Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Looking Ahead to Next Year

As I try to forget last night's disappointing end to the men's basketball season, I am already doing what all good Bengal fans do so well --looking ahead to next year. What are the Bengals' prospects for next season, and who else will be in contention in the Big Sky Conference?

Well, as Montana State has shown us, nobody really knows how this bizarre league will evolve, and next year may be even more unpredictable than normal. There are seven teams that look, at least on the surface, to be very much in the same situation -- one or two stars returning, and a nice supporting cast coming back. How younger players develop and what newcomers emerge (like Montana's Anthony Johnson did this season) will go a long way toward separating what looks like a very crowded -- and competitive -- field. (Especially if the league elects to reduce the post-season tournament to four teams.) This is my first guess at how the Big Sky preseason poll will look, based on returning players.

1. Portland State. The Vikings lose some good players in Jeremiah Dominguez and Andre Murray, but they return all-league guard Dominic Waters, forward Phil Nelson who has star qualities, steady post players Julius Thomas and Jamie Jones, and Donotas Visockos, a 6-10, 235-pound center who transferred in from Southern Mississippi but got hurt this year. The Vikings will still be able to shoot the three, but they could be a much better post team next year, as well.

2. Montana. There will always be questions about this program as long as Wayne Tinkle is the head coach, but the Griz return Johnson, who will undoubtedly be the pre-season player of the year, as well as starters Ryan Staudacher and Jack McGillis. They also have a couple of 7-footers in Brian Qvale and Derek Selvig, and a 6-7 redshirt Mathias Ward who has generated a lot of buzz.

3. Weber State. The Wildcats lose two major contributors in POY Kellen McCoy and Daviian Davis, but they still return four talented starters in first-team all-league Damian Lillard, Kyle Bullinger, Nick Hansen and Steve Panos, plus depth off the bench in Trevor Morris and Darin Mahoney.

4. Idaho State. The Bengals lose Matt Stucki, one of their leaders, on and off the court, and Lucas Steijn, who was playing as well as any big man in the league by the end of the season. They return plenty of experience and talent in all-league Amorrow Morgan, Chron Tatum, Austin Kilpatrick, Demetrius Monroe and Donnie Carson. The only newcomer for certain is freshman three-point specialist Eric Segert. The Bengals are also hoping 6-7 athletic forward Rolando Little will get eligible, giving them another dimension up front.

The real keys for how far the Bengals can go next year, however, may be two guys who spent much of the end of the season on the bench -- Deividas Busma (above) and Kal Bay. Can Busma develop the way Steijn did at the end of his career? He certainly has the athletic ability to be a force in the Big Sky, and his 20-point, 10-rebound performance against Long Beach State provided us with a tease of what could be if he can stay out of foul trouble and continue to develop. Bay, who broke bones in his hand twice in the last year, has to stay healthy enough to show the talent that got him recruited originally to a Big 12 school. Finally, Sherrod Baldwin's development at the point guard will be another key to the Bengals' season. If he can improve as much as Amorrow Morgan did between his freshman and sophomore seasons, ISU will again have a deep and versatile line-up.

5. Northern Colorado. The Bears lose Jabril Banks, the only non-guard on the first-team all-league squad, but they return all the other key contributors to a team that really came on at the end of the year -- Will Figures, John Pena, Devon Beitzel, Mike Proctor, Taylor Montgomery and Chris Kaba.

6. Montana State. The Bobcats looked like the worst team in the six-team Big Sky tourney when the regular season ended, but then they came together to shock Montana and Weber State on their respective home courts. Was that performance real, or was it just a momentary fluke? MSU will return four key players off that team, including Bobby Howard, Will Bynum, Erik Rush and Brandon Johnson, as well as promising 6-10, 270 C Cody Anderson. They'll miss big man Divaldo Mbunga.

7. Northern Arizona. It was a nightmare year for the Axers, who blew four double-digit leads, lost their all-time assist leader to injury and dismissed two contributors for violating team rules. Still, there is some good, young talent returning, including all-league sophomore G Cameron Jones, and two of the better returning big men in the league, Shane Johannsen and Josh Lepley. Mike Adras has a long history of success in Flagstaff, I would expect the Axers to recover and compete.

8. Eastern Washington. I have to think this is the last chance for Eagles head coach Kirk Earlywine, who has been on the outside looking in at the tournament for the last three seasons. EWU returns leading scorer Benny Valentine and top rebounder Brandon Moore, but they are going to have to develop a much stronger supporting cast.

9. Sacramento State. It's so hard to avoid the cliche joke, so what the heck, here we go: the good news is the Hornets return 12 players; the bad news is....well, you know Sac State finished with two wins this past season. Center Justin Eller is the only returning player who impressed me when I saw the Hornets this year, but you never know if some of the younger players will grow into contributors.
--Brad B.

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

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Lipper Speaks

For those of you that listen to ISU women's basketball, you have gotten to know the styling of Mark Liptak. Suffice to say that it's not all basketball in those will get some arcane references (and that is saying something since my football notes are regarded as the king of arcane references). Still, the Lipper is known here in Southeast Idaho as the Voice of ISU women's basketball. However, did you know that he is known nationally for his work with White Sox Interactive ( Mark, a die hard Sox fan (I raced to his house and doused him with champagne after they won it all in 2005), lives out a fantasy of sorts, talking with old White Sox players and personalities for interviews, which have become a regular and popular feature of the site, and almost all of his interviews are found here. (Seriously...he interviewed Wilbur Wood, Milo Hamilton, Mike Veeck, Jim Kaat....I mean wow....)

Anyways, Mark submitted a blog post for me, and as opposed to trying to explain how to post here (which is easy, but I digress), I told him I'd post it here, so without any further's the Lipper.

Notes From The Season:

By Mark Liptak

Frank was kind enough to allow me some of his blog time to talk a little about the season and things around the Big Sky Conference from a women’s basketball standpoint.

First off, I echo his comments regarding head coach Seton Sobolewski. The job that he (and by proxy) his staff did was pretty amazing. With everything that happened, starting almost as soon as he took over, with two players transferring, he has had to fight and scrap to keep his program competitive. Needless to say that was accomplished.

Next year with the way things are shaping up, he’s probably going to have a “full boat” of players.

As it stands right now, he’ll have five returning scholarship players who were healthy (Adams, Iacovita, Diehl, Guertin and Peets), four incoming freshman signees (including a tall post player and the player of the year from Arizona), two returning scholarship players who were injured (Pickering, Videbeck), two players returning from academic issues (Blodgett, Lambert), the transfers who will become eligible (Natalie and Nicole Hawkins) and the walk-on (Kari Green).

That’s 16 players right there if (granted that’s a big if) everyone returns. Plus I strongly suspect Seton and his staff is not done recruiting for this year. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see where two more players, probably of a junior college variety are added before the end of May.

That pushes the number to 18 possibilities. After this season that is surely refreshing and welcome by all.


I don’t get a vote in the season ending conference honors but if I did, here is how my ballot would look:

Coach of the Year: Seton Sobolewski – Idaho State

Freshman of the Year: Katie Bussey – Montana State

Most Valuable Player: Kelsey Kahle – Portland State

Offensive Player Of The Year: Kelsey Kahle – Portland State

Defensive Player Of The Year: Michelle Grohs – Idaho State


As far as my “conference All-Stars” (you can debate first team, second team and so on) in no particular order:

Jenna Brown – Idaho State

Michelle Grohs – Idaho State

Oana Iacovita – Idaho State

Courtney Stoermer – Northern Colorado

Julie Piper – Eastern Washington

Claire Faucher – Portland State

Kelsey Kahle – Portland State

Kelli Valentine – Portland State

Britney Lohman – Montana

Mandy Morales – Montana

Sonya Rogers – Montana

Nubia Garcia – Montana State

Erica Perry – Montana State

Sade Cunningham – Northern Arizona

Charday Hunt – Sacramento State

Caitlin Anderson – Weber State

Tonya Schnibbe – Weber State

Sarah Connor – Weber State

As you can tell, the Big Sky was a “guard heavy” league this year but that’s O.K. Give me any five of the players I listed above and I’ll win a lot of games.


Finally my thoughts on the Big Sky venues I saw this season, many for the first time. This is in order of preference if I was a player:

1. Weber State – The best in the league. It’s interesting that every major college in the state of Utah has a first class facility. (BYU, Utah, Weber State, Utah State, Southern Utah and Utah Valley State.)

2. Eastern Washington – A very nice facility. Well lit, good floor, lots of room along the baselines. The only thing they need to do to upgrade is to get rid of the upper level older wooden bench seats.

3. Montana – Surprised? Me too. I expected something akin to a Big Sky version of Rupp Arena with everything I had heard about this facility. I frankly was disappointed…oh it’s nice don’t get me wrong (if you don’t count the unfinished ceiling…I love looking at duct work, electrical cables and insulation!) but it just didn’t match the hype in my mind.

4. Idaho State – The Bengals spent a lot of money upgrading Reed Gym and it shows. It’s a good facility. The only issues are the bench seats and the lack of room along the baselines.

5. Northern Colorado – An older facility on the outside that was upgraded internally. Nice lighting but the overall look is that it’s a little too big for basketball, maybe if more fans were in the building from when I saw it; it would have a better feel.

6. Sacramento State – Like with Montana, reality disproved perception. Yes it’s small… very, very small… but the floor is well kept, the facility is clean. Now all they need are some real live people in the seats.

7. Portland State – Another Sacramento State in my mind. Small…few fans. The facility just didn’t look as good to me as Sac State’s did. Maybe it’s the color scheme?

8. Montana State – As Brad Bugger told me, ‘this is an old rodeo arena.’ Brad had it pegged right. It’s too big for basketball, and can’t work for football. They try to cut the size down somewhat with curtains but the room along the baselines extends to forever. Most of the facility floor is covered with the old tartan surface from back in the early 80’s that is ripped up, torn and dirty. MSU has good teams and good fans…they can do better then Worthington Arena.

Northern Arizona gets an incomplete grade because the Big Sky track championships pushed ISU-NAU to the Rolle Athletic Center. If for some reason, NAU permanently played their games there, this facility would rank dead last to me. No room along the baselines, the lighting is odd (shooting the ball from the baseline results in you looking almost directly into the ceiling lights) and as for fans. Well during the National Anthem, I counted 125 people, with about 25 of them ISU supporters.


It’s been an interesting and fascinating year for me as the new play by play voice of the program. I didn’t realize how hard the coaches and players have to work until I spent a lot of time with them. If there are two things I can stress to you, loyal reader, about the program it’s these.

1. These are dedicated individuals doing what they love to do under sometimes very hard and difficult circumstances. Road trips are very tough because you can’t leave from Pocatello and remember these players have to study as well. I can personally testify that they seem to do this all the time…on the bus, on the plane, after practice.

2. This program is headed for very good days ahead under Seton and his staff. It won’t happen overnight, and I’m not saying they are going to become the next Montana, but to me the groundwork has been laid this season for a team that will play hard and be a genuine contender on a yearly basis in the Big Sky Conference and perhaps in the post season at various levels.

Mark Liptak

Sunday, March 8, 2009

From Wildcats to Vikings

I will give my partner, Jerry Miller, credit: he foresaw the upset by Montana State over Montana in Missoula last night. As a result of that Bobcat win, the Bengals slide up to the first Big Sky Conference semifinal Tuesday night against Portland State at 5 p.m. in Ogden. Had the Griz held homecourt, which most of us expected, the Bengals would have been playing the host Wildcats in the semifinal nightcap.

The Bengals split with PSU this year, coughing up 30 points off turnovers in a Vikings rout at the Stott Center in January, then putting five ISU players in double figures in a nine-point Bengal win at Holt Arena a month later.

Needless to say, the Bengals took much better care of the basketball in round two, committing only seven turnovers and yielding just eight points off those TOs. Matt Stucki had one of those signature nights he's authored a few times this, his senior year, putting up 25 points, four assists and seven rebounds in 40 minutes of play. Chron Tatum put together a double-double (13 points and 10 rebounds), and the Bengals held PSU to 10 of 30 shooting from three-point range.

Which Bengal team will show up in Ogden Tuesday: the ISU team that finished the regular season so efficient and fluid on offense, with everybody contributing; or the Bengal team that was offensively stagnant and reliant on basically two players, Stucki and Amorrow Morgan, to produce points?

In the Bengal win over Northern Colorado Saturday night, we saw glimpses of both. The Bears put a physical defense on the Bengals, bumping and shoving cutters, chesting up on dribblers and applying enough pressure that ISU frequently had to initiate its offense out near half-court. But unlike earlier this season, when that defensive pressure resulted in fatal offensive slumps, the Bengals kept fighting through the Bears' resistance.

Stucki led the way with another awesome performance (how about that dunk over Devin Beitzel above? -- not to mention a rare four-point play when he got fouled hitting a trey). But unlike earlier in the season, when it was Stucki and Morgan against the world, the Bengals got solid play from a number of other places. Even though Austin Kilpatrick struggled shooting the three-ball, he still hit all four of his free throws, wound up with 10 points and led ISU in rebounding and assists. Donnie Carson, meanwhile, went for 12 points, six rebounds, three assists and four steals. And Felix Caspari, the Brazilian Energizer Bunny, came up with eight points and three rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench.

So even though the Bears' physical defense sidetracked Morgan, a bruised knee neutralized Tatum and foul trouble sidelined center Lucas Steijn, the Bengals had enough to win. Survive and advance, that's what the post-season is all about, and even though it wasn't an artistic effort by either team, the Bengals live to play another day. And that's something the Montana Grizzlies can't say today.

Kudos to the Bengal Crowd

ISU Interim Athletic Director Jeff Tingey said Saturday night's crowd of 2,938 was the second largest actual crowd of the season, behind the over 4,000 announced for the BYU game. That's because just about every one of the 2,938 was actually in the building. Announced crowds include tickets sold, and in past games, ISU included season ticket holders who may or may not have used their seats that night. But everybody had to buy a ticket, even season ticket holders and students, for Saturday night's game and it sure seemed like all 2.938 used those tickets.

It was a great crowd, and they gave the Bengals an emotional lift at times when they were struggling, particularly in the first half, when the Bears took a six-point lead and ISU was having a hard time getting shots to fall. And it was great to see the response the crowd gave Stucki as he made his final victory lap around the Holt Arena floor after playing his final game there.

The nice turnout also helps the Bengals financially. The Bengals had to guarantee Northern Colorado $25,000 for the first-round game. Last year, ISU lost money on the opening round win over Montana, but recouped it and more by advancing to the semifinals, where each visiting team is guaranteed $75,000. I don't know if Saturday night's turnout will cover the full guarantee, but the more ticket buyers, the better. And of course winning Saturday night means the Bengals will get another nice semifinal payday.

One more note on finances -- if you're going down to Ogden for the game Tuesday, make sure you purchase tickets from the ISU ticket office before you go. Each school is required to purchase a certain number of tickets for the tournament, and if you buy the tickets in Ogden, you'll be donating money to Weber State's athletic program rather than the Bengals'.

If you come to Ogden, drop by the broadcast table and say hello to Jerry and I. We always look forward to talking to Bengal fans.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun -- especially at tourney time!