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.