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.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Good for Portland State. The Spokesman Review stated the Vikings arrived into Spokane about 3 1/2 hours before gametime, since all flights out of Portland had been cancelled. The Oregonian's online edition ( stated:

The Vikings, who were to fly to Spokane at 9 a.m. Monday, finally got on a bus in Portland, arranged by Gonzaga officials, at 7 p.m., an hour later than expected and 30 minutes before Bone told the players he would send them home. They stayed at a truck stop near Snoqualmie Pass, arriving at 12:30 a.m. and didn't get to Spokane until 1:30 p.m. There was a quick jog, dinner, walk-through and, finally, a big upset.