Thursday, November 6, 2008

My First Look at Bengal Hoops

I'm excited about getting my first look at both of the ISU basketball teams Friday night. (I stayed over in San Luis on Monday to visit family, so I missed the first men's exhibition.) There are lots of new faces on both teams, starting at the top with new women's coach Seton Sobolewski (heretofore to be known as "Coach S."), who will unveil his new motion offense in this, the post-Doma-Lightfoot era.

I don't know if Felix Caspari or Kal Bay, two of the more intriguing newcomers to the men's team, will play Friday night, but I hope so. I'm also looking forward to seeing big Davidas Busma (pictured above) and little Sherrod Baldwin for the first time. As I noted in a previous blog, we're all a little smitten with the possibilities of new players, but I know that guys like Amorrow Morgan and Matt Stucki are going to have to carry this team, at least for the first few months of the season.
The Bengals will probably be tested a bit more against Rocky Mountain College than they were in their opener. The Battlin' Bears are coming off a 22-9 season last year, and are 3-0 against an admittedly soft early schedule this season. I know this much: Bengal Coach Joe O'Brien will not be happy if Rocky Mountain matches the 69 points they put up against ISU in last season's exhibition game. The Bengals were outscored 43-37 in the second half of that contest (which ISU won, 84-69), and that kind of defensive effort is likely to spark that famous O'Brien Irish temper.

Rocky Mountain again features a familiar name to Bengal fans -- Chase Sukut, whose brother Chad played under former ISU Coach Doug Oliver several years ago. Sukut, who began his college career at Wisconsin-Green Bay, dropped 22 points on the Bengals last year, and was the leading scorer for the Bears with a 17-point a game average on the season. Also back for RMC is forward Devin Uskoski, who had 9 points and 8 boards against the Bengals last year.

I hope to see you all at Reed for the men's/women's doubleheader, beginning at 5:45 p.m. Friday. Drop by the broadcast table and say hello. Jerry and I will be on the air with our pre-game show about 30 minutes before the men's game, which will begin about 7:45 p.m. or so.

--Brad B.

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

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Gotta Hand It to Those Wildcats

It's tough to swallow, but you just have to hand it to the Weber State Wildcats, who are coming into Holt Arena Saturday with a chance to clinch the Big Sky's automatic playoff berth. The Wildcats haven't been to the FCS (nee 1-AA) playoffs since 1991, and the administration in Ogden came very close to shutting down the Weber State football program shortly thereafter.

With a last-second "bake-sale" like fundraising effort, Weber football partisans were able to save the program by raising enough money to cover a significant budget deficit. This all occurred shortly before I started broadcasting ISU football games in 1994, and I remember talking to WSU Coach Dave Arslanian immediately thereafter. All the talk about potentially eliminating football at Weber cost the Cats several recruits -- and one existing Wildcat, Brad Otton, who later quarterbacked USC against my alma mater, Northwestern, in the 1996 Rose Bowl.

As far as I know, the Weber football program hasn't been seriously in jeopardy since, although the quality of play and fan support has waxed and waned over the past 15 years. Weber did manage to extract a sizable donation from the Elizabeth Dee Shaw Stewart Foundation in the early 2000s, resulting in a 38,000-square foot addition to their stadium that includes luxury boxes and a Wildcat All-American room, among other amenities. Three years later, Weber hired former Utah Head Coach Ron McBride, who, at age 65, was all set for one last coaching hurrah. There was a great deal of excitement surrounding McBride's hire, and a lot of Wildcat fans expected instant gratification. (Imagine that -- college sports fans expecting results NOW!).

It didn't come. Coach Mac was 15-18 in his first three seasons at Weber, and a lot of Wildcat fans gave the program the old "Bengal shrug," which is the gesture ISU fans have perfected after yet another football coaching savior has been shown the door. The shrug is usually accompanied by mutterings along the lines of, "If Coach XXX couldn't get it done at Idaho State (Weber State), who can?"

Yet here we are, heading for the finish line in the Big Sky Conference race and the Wildcats have just about lapped the field. They've already dispatched perennial kingpin Montana, and manhandled Northern Arizona on the road. With just winless Idaho State and disappointing Eastern Washington left, the Wildcats look like a shoe-in to win the conference title outright.

So how did Coach Mac and his staff arrive at this exalted position, when early returns indicated more Ogden mediocrity? Well, in preparing for my broadcast this week, the one thing that really jumped out at me while I was looking at the Weber two-deeps is the relative cosmopolitan nature of the Wildcats' roster. These guys recruit from all over the West: the offense features two starters from Arizona, three from Hawaii, one from California, and five from Utah. The defense, meanwhile, has four starters from California, three from Utah, two from Idaho (J.D. Folsom, Salmon and Biff [gotta love that name] Swan from Jerome), and one each from Wyoming and Oklahoma.

Coach Mac and his staff obviously have deep recruiting roots. Recruiting is about relationships, and when your head coach has been in the game as long as McBride, you can build a network of high school and JC coaches that entangles much of the West Coast. That's how you convince a future all-American QB like Cameron Higgins, for example, to leave the warmth of Hawaii for northern Utah.

Next comes two bigger tests for McBride and Co.: stepping on to the national stage and winning a playoff game or two; and maintaining consistency as a Big Sky contender. The first will partially be a product of matchups: who will the Wildcats draw in round one, and where will the game be played?

In order to help assure achievement of the second, meanwhile, Weber is in the process of negotiating a contract extension with McBride and his staff, as we speak. At the age of 69, you know those recruiting against Mac and staff are constantly raising the "Joe Pa" question -- how much longer do you expect McBride to be around? The contract extension will purport to at least partially address that issue. It will also, as McBride told the Salt Lake Tribune, "take care of my assistants." Read that any way you like, but I expect it will result in the designation of an heir apparent, to further sooth future recruits.

No, as a Bengal fan it's awful hard to accept the fact that our archrivals are coming to Holt on Saturday for a coronation. If the Bengals are going to provide any salve at all to their beleagured fans this season, raining on the Wildcat pennant parade would seem most appropriate.

--Brad B.

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

One of My Favorite Days!!!!

Democracy reigns! Obama! McCain! Nader! (they were listed in alphabetical order folks....easy does it). Today is one of the days that I personally love....the presidential election. It's all about statistics...and just makes me giddy with American pride and all of that. Being a pop culture junkie, and then having a big screen TV to watch all the election stuff with...well, I'm in hog heaven.

I'm also in hog heaven because I can finally start blogging a little more after this week, as the October/November cross-over hit hard in my office like it always does. However, most folks should have seen that the men's basketball bios were updated online (and thanks to those that sent me a note that I left off Michael Lacey...oops), and that the media guide is also online.

Speaking of basketball....that game was $5 last night, so with the ISU sports season having not been the winningest of falls, I would have thought we'd have a packed house for that game, but sadly, I was wrong. The guys play again Friday in a wicked triple-header at Reed Gym...

3:00 pm - Volleyball hosts Sacramento State
5:45 pm - Women's Basketball hosts Concordia (CA)
7:45 pm - Men's Basketball hosts Rocky Mountain

Just so folks know, the volleyball game is separate from the basketball, so once volleyball ends, we will clear the gym, and then the cost of a ticket for the basketball games is $5, with that price good for both games (unreal value in these economic times, no?).

So the guys won their exhibition opener 73-55 over Montana Tech, and personally, they looked pretty good for an opening effort minus three guys (Austin Kilpatrick, Felix Caspari, and Kal Bay) who will significantly help out on the offensive end. Kellis Robinett's blog is fantastic with some postgame audio and video...check it out. Also, it should be noted that Coach O'Brien flat out told me before the game that he didn't have much in on the offensive side of things, since he concentrated on defense first. Also, with Katie Zigars and John Hapke as my witnesses, I said right at the opening tip "Bengals by 18".

Dan Thompson also has some bloggy thoughts about the upcoming football game against Weber State, who clinch the Big Sky's automatic berth to the FCS playoffs with a win on Saturday.

Scott Haynes of the Sports Network has his Big Sky men's basketball preview out, and he picked Idaho State fourth, way lower than I've seen anywhere else (which is cool to even say really...fourth is the LOWEST I've seen us picked....I'm giddy).

Pago Togafau is right back where he started by the, not with Idaho State, but with the Arizona Cardinals, who just signed him off of the New Orleans Saints' practice squad to replace Ali Highsmith, who was put on injured reserve. Also in the world of pro football, Eric Price, who started his career at Idaho State, was signed to the Boise Burn, along with Mark Weivoda and Ernie James, and Emery Beckles told me today that he should be signing with them soon as well. Also, Jared Allen is being accused of a couple of cheap shots by the coach of the Texans. Allen also was injured during the game as well and is iffy for their big game Sunday with the Packers.

ISU women's basketball opens up on Friday, and there will be some more in the local paper on them this week, but former ISU standout Stephanie Pemper is in her first year at Navy, and is taking a specific approach to things.

I totally wish I could have signed up for this. Also, make sure you read this on ISU's Brenda Cooper.

Lastly, how about softball landing in a conference for the 2010 season? The Pacific Coast Softball Conference, just what the doctor ordered.