, and they didn't need to beat Gonzaga on the road to prove it -- but they did, anyway. They are also the most dominating team at home, having won 14 straight in Portland venues over league teams. It bears repeating -- 9 of the last 10 Big Sky regular season champions have lost one or fewer league games at home.

2. Eastern Washington. The Eagles have been the surprise team of pre-season, getting road wins over UC -Irvine and Portland, beating a decent Idaho team by 10, and then holding off Montana State in their league opener -- all that without two projected starters, G Adris DeLeon and 6-6 F Chris Busch, who are eligible in the second semester. And don't forget, EWU will have the benefit of being PSU's travel partner, which means they are going to be getting some worn down teams on the back side. Transfer PG Benny Valentine leads the Big Sky in scoring, and Fs Brandon Moore and Andy Genao rank 2 and 6, respectively, in rebounding.

3. Montana State. The Bobcats have that tenacious underdog look about them, as evidenced by two early-season road performances -- an overtime win over Colorado, and an overtime loss to Oregon State. They dropped their conference opener at EWU, but that's going to happen to a lot of ballclubs. MSU is 4-1 at home and 3-3 on the road. Fs Bobby Howard and Divaldo Mbunga are in the top 10 in the league in scoring and guard Will Bynum has emerged as a third option.

4. Idaho State. The Bengals drop a notch because of their inconsistency on offense. Every game they seem to suffer at least one extended lapse (Monday night against Idaho, they went the last 11 minutes of the first half with just one field goal), and those will get you beat in tight conference contests. The Bengals are also one of three league teams without a road win this year. And I still worry about how ISU will match up with quick PGs who tend to dominate once league play gets under way -- Dominguez, Valentine, McCoy, etc. The Bengals are going to go as far as their "big three" -- Stucki, Morgan and Carson -- can carry them.

5. Northern Colorado. The Bears came back from a 10-point half-time deficit to win their conference opener over NAU at home last night. Devon Beitzel (above) is one of the emerging stars of the league, putting up 32 on the Axers, and posting four 20-plus point games in a row. The Bears have lost starting F Jefferson Mason, who transferred in mid-December, and that has made them a much more guard-oriented team. They lack a statement win so far.
6. Weber State. The Wildcats have pretty much stuck to script, beating the teams they should, and not really competing against good teams like BYU and Utah State. The one exception was a 6-point loss at Arizona last night, but that is a bit misleading because U of A was playing without its leading scorer and rebounder.

7. Montana. The Griz are perplexing. They are 5-1 at home, and have a good road win at Fresno State, but they were blown out by PSU in the league opener, and followed that up with big losses to Utah Valley and Washington. The status of PG Ceylon Elgin-Taylor, who has been suspended since being arrested for a DUI in early December, will be a key in determining whether the Grizzlies can live up to their pre-season ranking. Right now, I'm betting they don't.

8. Northern Arizona. The Axers are another team that hasn't offered up many surprises -- they are winless on the road, and coughed up that big lead in Greeley last night. NAU could be eliminated from the league title race as early as this weekend, if they can't defend homecourt against EWU and PSU.

9. Sacramento State. With their only win against UC Davis, the Hornets are living down to all the pre-season expectations of a bad team with a new coach.
--Brad B.
And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Rebuilding Women's Hoops

I finally got to spend some time with new ISU women's basketball coach Seton Sobolewski during our coach's show last Monday night. He strikes me as a bright, energetic young man -- and he's going to have to be, because he's got a major rebuilding job ahead of him.

Sobolewski (above) inherited a highly successful program when Jon Newlee departed for the University of Idaho, but just about everything that can happen to upset a smooth transition has happened to Seton and his new staff. It started with the season-ending illness of PG Andrea Videbeck and the decisions of PF Ally Sissel and G Bianca Cheever to follow Newlee to northern Idaho. Then junior college transfer PG Andrea Blodgett was declared ineligible and incoming freshman F Kayla Gromme was suspended. Sobolewski told me Monday night that Gromme has left the program and Blodgett will not be eligible the remainer of the season.

It's never a surprise when there is a major roster shakeup under a new coach, but even under those circumstances the extent of this fallout is fairly extreme. As a result, Sobolewski has had to ask a roster of largely role players to assume leading lady status. Michelle Grohs, Oana Iacovita, Jenna Brown and Devin Diehl have all played 29 minutes or more per game. More importantly, they are the Bengals' primary offensive weapons after being third or fourth options in the Natalie Doma-Andrea Lightfoot era -- all the while playing significantly more minutes.

The results so far have been entirely predictable. The Bengals are 3-9 on the season, heading into Tuesday night's final non-conference game against Colorado. They've competed hard for the most part, but they just simply don't have the athletes or the depth to win on a consistent basis. It will take a coach-of-the-year performance from Sobolewski to sneak this team into the Big Sky Conference post-season tournament.

Things don't any easier next season, either. The Bengals lose Grohs, their leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, and Brown, their assist leader and No. 3 scorer. Sobolewski has signed four freshmen -- 6-1 F Ashleigh Vella, 5-11 G Morgan Wohltman, 6-3 F Shannon Byrne, and 5-5 PG Kaela Oakes -- for next season, and he hopes to add a couple of more players in the spring signing period. He'll also return top rebounder Iacovita, sophomore G Chelsea Pickering and talented freshmen G Sheila Adams next season.

But the reality of the situation is that it's probably going to take a couple of years for Sobolewski, through no fault of his own, to get the Bengal women's program back up to the level it was when Newlee was in charge. And unfortunately, attendance is already taking a hit. The Bengals are averaging only 688 fans a game this year, down significantly from the 1225 ISU drew last year. Hopefully the Bengal women will remain competitive throughout Big Sky play and avoid further erosion in the fan base.

--Brad B.
And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Donate to ISU Media Relations for a Wireless Card...Because You Care!

Sorry for the lack of updates from me on the ol' blog (thank goodness for Brad Bugger's always informative posts), but with the holiday and the travel, and the lack of a wireless card, or a lack of wireless that's free in a hotel that we stay at, I have not had a chance to get a good blog post ... rest assured they are coming eventually. In the meantime, we do have wireless courtside at Lawlor in Nevada, so the live chat/blog is on once again ... the link is here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays to Bengals Everywhere

I'd like to wish the best to all the fans and friends of Idaho State athletics during this holiday season. May your days truly be merry and bright!
And Now, Back to Basketball
ISU Assistant AD and former Bengal assistant basketball coach Jay McMillan and I were having a discussion not too long ago, and Jay brought up a good observation. He said he heard Fran Fraschilla, now an ESPN talking head, then "a rising star" in the coaching ranks, at a clinic he attended. Fraschilla said that, over the course of a basketball season, your team will typically play three really, really horrible games, when you're not going to beat anybody; and three really, really good games, where you could pull an upset against just about anybody. "Your real" team will probably be revealed during the rest of the games in-between, and if you're going to be successful, you have to win your share of those "in-between" contests.

That, my friends, is why I don't worry so much about the Arizona State blowout over Idaho State yesterday -- and why the persistent "close loses" to teams like Hawaii, Boise State and Long Beach State do concern me to a degree. Yes, the Bengals are now officially playing the toughest schedule in the nation. (See Frank's notes on the ISU web site). At some point, however, you have to start winning games, especially those "in-between" contests where you are not dramatically over-matched -- or, in the case of yesterday's contest, where some team is not simply playing out of its mind. At some point, you have to build confidence and understand how to make plays down the stretch of tight ballgames. Idaho State's win over Utah was certainly a nice step for the Bengals -- but they are quickly running out of opportunities to continue the progression before Big Sky Conference play begins. Those final two non-cons before BSC play begins -- Saturday at Reno and home Monday night against Idaho -- are great opportunities for Idaho State to start taking those "next steps."

Eric Curry Discovers the Television Monitor

Bengal basketball fans will surely remember the controversial finish to the Montana game in Holt Arena last year, when the officials refused to recognize a time-out the Grizzlies didn't have at the end of the game, and did not use the television monitor to determine whether Jordan Hasquit did indeed request the TO before the buzzer sounded. Lead official Eric Curry was suspended as a result of that decision.

Well, Mr. Curry found himself embroiled in another clock controversy on Monday night in Logan. Seems the button on his automatic timer didn't work with 2.4 seconds left in a tied ballgame between Utah State and Utah, and the official timer didn't start the clock either. As a result, when Utah State got a tip-in bucket to apparently "win" the game, nobody knew if it counted. This time, however, Curry and his officiating partners reviewed the tape and, using a stopwatch, determined the tip-in should have counted (see above). Seems Eric has learned his lesson about the value of going to the video.

As an aside, Curry, who works for the Minnesota Twins and is married to former Idahoan and Olympic basketball star Andrea Lloyd, is one of the really good guys in officiating. He is not, however, on a lot of Bengal fans Christmas card lists this year.

How About Those Vikings?
Portland State was already an overwhelming favorite to win the Big Sky Conference championship this season, and the Vikings certainly didn't do anything to change that thinking when they stunned No. 7 ranked Gonzaga in Spokane last night. But I'm less impressed by that one win, quite frankly, than by the two-year run of home domination by the Vikings in Big Sky play.

As noted above, PSU put it all together in one of those "perfect game" scenarios against an admittedly tired Gonzaga team coming off a draining, overtime loss to No. 2 UConn. That win over the Zags, though, is just one game and doesn't completely overshadow previous Viking loses to Hampton, Washington and Cal Poly. Let's just say, I wouldn't be ready to start voting Portland State into the Top 25.
Home Domination
No, what puts PSU into the driver seat as Big Sky play begins in earnest next week (PSU is 1-0 in the league, by the way, with a blowout win over Montana last Saturday night) is their recent homecourt performance against conference opponents. The Vikings were unbeaten at home last year against league teams, and have won 14 straight in Portland venues against Big Sky foes. History shows us that the key to winning the Big Sky is defending home court. Over the last ten years, five Big Sky champions have been unbeaten at home in league play, and four have had only one loss. Only in the 1999-2000 season, when Montana and Eastern Washington tied for the league title, did the league champion lose more than once on their home floor.
The fact that the Vikings have become so dominant at home is an interesting phenomenon, given their circumstances. The Stott Center is nothing more than a glorified rec center and, even though the Vikings have been awful good lately, it is rarely filled. PSU averaged 1347 fans for their home games during their Big Sky regular season title run last year, and their four home games this season have drawn an average of 970 fans. Official attendance for the Big Sky Conference opener against Montana (admittedly during a major snowstorm in the Portland area) was a whopping 415.
Creating Their Own "Aura"
So the Vikings are having to create their own "aura" at home. They are doing it with lots of talent -- most of it Division I transfers. PSU's best players -- 5-6 PG Jeremiah Dominiguez (University of Portland), 6-7 F Phil Nelson (Washington), 6-1 Dominic Waters (Hawaii), and 6-7 Jamie Jones (Portland) transferred into the PSU program from other schools. And Ken Bone is one of the truly good coaches in the Big Sky. He has a long history of winning games at lower level competition, and he's carried that forward into the Big Sky.
Yes, the win over Gonzaga will get a lot of national notoriety, but most folks who were paying attention already knew that the road to a Big Sky title goes through Portland.
--Brad B.
And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Can This Gang Shoot Straight?

Resolved: Idaho State is a good shooting basketball team. Discuss.

There is a rather spirited (and sometimes R-rated) debate raging on the Bengal message board these days about the Idaho State men's basketball team's offensive strategy. Let me state right now for the record: I'm no basketball coach, and I won't even venture an opinion on whether the Bengals' offensive sets are good, bad or indifferent. A more fundamental question for me, then, is this: Is Idaho State a "good (bad) shooting" basketball team?

I think the answer is, "maybe." On both counts.

I'm a real believer in the axiom, "you are what you are." When you recruit players out of high school or junior college, you can pretty much look at their statistics on that level and understand what you are getting. For example, a kid who shoots 40 percent from the floor in high school, no matter how many points he scores per game, is probably not going to be a great percentage shooter in college. A player who shoots 60 percent from the floor, meanwhile, is probably going to shoot a fairly high percentage in college -- whether that's because he's a naturally good shooter, or because he knows his limitations and rarely puts up shots outside his range.

So in debating in my own mind whether Idaho State is a "good," "bad" or average shooting team, I went back to the Bengals' "body of work," if you will, to see what their individual histories can tell us. And surprisingly, given the Bengals' lackluster 42 percent shooting as a team, what I found is that many of the Bengals -- Amorrow Morgan, Lucas Steijn, Demetrius Monroe and Matt Stucki -- are shooting right at, or better than their career numbers. In addition, newcomer Deividas Busma is making 55 percent of his field goal attempts, which is certainly a positive contribution to that team shooting percentage.

That leads me, then, to three players who are taking a significant number of shots, and missing them at rates far above what their shooting history would indicate: Austin Kilpatrick (above), Donnie Carson and Kal Bay. A-K has been the most baffling case so far this season. A career 37 percent shooter from 3-point range (including 44 percent as a true freshman), the 6-5 junior has made only 5 of 24 bombs (21 percent) so far this season. His 1 for 6 performance against Utah State Saturday night was particularly telling, because the Aggies outscored ISU 27-9 from beyond the arc. A-K had several wide open looks from three, but couldn't get much to fall.

Perhaps most troubling about A-K's shooting is the fact that, after that outstanding freshman campaign, his three-point shooting percentage has consistently dropped -- to 35 percent last year, and, as noted, to 21 this season. He was bothered by vision problems last year, but reportedly went to contacts to resolve the issue this season. The longer 3-point line wouldn't seem to really impact Kilpatrick, because he frequently drops his bombs from well beyond the arc anyway. A sprained ankle and an early reduction in playing time this season may have contributed to A-K's struggles, but if you believe "history," at some point he should come out of this prolonged shooting slump.

Carson, meanwhile, is more of a mid-range jumper guy. A career 38 percent shooter, that is misleading because this year's 18 for 64 performance (28 percent) has really dragged down his overall percentage. Last year, the junior from Detroit made 42 percent of his shots. Which Donnie is for real -- this year's or last? Again, if you believe in past performance, Carson should be in for better times ahead.

Finally, we have the case of Bay, the 6-1 junior college transfer who started his career at Colorado. In his freshman season as a Buffalo, Bay made only 34 percent of his shots from the field overall, but 36 percent from three-point range. He is well below both those numbers as a Bengal -- 27 percent from the field, 24 from beyond the arc. Is the longer three-point line affecting Bay? What about the uncertainly of his role on the team, which has bounced back and forth from starting PG to SG, to a role off the bench? Those are all theories, but the bottom line is that we would expect Kal to settle into a role and shoot much better than he has through the first third of the season.

Again, looking at history, you'd have to say this year's Bengal team is only moderately "underperforming" its immediate predecessors. Joe O'Brien's two previous ISU incarnations hit 44 percent from the field, 39 percent from 3; and 43 percent and 31 percent, respectively. This year's numbers: 42 percent from the floor, 30 percent from 3.

One consistent factor in shooting this year has been how integral Matt Stucki is to the Bengals' success from 3-point range: ISU has been over 30 percent as a team seven times, and Stucki is
13 for 27 (48 percent) in those games. Clearly, the Bengals need A-K and Bay to start providing more consistent support to Stucki in the long-range shooting area. If they both start finding their rhythm, and if Monroe (60 percent). Steijn (55 percent), and Busma (55) continue to shoot well as they get more touches against smaller Big Sky teams, I can see the Bengals getting into that 45 to 47 percent range they need to win games. That won't necessarily make ISU a "good shooting" team, but in Big Sky Conference competition, it might be "good enough."
--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Scheduling and Attendance

It's ironic, because I've always struggled with math, but numbers intrigue me -- especially numbers in sports. So when a discussion started on Kellis Robinett's blog about Idaho State's basketball scheduling and attendance, I could not resist digging into some statistics. Here's what I found, and I doubt that any of it will stun long-time Bengal followers:

1. Idaho State fans like Big Sky Conference play more than non-conference games. I looked at attendance numbers for both non-conference and conference games over the last five complete seasons (NOT including this year's three home games so far). On average, Big Sky games over the last five years have drawn 2,396 fans -- compared to 2017 for nonconference games.

2. Given that Bengal fans don't seem to get revved up until January, then, it's noteworthy that BYU drew 4374 (the largest crowd for any ISU home game over the last six years). Even the 2816 that showed up for the Utah game, while certainly disappointing to ISU administrators, is a significant improvement over what the average non-conference game attracts.

3. The move back to Holt Arena from Reed Gym was a very wise move. Average attendance for non-conference games in Reed Gym was 1,867 fans, compared to 2,300 for non-conference games at Holt. (And those Holt Arena numbers will obviously go up this year, with the BYU and Utah crowds, and what should be a good turnout for Saturday night's matchup with Utah State).

A similar disparity can be seen when comparing Big Sky games in Holt with those at Reed: BSC games in Holt averaged 2,739, while those in Reed drew only 2,131. Even though Reed offered a more intense environment for the home fans, clearly many were turned off by the parking issues and lack of restrooms and concessions at Reed.

Doug Oliver made the decision to move to Reed largely because of conflicts over Holt Arena. His team could not practice there until the football season was over and the court was put down. He was often bumped from Holt --both for practice and games -- by outside events like the Simplot Games and the State Wrestling Tournament. Oliver simply figured that if he was going to have to practice and play a percentage of his games in Reed anyway, he might as well make it a complete home court advantage by playing them all there.

Obviously some of those Holt access problems have not gone away. This year's basketball team will be bumped for two home games at the end of the season to make way for the wrestling tournament, and the team did not practice in Holt until the football season ended. But current Coach Joe O'Brien realized the liability of recruiting to Reed, which would only rank as a middling high school facility these days, and Bengal fans have endorsed the move back to Holt with their pocket books.

Speaking of Attendance

Some of the fans on the Robinett blog were reminiscing about the "good old days" of the Herb Williams regime, back in the mid-1990s, when the Bengals drew big crowds for a couple of very competitive teams --one of which (the 1993-94 team) tied for the Big Sky regular season title. It's true the Bengals once drew about 7,000 fans for a game with Idaho and its star, Orlando Lightfoot, during that time frame, and it was not unusual to get 5,000 to 6,000 fans for the key attractions: Idaho, Boise State and Weber State. So what happened to those kinds of crowds?

Well, in my humble opinion, four things:

1. Obviously, Boise State and Idaho left the Big Sky Conference, those rivalries were badly diluted, and, when BSU and Idaho come to Pocatello every other year in December, those games are not "happenings" any more. The last time Boise State (2,883) and Idaho (3009) played in Holt, they drew good crowds by non-conference standards, but about half of what they would have drawn when they both still belonged to the Big Sky Conference. The Broncos and Vandals had long-standing rivalries with all of the original BSC members, and their departure wiped out big gates for teams throughout the league.

2. The entire conference is still suffering from the loss of the Broncos, Vandals and the University of Nevada. Average per game attendance in the Big Sky fell 400 a game the year Nevada left the league in 1992. Five seasons later, after BSU and Idaho left, it plummeted from 4,400 to 2,900 per game. The league traded two relatively large fan bases in Boise and Reno for Portland State and Sacramento State, two schools that don't draw flies. Last year, the league averaged 2,329 fans per game, tying the mark set during the 2004-05 season for the worst attendance since the league started keeping track in the 1975-76 season.

3. Weber State is no longer a dominant program, and their descent into mediocrity has removed their designation as the team everyone else in the league loves to hate. The Wildcats still hold the season record for average attendance -- 9,868, set by the 1979-80 team. Last year, by contrast, Weber averaged a little more than a third of that -- 3,577. The Wildcat fans don't travel as well, either, and that impacts Idaho State more than any other team in the league.

4. Montana went from a basketball school to a football powerhouse. Ask anybody attending an Idaho State-Montana basketball game in Dahlberg Arena in the 1970s what the most popular sport in Missoula was, and, if it wasn't "potato rolling," it most certainly would have been hoops. Grizzly football and dilapidated Dornblaser Stadium were mere afterthoughts. Now, however, football is king in Montana, and the Griz basketball team is just something to kill time between the playoffs and spring practice. That has not only hurt the gate in Missoula, but it has dampened the Griz "draw factor" around the rest of the league. as well.

One final perspective on the attendance issue. While there may be particular seasons when good programs rise up and enjoy a boost in attendance, I doubt we'll see a return to those days of the 1980s when Big Sky teams routinely averaged 5,000 a game. There is simply too much competition, with a dozen or more college and professional basketball games on television every night, and professional teams just down the road from Idaho State, Weber State, Northern Colorado, Portland State, Northern Arizona and Sacramento State. That competition, and the loss of rivals Boise State and Idaho, means it will be a very difficult pull just to get average league attendance back to the 3,000 per game mark.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Thoughts During a "Cross-Over Week"

It's one of those weeks when the future and present collide, where one sport is getting ready to rebuild for next season, and one faces a big challenge in the here-and-now. Where to start?

How about first-things-first. Wednesday is the first day that mid-year transfers from junior colleges can sign with four-year football programs. The Idaho State coaching staff is placing a good deal more emphasis on junior college recruiting this year, because the Bengals need immediate help on a number of fronts. In particular, Coach John Zamberlin (above) and his staff are looking for defensive linemen and linebackers who can make an immediate impact next year. Given a choice, of course, any coaching staff would prefer a mid-year JC transfer who can get into school in January and take part in spring football. Sometimes, though, the better junior college athletes are available to schools like Idaho State when they are fall enrollees, simply because a lot of bigger schools won't be willing to wait for them if they can't transfer in January.

In the past, Idaho State has sometimes waited to announce its mid-year transfers on the more traditional "national signing day" in February, when high school recruits can first sign. (This year, that date is Feb. 4.) I don't know how Coach Z will want to play announcements this year, but I know there are a lot of anxious Bengal fans looking forward to a solid JC recruiting class, whenever the players enroll, and whenever their signing is announced.

On to Hoops

While Zamberlin and company build for next season, Coach Joe O'Brien and his men's basketball team will get another quick reality check on where they stand this year when the Bengals host Utah State on Saturday night. The Aggies are 6-1 with their only loss a two-pointer to a very good BYU team at Energy Solutions Arena on Dec. 6. Utah State is led by two talented big men -- 6-11 Gary Wilkinson, who was the pre-season WAC Player of the Year; and multi-dimensional Tai Wesley, a 6-8 F who usually marks in every statistical category.

Like most Stew Morrill teams, this year's Aggies are good shooters, hitting over 54 percent from the field. They are also a dominant rebounding team this year -- Utah State is outrebounding its opponents by 12 a game so far. If the Bengals are going to win Saturday night, two things have to happen: 7-footer David Busmas has to stay out of foul trouble long enough to contribute, and the Bengal wing players, in particular Matt Stucki, Amorrow Morgan and Donnie Carson, have to make big efforts on the glass. Busma picked up three fouls in only 9 minutes against Wisconsin-Green Bay last week, had three fouls against Wisconsin, and fouled out against Utah. He needs to be a presence for at least 20 minutes against Wilkinson and the Aggies.

It is no revelation, meanwhile, to say that the Bengals always play their best when Stucki, Morgan and Carson are playing at a high level. They are Idaho State's best athletes, and they have to score and rebound for the Bengals to beat good teams like Utah State. That trio put up 43 points and 17 rebounds in the win over Utah. By contrast, they combined for only 17 points and 8 boards in the dud against Wisconsin-Green Bay last week.

Finally, Back to Football For a Moment

Montana will try to bring a national championship back to the Big Sky Conference when the Grizzlies meet Richmond in the FCS title game Friday night in Chattanooga. The Griz have been in the title game six times, winning twice. They are the only Big Sky Conference team to reach the championship game since Boise State lost to Youngstown State in 1994. I must say, I'm conflicted about whether to root for the Griz. On the one hand, a Big Sky championship is a Big Sky championship; on the other, another Montana title only continues to reinforce the notion that the Big Sky is a one-trick pony on the national scene. Since Boise State, Idaho and Nevada left the league, the Griz are the only BSC team to make a dent on the national consciousness.

As I try to decide who to cheer for, I'll go ahead and give you my keys to a Montana win Friday night: 1) Stop Josh Vaughan, who has run for 1722 yards and 19 touchdowns, on first and second down, forcing the Spiders to put it up more than they'd like; and 2) Protect QB Cole Berquist. The Grizzly QB has been sacked a whopping 48 times this year, and he'll be going up against two of the better defensive linemen in the FCS in Lawrence Sidbury (16 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks) and Sherman Logan (12.5 TFLS, 6 sacks). The Griz need emerging RB Chase Reynolds to continue to be a force on early downs, keeping the play-action passing game viable. If the Spiders throw a web around Reynolds (weak play on words, I know), it's going to be a long night for the Griz.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

No Blogs Allowed.....

Not really, but with no courtside internet connections, there will sadly be no live blog/chat for tonight's game with Wisconsin-Green Bay. I don't know how to do that one at home (maybe Mitch will run it), and it will return for the Arizona State game for sure. Let me know if you guys and girls want me to have Mitch (our G.A. run it for the home game with Utah State).


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How About That Headline?

"Snowfall flirting with record pace," said the headline in today's Green Bay Press-Gazette. I must say, there are times when I'm glad I don't travel with the basketball team!

Nice job, Frank, on the game-day blog on the ISU web site. I also watched the game on the Big Ten Network. In between uttering oathes over missed opportunities (all those offensive rebounds and the missed free throws in the second half), I was admiring how tough the Bengals hung in their two-point loss to Wisconsin last night. As Bengal Coach Joe O'Brien noted after the game, "These close loses are getting old." Yes, they are. The announcers on the Big Ten Network kept noting last night that ISU has lost three overtime games this year, and now the two-pointer in regulation to the Badgers. Oh what might have been.

Watching the Bengals compete well on the road last night eases some of that frustration. But to really take the next step forward, Idaho State needs to beat a good Wisconsin-Green Bay team on Thursday night. The Phoenix have won five in a row, they are already 2-0 in conference play, and, like the Bengals, they are an experienced club, returning 90 percent of their production from last year's 15-15 team.

In looking at W-GB's statistics, a couple of things stand out. The Phoenix are good shooters. They hit 39 percent from three-point range, and you DO NOT want to foul them. Their top six scorers all shoot 81 percent or better from the free throw line. As a team, they are making 86 percent of their foul shots. Mike Schachnter, a 6-9 F (above), has hit 33 of 34 attempts (97 percent), and Troy Cotton, a 6-1 G, is just under 90 percent. Also, the Phoenix are not a big, physical team, as evidenced by their minus-3 rebounding margin. And they have a negative assist to turnover ratio, which may indicate the Bengals can create some opportunities in the transition game. (Another Stucki-to-Bay-to-Monroe wrap-around pass or two would be nice.)

Bengal fans will note a couple of familiar names associated with the Phoenix. Chop Tang, a 6-6 F who transferred from Eastern Arizona, is a starter for W-GB. The recruiting sites linked Tang briefly to Idaho State last spring, before he signed with the Phoenix. And Jesse Childs, a Borah High School graduate and son of former Boise State star Chris Childs, is listed on the W-GB roster, although he has not played this year after transferring from Mesa Community College. I'm trying to find out his status as I write this.

I saw a lot of mental toughness on the part of Idaho State last night in Badgerland. Now, they have to take another step and win one of these tough road games. Thursday is the next best opportunity.
--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal. It ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful...but GAME ON BABY!!!

Yes, the weather is pretty nasty in Wisconsin, and the winter advisory is for another 6 inches or so, which should impact the crowd, but since we are here, and the officials are here, it's game on tonight against the Badgers. Folks should remember to catch the game on the Big Ten Network (439 on DISH), and also the audio is on XM tonight on XM 198 (the Wisconsin audio anyways).

Some folks know I have a little bit of a man-crush on how Wisconsin athletics does things over there (which is easier to do with the 9,000 some odd people they have working over there), but still, somehow, and I'm not doing it this year, but I've got to incorporate a little GameDay spot into the ISU website...I think it just makes things easier for the fans, no? Here is what I mean...this is what Wisconsin has. Seems simple enough....maybe will bust that out for conference games. My biggest thing is I know I'd want to do it really nice, and I fear I'd screw up the coding. Of course, Wisconsin has an entire internet staff that handles stuff like this, so hey, there you go. And yes, I know Montana does something similar, but again, they have a staff that handles it. Really...they wore THROWBACK uniforms for the Brawl of the Wild...full new uniforms....they bought 80 helmets, 80 jerseys, 80 pants, and 80 socks, and 80 belts for ONE GAME. No, they don't have money issues there huh?

A few links...
*Apparently, Idaho State's nickname has been changed from "Bengals" to "Soft Spot on the Schedule". Thanks...but we did beat #3 Utah.

*Apparently Maryland has sold just 16 tickets to the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl, which is twice as good as Nevada.

*Side note for the Wisconsin trip....so we had to really hustle to get from one end of the Minneapolis airport to the other to make our connection, so everyone ended up in different bathrooms, and all I could wonder was if I was in the Larry Craig bathroom. Seriously, and then this popped up today...to weird.

*I have to give Matt, an internet fan, credit for this, but someone in Pennsylvania has figured out how Idaho State is the BSC champion, if Montana wins on Friday night. I like his thinking....

*All the snow around reminds me of this....this still is funny after seeing it like 30 times.

*Lastly, some cool pictures of ISU basketball from the Journal.

Enjoy the game folks....look for me on camera...not sure which of the new sweaters I'm breaking out...the wife went shopping. She's too good.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Greetings from Big 10 Country

I'm on my own private "road trip," visiting my parents in Collinsville, Illinois, which is still "Big 10" country. I'll be watching the Bengals and Badgers on Big 10 TV here Tuesday night, and I'd thought I'd pass on my thoughts about the big win over Utah and what ISU has to do to compete with Wisconsin while I observe the vestiges of last night's Midwestern ice storm melt away.

First: Stuffing the Utes

Above all else, I have to say that was fun! There is just nothing like watching the Bengals compete and perform at a very high level against a good basketball team. That first half was a thing of beauty, and it all started with the aggressiveness with which the Bengals attacked. They pushed the ball up the floor at every opportunity, and took the ball inside with abandon. Even the bigs -- David Busma and Lucas Steijn, in particular, were unintimidated by Utah's 7-2 Luke Neville. Those two guys won't always put up great offensive numbers, but for Idaho State to succeed, they have to be active and aggressive every night.
Demetrius Monroe, who does not create his own opportunities but ALWAYS takes advantage of those presented, was also terrific Saturday night. Another very quiet 11 points and 7 rebounds for Meets. And I like the way Felix Caspari is slipping in for a few minutes here and there, grabbing rebounds, getting physical and keeping the energy level high off the bench.

Offensively, we saw what I think we all learned last year about this ISU team, but maybe forgot early in the season this year: the Bengals play better in space. They are not great shooters, and they don't create well out of set offenses. They play much better when they run and attack the basket.
That suits guys like Matt Stucki (above), Donnie Carson and Amorrow Morgan, and all three played well Saturday night. Stucki--my oh my--that was as good an all-around performance by a Bengal against a quality opponent as I've seen in my 30 years of watching Idaho State basketball. I arrived in town a year late to see the last ISU triple double by Lawrence Butler, but Matt really put on a show.

Despite the high energy level and great first half production, the Bengals still slipped into one of those offensive comas in the second half. They went eight minutes without a basket, and on our post game show, Stucki said it was largely because ISU was starting to settle for jump shots, rather than going to the rim. I agree with that assessment, but after Utah took a very brief lead, Morgan made two huge driving shots that put Idaho State back up for good.

Defensively, I was very impressed with the Bengals' ability to play man defense. Utah came into the game hitting 42 percent of its threes, and even though Luka Durca went out early with a rolled ankle, the Bengals still had to honor those other 3-point shooters and play a lot of man defense. While Nevill sometimes made them pay for it with dunks down low, overall, I thought Idaho State did a good job matching up with the Utes.
And Now: The Badgers

Wisconsin will be smarting, coming off a 61-58 loss at Marquette in which the Golden Eagles simply lived at the free throw line. The Badgers are still nearly unbeatable in the Kohl Center, though, and they will have the insulation of Big 10 officials that will allow their many bigs -- Joe Krabbenhoff, Marcus Landry, Jon Leuer, etc. -- to play the physical brand of basketball they love with impunity.
The Bengals will have to respond the same way they did against Utah -- with aggression going to the hoop offensively (and occasionally getting beaten up without any payoff), and with a willingness to play tough man defense on the other end. Badger PG Travon Hughes will be a key matchup for the Bengals, he's a quick penetrator who likes to finish at the rim, rather than a distributor. Landry, meanwhile, will step outside and shoot the three, opening the inside for the 6-10 Leuer. The Badgers are not the most athletic or skilled team in the Big 10, but they play physically, especially at home. This will be another good test for the continued growth and maturity of the Bengals. Will they carry over that "attack attitude" they displayed on Saturday night?

--Brad B.

And thanks for being Bengal fans -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun (especially Saturday night!)

Friday, December 5, 2008

How never won at Cops and Robbers as a Kid Though....

Before I get to that headline, another big day in Bengal athletics tomorrow, with the women and the men hosting two very good teams in the former WNIT champion Wyoming and the men hosting 5-1 Utah, who just rolled past Oregon 95-81 and have won five straight. They just might be better than BYU, and ISU apparently held up pretty well to the Cougars after they just crushed Weber State the other day in Ogden 92-62.

Fans can get buy-one-get-one-free tickets for either game by bringing a canned food item to the ticket office to help the Idaho Food Bank, which is just a tremendous deal for the fans...

In doing a little research for the Utah game (the game notes are here), ISU's non-conference opponents are a ridiculous 59-20, and none of them are under .500 right now (Nevada, who tied for the WAC title last year, is the worst at 3-3). That's just insane, and ISU is in a four-game stretch of games in which the four opponents are 24-3.

Basically, folks have to chill lout when the doom and ggloom speak comes around about this basketball team...they really aren't on a level playing field (I mean Boise State is 5-1 and we took them to two overtimes, Long Beach has won four straight, including a win over an NCAA Tournament team, and Hawai'i has beated a Big 10 team too). ISU will be just fine in conference play...coach O'Brien has certainly proved that over the past two seasons.

My Brother the Hero
OK, just a little family bragging...while I have this extremely important job (tongue firmly in cheek) I know where our bread is buttered. If you notice, I avoid using words like courageous, heroic, and things like that, because it doesn't sit well with me....people put their lives on the line every day...they are heroic and courageous. Well, I got this link from my little brother this morning (you have to go there, and hit the "click here for more info" link under News and Accomplishments). I always knew he was a little different (I'm a goalie...we are all different in my family), but the dude single-handedly stopped an armed robbery...not to shabby. Here is the text for those who can't figure it out...

"On 11/30/08 at approximately 11:20 am, while on his way to investigate a car horn sounding on the west side of JC Penney, Officer J. Mercogliano heard a woman screaming for help. He contacted the woman and her 12 year old daughter and was told that two male suspects had just attempted to rob them at gunpoint. Officer Mercogliano then saw a tan Ford SUV fleeing the area. Officer Mercogliano alerted other units and he then stopped the vehicle and detained the suspects until other officers could arrive. The suspects were taken into custody and a .40 caliber Glock handgun was recovered from the waistband of one of the suspects. Also recovered were masks, burglary tools and items of property that are believed to be stolen. The suspects were charged with armed robbery and several other charges and transported to BSO Jail for detention."

That's the kid we used to tease as a kid, and make fun of all the time. Nice job there Joseph (I just can't call him Joe....)

Told you she would win....
Matt and Chelsey apparently were down to two names for their new baby....Matt had a name he wanted, Chelsey had one she wanted. The baby is named Colton, which was Chelsey's pick, making Matt a very smart man in my book.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Here Come the Runnin' Utes

Second-year Utah Coach Jim Boylen has apparently put the "run" back in the Runnin' Utes. Utah put up 95 points on the Oregon Ducks last night in the Huntsman Center, and afterward Boylen felt so frisky he picked up the microphone, thanked the fans for attending, and said something along the lines of, "this schedule is for you." I wonder if Joe O'Brien will feel tempted to make the same comments after the Utes come to Holt Arena on Saturday night?

Remember how quickly BYU pushed the ball up the floor against the Bengals last weekend? Remember how well the Cougars shot the ball, in particular the three-pointer? Well, Utah may be as good in both of those departments. And, unlike BYU, which has a huge ? in the middle, the Utes feature 7-2 Aussie center Luke Nevill (above), who is averaging almost 18 points a game while hitting 67 percent of his shots.

Utah is shooting the ball better from the field than BYU was prior to the Cougars' arrival (Utah-52 percent, BYU 51), and the Utes are hitting 42 percent of their three-point attempts. Four Utes average in double figures, and five are hitting at least 42 percent of their three-point attempts. (Compare that to the cold-shooting Bengals, who have only Donnie Carson --3 for 5 for 60 percent and Matt Stucki, 7-17, 41 percent, shooting the three-ball with any accuracy.)

Boylen felt some heat when the Utes lost their season-opener to Southwest Baptist this year, but they quickly recovered with home wins over Wisconsin-Green Bay and Oregon, and road victories at Mississippi, Morgan State and Missouri State.

The Bengals, meanwhile, are still licking their wounds from their awful offensive performance at Washington State earlier this week, and looking forward to getting Stucki back after his wife Chelsey gave birth to their first child on Wednesday. (See Frank's entry below). That's kind of the way this season has gone for Idaho State so far -- Stucki played his best game of the year against BYU on Saturday, then had to miss the Wazzu contest while awaiting the blessed event.

We all knew this schedule the Bengals have signed up to is an absolute killer, and it has lived up to that and more. As difficult as it is for ISU fans not to lose heart, it is essential that the team members themselves continue to compete and bring some energy to the arena as they run this gauntlet. That's easier said than done, I know, but at least the large crowd and the antics of some of the BYU players kept the energy level high last weekend. Here's hoping the Utes inspire the same spunk on Saturday.

Cradle of Coaches

It may have been hard to believe back then, but Idaho State apparently had some pretty good assistant football coaches on staff from 1988 to 1993. The team was only 14-50-1 during that timeframe, but enjoyed the services of Kyle Whittingham (1988-1993), Dave Christensen (1990-1991) and Gary Anderson (1992-1994) as assistants to Garth Hall and Brian McNeeley. Whittingham, of course, is the highly successful head coach at Utah, where he is about to lead the Utes to the Sugar Bowl in the Bowl Championship Series. Christensen, the offensive coordinator of Missouri's high-octane spread offense, was named new head coach at Wyoming this week. And Anderson, who has been Whittingham's very successful defensive coordinator at Utah, will move up the road a ways to Logan to take over the struggling Utah State program, it was announced today.

Former ISU Coach Larry Lewis also had a number of assistants on his first staff that have gone on to higher profile jobs in the Division 1 ranks, landing jobs at Maryland, USC, Washington State, and Cal, among others. It may say something about the institutional barriers that exist at Idaho State that such coaching talent has come through Pocatello over the years with only sporadic success to show for it.
--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

And baby makes three...

A quick update...Matt Stucki will be on the court on Saturday night against Utah, as he and his wife Chelsey welcomed a new son into the world on Wednesday afternoon around 2 o'clock or so pm. The baby to be named later (they are down to two, one his choice, one hers...guess who is gonna win that one...) was 7 lbs, 13 oz, and 21 inches and healthy.

Matt by the way approved this message, and I'll throw this out...any fans want to get Matt and Chelsey a congratulatory message can send me an email at mercfran@isu.edu, and in the subject line put the word CONGRATULATIONS! in it, and I'll print them all out and give them to Matt after practice this week. Send away!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Shouldn't It Be DiPesto Court?

The Bengals have hit the court here in Pullman, Washington, after another small airline delay (smog in San Diego, where our flight originated from), so the Bengals arrived in Pullman and instead of going to the hotel, they hit the court at 7:05 pm for their 7:00 pm practice, so it was about 20 minutes of getting loose with the basketball, and stretching with Lucas Steijn leading the way.

And yes, if Lucas is leading the stretches, that means ISU is down one senior as Matt Stucki stayed back to just in case his wife Chelsea goes into labor. If she doesn't, the plan is to induce labor on Thursday, so Matt will be back this Saturday against Utah and then make the Wisconsin trip. By the way, Wisconsin just about blew it tonight, but they held on with a basket with 0.9 left. Seriously, Virginia Tech scored 12 points in 50 seconds at the end to tie it before the final shot....yikes.

Back to BYU
Now, the Cougars coming to Holt was a big deal, but I didn't think anything I wrote would make the Salt Lake Tribune, but there it was on Saturday. Perhaps it wouldn't be a big deal if they drove 3 1/2 hours north for a game more than twice every 56 years, but hey, what do I know.

Kellis Robinett liked ISU's fight against the Cougars (can anyone else but me believe there were ZERO technicals in that game? Really? The whole ripping hte ball out of Steijn's arms? That was OK? I must have missed a meeting, because I'd have teched everybody in that one, both ways...), and even Tim Flagstad was on board with it as well, and seriously, the comments folks left under the article are pretty amusing. Also, Jason Franchuk of the Provo Daily Herald has a pretty good take on the whole thing as well.

And Howie Stallick is Not on the ISU Christmas Card List Either
Idaho State basketball has been called many things....run and gun is not one of them.

Former Bengal Assistant to Lead the Cowboys...
The Wyoming Cowboys that is, as Dave Christiansen, who was an offensive assistant for the Bengals in 1990 and 1991 and has been Missouri's Offensive Coordinator was named the head coach by A.D. Tom Burman.

For Those That say Boise State Gets Everything....
Apparently their new Sprinkler System Project has been cancelled...

Another First for Jesse Smith
Former Bengal Jesse Smith scored the first points in the history of the new NBDL franchise the Reno Bighorns.

They're Back....
That would be the women's team, which, after SEVEN STRAIGHT ROAD GAMES to start the season, finally see the light of Reed Gym on Wednesday night at 7:00 pm against Montana-Western. The ladies lost in their last outing to North Dakota State, with Oana Iacovita earning all-tournament honors.

One last football thingy....
Mark Liptak talked with John Zamberlin for a season recap for the Twin Falls Paper...

That's all for now....bonus points for those of you that get the headline and picture and the site of where this blog originated at....

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bengal Non-Conference Foes Make Good All-American Team

As I was watching the college basketball highlight show Sunday night and saw that Arizona State's James Hardin put up 40 points on UTEP, it occurred to me that Idaho State's non-conference opponents could put together a fairly representative All-American team. So I did some research to come up with the best players the Bengals will face during their brutal non-conference death march. Here's my list:

James Harden, 6-4 G, Arizona State

The powerful, 220-pounder (above) was averaging 24.4 points a game before his outburst against the Miners, as well as 6.6 rebounds and 4 assists. The Bengals will get an up-close look at the future NBA first-round draft pick on Dec. 23 in Tempe.

Lee Cummard, 6-7 SF, BYU

Cummard didn't have a great game against Idaho State Saturday night, but still posted 17 points. The defending co-MWC Player of the Year, Cummard is averaging 19.4 points and 7.6 rebounds a game, while shooting 65 percent from the floor. When I interviewed former BYU and Jazz player Andy Toolsen on the pre-game show Saturday night, he said he thinks Cummard is good enough to be a lottery pick in the NBA draft. I'm not sure I agree with that assessment, but he'll definitely get a chance to mke an NBA roster when his time comes.

Luke Babbitt, 6-9, 220 pound PF, Nevada

One of only three Nevadans to be selected a McDonalds All-American, Babbitt turned down more prestigious programs to play for his hometown Wolfpack. He is averaging 15.8 points and 8.2 rebounds as a freshman. Nevada, which is off to a disappointing start, hosts the Bengals Dec. 27.

Gary Wilkinson, 6-9, 240 F, Utah State

The pre-season WAC Player of the Year, Wilkinson is averaging 18.5 points and 8.8 rebounds a game, while hitting 77 percent of his field goal attempts. The Aggies will be in Holt Arena Dec. 20.

Luke Nevill, 7-2, 265, C, Utah

An All-MWC 2nd Team selection last year, the Aussie center is scoring 17.4 points and grabbing 9.6 rebounds a game this year, while making 66 percent of his field attempts. The Utes visit Holt on Saturday.

Marcus Landry, 6-7, 230, F, Wisconsin

The defending Most Outstanding Player in the Big 10 tournament last year, Landry is averaging 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds, and has 15 blocks for the Badgers this year. ISU travels to Madison Dec. 9.

Jonathan Tavernari, 6-6, 215, F, BYU

The gliding lefthander from Brazil put on a show against the Bengals Saturday night, slinking through the lane for 23 points. (He also succeeded in joining Cummard as the two most disliked visiting players in Holt). Tavernari is averaging almost 16 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.

Donovan Morris, 6-1 G, Long Beach State

The defending Big West leading scorer, he snoozed through regulation and the first overtime against the Bengals, then put up 14 points in the second OT to clinch the game. A master at getting to the free line, he nailed 25 free throws in 27 attempts against the Bengals, averaging 23.5 points in their two meetings this year and last.

Trevon Hughes, 6-0, G, Wisconsin

Hughes is averaging 14 points a game for the Badgers. He was fourth in the Big 10 in steals last year with 62, and hit 52 three-pointers.

Tai Wesley, 6-7, 240, F, Utah State

A second team pre-season All-WAC choice, Wesley is one of those all-around stat stuffers for the Aggies -- he's shooting 74 percent from the field, averages 6.8 rebounds, and has 19 assists to just 6 turnovers, while averaging 13 points a game. He and Wilkinson will be a load for the Bengals' front line players.

Jacob Pullen, 6-0 G, Kansas State

The sophomore from famed Proviso East High School near Chicago started as a true freshman last year. He's averaging 16.6 points a game this season for the Wildcats, who will host Idaho State on Jan. 3.

Jeff Pendergraph, 6-9, 220, F, Arizona State

While he's overshadowed by Hardin's exploits, Pendergraph is a steady contributor for the Sun Devils, averaging 13 points and 6.6 rebounds while making 79 percent of his field goals.

Aaron Baynes, 6-10, C, Washington State

Baynes had 7 points and 8 rebounds against the Bengals in Holt last year. He's averaging 11 points and 6 rebounds a game while making 66 percent of his shots for the Cougars, who host ISU on Tuesday night.
--Brad B.
And thanks for being a Bengal fan, it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Random Thoughts on a Monday

First of all, congrats to the Bengal football team, John Zamberlin and his staff, and all the seniors on their big overtime win over Sacramento State on Saturday. I was in Boise, preparing to broadcast the men's basketball game that night, and had to settle for second-hand reports of the game, so I missed all the excitement. But I'm extremely happy for Coach Z and his staff, and special kudos go to Kenyon Blue (in flight at right), the man for the Bengals on Saturday.

Bengal QB Kyle Blum did his part to keep the "quarterback controversy" alive over spring ball, with a 342-yard passing performance on Saturday. He seems to be developing a nice relationship with Isaiah Burel, and with Jaron Taylor coming back next year, the Bengals should have a potent passing attack. They need to add depth and speed at the wide receiver position, and find two or three running backs who can step in and contribute -- the faster the backs, the better.
The offensive line should be fairly well set next year -- with one notable exception - the key left tackle spot. I would imagine the Bengals will be hitting the junior colleges looking for candidates for the position. There doesn't seem to be a true left tackle candidate on the current roster.

The Griz Do It Again

Speaking of Big Sky football, I was once again amused to see that Weber State just couldn't quite shut the door on Montana's long reign as Big Sky champs. Weber's loss to Eastern Washington on Saturday allowed the Griz to claim, for the eleventh straight season, that they won or tied for the Big Sky crown. The loss to EWU also made it easy for the playoff committee to send the Wildcats on the road for the first round of the playoffs. Weber has to play Cal Poly, coming off an overtime loss at Wisconsin, in San Luis Obispo in the first round. And the Griz? Well, they are at home, of course, where they will host Texas State.

On another Cal Poly note, if the Mustangs had a reliable kicker, they very well could be enjoying an undefeated season this year. They lost to Montana early in the season when their kicker missed a 29-yard-field goal that would have given them a 31-30 win. The Mustangs also missed two extra points on Saturday in Madison, which would have allowed them to win the game over the Big 10 Badgers in regulation.

Ex-Bengal Quarterbacks Make Good Coaches

In case you hadn't noticed, two former Idaho State quarterbacks were the head coaches in Friday night's 5A State championship game in Holt Arena. Gino Mariani, of course, coached the HIghland Rams to a state title over Paul Peterson's Eagle squad. Both Mariani and Peterson played under Jim Koetter, former Bengal head coach who won a state title or two of his own at both Pocatello and Highland high schools. Other former Bengals who have coached Idaho state champions include both of Koetter's sons, Brent and Dirk.

On to Basketball

If there was any doubt what a stepchild the Boise State basketball program has become, you only needed to be at Taco Bell Arena Saturday night for the Idaho State-BSU men's basketball game. The listed attendance was 2,100, but it seemed a lot emptier than that. Granted, it was a rainy, snowy night and most Bronco fans were probably at home glued to their television sets, watching the end of the BSU win over Nevada in football.

But BSU rarely fills Taco Bell Arena to half full under even the best of circumstances. The Broncos won 25 games last year and a WAC title, they have a wonderful facility and, under Greg Graham, they play an entertaining uptempo style. But it's not football and Boise is nothing if not a football town these days.

The Bengals tried to provide some extra drama Saturday night, coming back from an 11-point deficit to force two overtimes, and even taking a 3-point lead in the second OT. But ISU simply did not have a defensive answer down low to Boise State's two big men, Mark Sanchez and Kurt Cunningham. And, aside from the terrific effort by Amorrow Morgan, the Bengals had very few offensive answers all night long.

Bengal Coach Joe O'Brien promised a shakeup in the starting lineup for Tuesday's game with Long Beach State, and he said Saturday one will involve the insertion of Deividas Busma into the lineup in the place of Lucas Steijn up front. The other opening will likely be created by the benching of Donnie Carson who, Coach OB said on our post-game show, is simply not playing with the fire or energy he displayed at the end of last season. Perhaps coming off the bench will give Carson the mental boost he needs. Another Bengal veteran, Matt Stucki, has also struggled early. He's shooting only 35 percent from the field and just seems totally out of synch on the floor.
It doesn't take a mathmetician to understand Idaho State's early season offensive problems. The Bengals' key outside shooters -- Stucki, Kal Bay, Austin Kilpatrick and Carson -- are shooting a combined 17 for 77 -- 22 percent. From three-point range, Stucki, Bay and Kilpatrick are 7 of 30 -- 23 percent. I know the big men missed a ton of five-footers Saturday night, but the Bengal wing players also have to step up their shooting considerably.

Part of the problem may be that O'Brien is still experimenting, looking for the right combination of players in the right situations. So far he's used eight different players at the guard positions, and Kilpatrick, for example, has only played an average of 7 minutes a game (down from 22 a game last year). Kilpatrick is 0 for 11 from the field.

It's understandable that O'Brien wants to see what he has in newcomers like Phyllip Taylor, Michael Lacey, Sherrod Baldwin (who did not see the floor in Boise) and Bay, but at some point he's going to have to give his shooters a chance to settle into a rhythm. Having a deep bench is a good thing, but it also poses some coaching challenges.


Bengal women's coach Seton Sobolewski would love to have O'Brien's challenges. The first-year coach used just seven players in beating Utah State in Logan on Saturday night. Michelle Grohs put up 21 points and 10 rebounds in 39 minutes to lead the Bengals to a 58-43 win. She was one of five Bengals to play at least 29 minutes. The only two subs for Idaho State were freshman Sheila Adams, who played 23 minutes, and Cara Lambert, who got five minutes at the post. The Bengals won despite shooting only 36 percent from the floor. Oana Iacovita had 10 points and 7 rebounds, and Chelsea Pickering had 10 points, five rebounds and five assists. It looks like most Bengal wins are going to be grinders this year, but Sobolewski appears to be getting the most from the limited roster he inherited.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

No way to re-LAX

For those of you uninitiated in traveling with a team, let me tell you, it's sort of like watching an amoeba....the gang mostly stays in a circle, and every now and then a smaller group moves away from the group like a cell trying to reproduce, and eventually, most of the rest of the group follows suit and moves to them, keeping the amoeba intact. It's just sort of funny.

So, after a whirlwind bit of travel, going from ISU men's basketball Friday night to driving to Missoula to the football game to driving back right afterward just so I can get up at 5:15 (what is the deal with the 5:15s I've been awake for this year?) to go to the Salt Lake Airport for a near 7 hour flight to Hawaii, we missed our connection in LAX, so we have a three-hour wait, meaning we'll get back to Holt at 4:30 pm instead of 2:00 pm...oh well, at least they have free internet.

The one thing you cannot possibly do well on a plane is sleep...it's just not possible. I had two seats, and I'm not the biggest character in the world, but I couldn't get comfy. Mark Campbell had THREE seats and laid out across them like a bed and didn't get much sleep at all either. Traveling is hard, and there is a reason it's hard to win non-conference games on the road....recovery is just hard.

For those that missed it....
Idaho State just did get nipped by Hawai'i, 67-64 in overtime, and while ISU had PLENTY of chances, the fact that ISU played 45 minutes of zone defense and got whistled for 29 fouls is comical, especially when Hawai'i played man-to-man all game, and a full court trap for 15 minutes, and got whistled for just 21. Also, the same three officials that worked the four-game Hawai'i tournament the previous two days worked the game ... it's just interesting. Anyway, here is the Honolulu Advertisers's perspective, and here is ISU's take as well, plus Kellis's running blog of the event, and this as well...we missed ya' buddy.

Doing the Charleston
Jeff Charleston is doing pretty well for the Saints after getting picked up at midseason, as this attests. The article doesn't mention that Jeff also worked for a bit on his dad's ranch to help stay in shape, and I know that because Jeff's dad told me that after the Portland State game.

Not an earthquake....just the bandwagon jumper-offers...
Kelvin Ang posted a few thoughts about ISU's opening weekend, and his comments are pretty good. Nice of some of the "fans" to practice jumpship in the comments section after the first three games of the season, back-to-back-to-back with a new coaching staff and offensive scheme in the first games after two of the program's greatest players have left. Seriously....it's game three....the fact that Sobolewski picked up a win in that third game is great, especially after opening with two probably NCAA Tournament teams to start.

One Last Game...
Football is heading into their final game (bring a can of food for buy-1-get-1-free....) and the Olympian in Washington has a great profile on Jaron Taylor. The Montana student newspaper has a conference final weekend outlook going, but I haven't heard too many folks bring up this point...Weber State is in, but if Montana State wins the Brawl of the Wild this week, they are 6-2. Montana would be 6-2, so Montana State would be in second place, and they would be playoff eligible to get in with their 8-4 record and seven Division I wins...do they get in? If the west gets four...well, Cal Poly is a shoe-in, right? Weber State is in....if they consider the Southland a west school, there might be a debate about Montana State. I have a feeling they would get left out due to the perceived East Coast bias, but I could see a case where they get in too. I can't imagine Montana getting left out, but it would be odd to see the second place Big Sky team left out for the third place, no? Could happen though...that'll be an interesting game to see on Big Sky TV...

From the Los Angeles International airport....that's about it. Cody VanFleet looks exhausted by the way...also, congrats to Mark Liptak, who made his re-debut on the air for Bengal women's basketball...heard nothing but good things about the broadcasts...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thoughts on Busy Football Off-Season

As a disappointing Idaho State football season comes to a conclusion, thoughts of Bengal fans start turning to the hard off-season work that will be necessary to begin to restore the program. Bengal Coach John Zamberlin and his staff have a lot on their plates as they try to rebuild the program. Here's a look at their ambitious off-season agenda:

1. Stem attrition. Right now, Coach Z has to deal with players who are considering leaving the program because they are homesick, want their parents to see them play more often, are academic non-qualifiers who have been paying their own way, or think they should be starting or playing more. Zamberlin will meet with every player after the season is over, get their input into the state of program, and talk to them about what they need to do to be a part of a successful ISU program in the future. Not everyone will listen to or agree with Coach Z's assessment, and some will opt out. Hopefully, he can convince a majority of such players to hang tough.

Holding on to your players also means keeping your LDS missionaries committed to returning. The Bengals have a number of former recruits out in the mission field who are scheduled to return next year or the year after. These players are "re-recruitable" and can choose to join another program without penalty, so ISU has to keep the communications lines open and convince them to return to the program. This also will include two of the better-looking athletes in this year's freshman class, Kevin and Kyle Whimpey, who will be leaving for missions in December.

2. Hit the junior colleges hard, identifying and getting commitments from players who can make an immediate impact next year, especially on defense. The Bengals' problems on defense are well-documented. They need three or four kids who can step in immediately on the defensive line, two or three linebackers and at least one cornerback. There are some redshirts who have promise -- defensive end Jake Rouser, tackle Mykel Durr and safeties Phillip Pleasant and Chris Holmsely will likely all contribute immediately next year. But ISU must find a minimum of four or five other defensive players who can run and hit, and understand the schemes well enough to do it from Game One.

3. On offense, the Bengals have a major need for speed at the skill positions. They lose WR Eddie Thompson and RB-KRT Kenyon Blue, and WR Jaron Taylor has only one year left. RBs Clint Knickhrem and Ben LaPorta, a redshirt, are both in the power back mold. ISU needs to add someone like Delonte Williams, the NAU speedster who took a recruiting visit to Pocatello last year, only to wind up torching the Bengal defense for the Lumberjacks during his return this fall.

The Bengals also need more depth on the offensive line (isn't this an annual refrain?), and they need to find someone who can step up and play the essential left tackle spot immediately.

Oh, and that quarterback situation? This one is going to be tricky. Russ Hill and Kyle Blum will likely head into spring in a battle for the top spot, and Evan Mozzochi has to be wondering if he's going to get a shot, too. ISU is also looking at bringing in two or three freshmen, who, ideally, would redshirt next year.

4. Special teams. Is the Mike Ramos (placekicker)/Jarret Huk (kickoffs) combination good enough for next year, or will the Bengals opt to bring in a scholarship kicker? Apparently J.D. Ponciano will be back at kick returner, but they'll have to replace Blue, an excellent punt returner. The Bengals need to upgrade their athletic ability all across the roster to improve the coverage and return units, which struggled at times this year.
5. Not all of these "solution" players will be, or need to be junior college or D-1 transfers. ISU is in the position of being to offer to better freshmen the opportunity to compete for immediate playing time. Will that be a strong enough pull to convince players to cast their lot with an 11-loss team? Don't know, but it's one known commodity for the Bengal coaching staff to sell.

The coaching staff knows it must bring in enough older players that improvement next year is obvious. At the same time, they must balance that with the need to recruit "character" kids who will stay committed to the program for the long haul -- and stay out of trouble. Nothing brings down a program faster than a knee-jerk reaction to start recruiting marginal students or citizens. If you're winning, a community will cut you some slack on the occasional "bad kid," but nobody is going to have much patience with players on an 0-11 team who get into trouble.

6. Coach Z will have to spend some time re-evaluating schemes and systems, and making sure his coaching staff "fits" what he wants to accomplish. He will also have to decide if he wants to continue to be the linebacker coach, or if his time and talents are better spent on "big picture" issues.
7. Zamberlin and Interim AD Jeff Tingey must make a decision on the non-conference schedule. Right now, Coach Z and the ISU athletic administration are trying to figure out the best balance for a non-conference schedule that will include some confidence-building lower-tiered teams, as well as some revenue-building D-1 programs. The decision will also have to involve teams already contracted for next season. Some tough decisions are going to have to be made, and as Idaho's economic situation grows more problematic and the prospect of more state holdbacks becomes evident, I wouldn't be surprised to see "money games" rise to the top of the priority list.

None of these "to-do" lists are unique to Idaho State, but the tenuous state of the program makes successful completion of each item all the more critical. Here are some key dates to keep in mind as Coach Z and his staff start checking them off:
Dec. 17-Jan. 15--Signing period for "early" junior college transfers, who will be on campus for spring football practice.

Feb. 4-April 1--Signing period for all high school players and junior college transfers who will not be on campus until fall practice.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan. It ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Basketball Scouting Report

I just got done watching two future Idaho State basketball opponents on the Big Ten Network Sunday: Long Beach State at Wisconsin. The Bengals are going to have their hands full with both of these clubs. The Badgers are the defending Big Ten champions, but they've lost several key players off that team. They do return Marcus Landry, however, the defending Most Outstanding Player from the Big Ten tournament, and he showed why on Sunday. Landry had 23 points, including a critical three-pointer down the stretch that helped hold off the 49ers. The 6-7 power forward blocked several shots, and was a monster on the boards. He'll be a load for the Bengals when they travel to Madison Dec. 9.

But Long Beach State, which won only six games last year (including one against Idaho State) is not going to be any patsy when they come to Holt Arena on Nov. 25. Led by defending Big West scoring champ Donovan Morris, they were tied with the Badgers with a minute and a half left in the game on Sunday, before Landry and Co. made a couple of big plays to clinch the win. Morris was quiet in the first half against the Badgers, scoring only two points, but he went on a 10-point run in the second half that left the 49ers tied with 4:33 to play. The 49ers also feature four very athletic freshmen recruited by former Gonzaga and Minnesota Coach Dan Monsen, and their quickness and athleticism gave the Badgers fits all day.

The 49ers certainly won't be intimidated by Holt Arena. They led BYU, which has now won a nation's best 48 straight at home, by 7 points at half in the Marriott Center on Friday, before losing 75-65. Then LBSU gave Wisconsin, which is 108-7 in the Kohl Center, a game to the finish on Sunday. I've got the DVR fired up for another future Bengal opponent, Idaho, as the Vandals play at Michigan State Sunday evening.

--Brad B.

Friday, November 14, 2008

BREAKING NEWS --- Caspari Cleared to Play

I was literally on the way to run some errends and grab lunch when word came down from the NCAA that Felix Caspari has been cleared to play for today's game with Eastern Oregon. As you could well imagine, Felix was ecstatic in the offices upstairs, as was the coaching staff, particularly Geoff Alexander, who has worked the phones and internet tirelessly along with Compiance Director Joel Vickery. Apparently it's a provisional clearence, but there should be no other problems, so ISU is at full strength, and now Caspari can travel to Hawaii, because up until 20 minutes ago he couldn't travel either. Get there early and let's see you tonight.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Just One Big Crazy Weekend Coming Up

I'm continually impressed with the posts that Brad Bugger has been enlightening us with...I hope you all are enjoying. Oh, that crazy weekend? Men's basketball game on Friday at 7, get done at 10, drive to Missoula, get in a 3:30 am or so, sleep for four hours, handle all the pregame stuff, radio show at 10:45 am in Missoula, football at noon, drive back at 4 or so, back in Pocatello at 10 or so, repack, sleep, get up at 5:15 am, catch the Salt Lake Shuttle to the airport, and fly to catch up with men's basketball at noon. The saving grace, when all that ends....I'll be in Hawaii...I hope I'm awake to enjoy it. Back to one of the 100 or so Division I blogs on the internet (and about 80 or so popped up after this one).

Men's Basketball Opener on Friday night
Just a reminder that the team is doing a Meet & Greet at Wingers (all you can eat Sticky Fingers for $9.99 ... I mean are you serious?) where fans can get promotional materials and get pictures and autographs. Just don't take Busma's wings. Also, nothing too new on Felix's deal, but Felix has personally been in contact with the people in Brazil the NCAA is trying to reach for their International Clearinghouse, so I'm thinking good happy, positive thoughts right now. Let's keep our hopes up on this one.

However, Friday is the big day as the Joe O'Brien era, year three, officially opens against a ridiculously good NAIA opponent in Eastern Oregon. For those that think this is a pushover so there isn't a need of showing up, just read Kellis Robinett's blog post on that one. Hey, you can even ask the newlywed a question too! Also, Ryan Collingwood (an Eastern Oregon grad doncha know...) has his season preview of the Bengals up as well.

One question that wasn't asked was about parking for the game on Friday at Reed. There were still good spots near the facility last Friday, and the crowd was really not bad for an exhibition game. While Reed did lose parking spots, folks can park at the Vocational Tech building across from Reed, or at Turner-Garrison, catty-corner from Reed. It might involve a one block walk, but it's not further than parking near Bonneville Park and walking to the Holt front doors.

Lots of Women's Debuts this Week
The Seton Sobolewski era officially starts on Saturday when ISU takes on a very, very, very good DePaul team down in Albuquerque for the first of three games in that tournament (they also have Alcorn State and New Mexico). Along with the debut of Seton Sobolewski and his staff (actually, Jordan Green and Angela Munger have both coaches here before, so only Seton and Holly Robertson debut) Mark Liptak will be going at it solo on the radio call, so make sure you tune in for Mark's broadcasts. Also, Kelvin Ang talks about ISU's first recruiting class for Sobolewski, who stole one recruit out from under the University of Idaho for good measure. Idaho did announce former Bengal Bianca Cheever has signed with Jon Newlee and the Vandals.

Volleyball's Late Run
I joked at the press conference this week that very quietly, the volleyball team has won six of their last nine, making a late playoff push. The great thing is while we are all pretty happy with the team's resurgence, Chad is disappointed they haven't won more, and he isn't satisfied that the team is playing up to their potential, and wants them to do even better. Gotta like that, but credit to him and his team...it's ISU's first four-match win streak since 2003. It's a tough road this week at Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona.

Super Secret Press Conferences?
I was asked recently why ISU's Monday press conferences are not available video-wise or audio-wise, and the answer is the video thing is an equipment issue. The digital camera int he office doesn't have any sound for video, so that's not helpful, and the audio files can only be stored for a short period due to the amount of server space we get as an athletic department, which would eventually lead to major linkrot. Eventually I'd love to have a nicer digital camera that records video just for that purpose. I know Tim Flagstad videos the press conference with his camera (My wife's camera can do the video, but she uses it during the day because...well, it's hers...), but I can't find it on the Journal's site. If anyone would like to donate a good digital camera..... :) (EDIT 10:48 am ... Tim Flagstad sent me the link to his video of the press conference here. Yeah to Tim!!!!)

Three-point line stuff
The Journal has some good stuff on the new three-point line, as Kellis talked at length with some of ISU's long-range threats. When at Holt, there is no confusion because there is only the men's line, but at Reed, as you can see by the photo, there are two. Kelvin Ang took a closer look at how the two lines will effect the women's game.

In the Interest of Presenting All Sides
While I don't necessarily agree with all of Dan Thompson's points in his column, he does make some valid ones as well on the subject of marketing.

Quick Football Hitters
Since I'm gonna be rolling into Missoula around 3:30 am on Saturday morning, catching about four hours of sleep and getting up at 7:30 to start getting ready for the game, it'll be a quick hitter for me, so here are some quick hitters for you...Roman Stubbs of the Kaimin, Montana's student newspaper, has two pretty good pieces, on John Zamberlin, and on how Montana is approaching this game, knowing the Brawl of the Wild is next up for them. Dan Thompson has his weekly power poll as well as his notebook (note McBride's comments...a tremendously classy individual to note that while recovering from his ailment). I like Mac even more now. Fritz Neighbor of the Missoulian has his look at Idaho State, but I'm not sure who Mike Phipps is.