Thursday, February 11, 2010
With three basketball games in four days coming up for the men's basketball team, it's turning into a bit of a do-or-die weekend for the Bengals, who admittedly have not played up to expectations at 6-17 and 3-8 in the Big Sky, but despite rumored reports, they ain't done yet. ISU had Northern Colorado, who will be looking for win number 20 on Friday night at Reed at 7:05 pm, and then Northern Arizona on Saturday at 7:05 pm. The weekend then rolls into Monday's 7:05 Senior night game with Cal State Bakersfield, as ISU will see six Bengals; Rolando Little, Chron Tatum, Donnie Carson, Austin Kilpatrick, Demetrius Monroe, and Amorrow Morgan play in their final home games.
You guys thought I was going with a six pack for the picture didn't you? well, I wasn't going with Taylor Lautner's abs, but I did go with the old Kenny Rogers movie, which came out in 1982 and contained one of my first movie star crushes...Diane Lane, who was 17. I can still watch her movies today...heck of an actress.
But what does it all mean for the games this weekend? I figured I'd breakdown where everyone is at, going in the league standings and working down.
Weber State, 9-2, 15-8
The Wildcats have punched their ticket into the conference tournament, as they can finish no worse than 9-7, and three schools, ISU, Eastern Washington, and Sacramento State cannot match that. Weber State's two losses are to Northern Colorado and to Montana, both on the road, and they have UNC on Saturday night. That game will be pivotal for Weber State's tiebreakers, so that's the game of the week at this point. Weber State still needs to take care of business to clinch the right to host the tournament, but a sweep this weekend puts them just inches away, or in reality, one more win. Their schedule is identical to ISU's, except they host the Bengals next week in a rematch of the triple-OT thriller in January.
(Games left: NAU, UNC, ISU, @EWU, @PSU)
Northern Colorado, 8-3, 19-5
Can they possibly be looking past the Bengals? I'm guessing the entourage that's joining Northern Colorado for the trip (SID and AD both coming, and a fan bus chartered to Weber to boot) are not coming here because Reed Gym is so cozy. They didn't bring this many folks to the conference tournament game here last year. If Northern Colorado has any prayers of hosting the tournament, they have to beat the Wildcats on Saturday night, assuming they get past ISU first on Friday, which is not a given. The Bears have won a grand total of once...once...in Pocatello since Reed Gym was built in 1951. Did I mention once? Of course, they usually weren't 19-5 either. The danger for them is a loss and Montana could catch and pass them for the #2 seed and the all-important bye into the semifinals, so they will be ready.
(Games Left: @ISU, @WSU, EWU, PSU, Johnson & Wales (seriously), @SAC)
Montana, 8-4, 17-7
I'm telling you right now...if Montana plays like they did the other night, they cannot be beaten. That said, they can't keep that pace up. Still, the team a lot of folks said was the best on paper has recovered from a 1-3 start and have gone 7-1 since. They probably woke up to late to host the tournament, but they are in a battle for the #2 seed, and if they are UNC both end up 12-4, the tiebreaker goes to the Griz, unless Portland State has a monumental collapse and ISU catches them for fifth place.
(Games Left: @PSU, @EWU, SAC, MSU)
Montana State 7-5, 12-11
This is a hard team to figure out, but as they showed int he tournament last year, even though they might lose a bunch of games (they are 12-11 after all), they can get a good run and win three straight, and that's what they will have to do. Their loss to Weber State (MSU missed two free throws in the final three seconds to tie the game...sound familiar? Weber State's boogey-man defense is awesome) means they aren't hosting, and they probably aren't catching anyone for the two-seed, unless Northern Colorado losse to someone else besides Weber, and MSU beats Montana at Montana, and if the Griz shoot like they did the other day, that's gonna be tough to do. Still, Montana State is in great position for a home game in the opening round. Much like UNC and Montana, they can clinch a playoff berth on Friday with a win and an ISU loss.
(Game Left: @EWU, @PSU, SAC, @UM)
Portland State 5-5, 10-13
Apparently Jeremiah Dominguez and those other cats were that good, because Portland State's streak of 20-win seasons is over at two. Still, this is a dangerous team that can shoot the ball from deep, and they are deadly at home (sounds like the other four, no?). That being said, they are also a little schizoid, which is the mantra of the bottom five Big Sky teams. PSU has a lot of experience, and that should count for something. They also have six games left, so they have a lot to say about the conference race, not just for them, but for everyone else. Their games this week against the Montanas are HUGE.
(Games Left: UM, MSU, @UNC, @NAU, ISU, WSU)
Northern Arizona 5-6, 11-11
The Lumberjacks have been the surprise of the league so far, as their 72% shooting day and stunning win at Portland State would attest, and you could make a pretty good case that Mike Adras is the Big Sky's Coach of the Year as no one thought this young squad would be where they were, but Cameron Jones is the great equalizer (Steve Shaff, you can borrow that), and the 'Jacks have won games at home and just enough on the road. However, this is a do or die weekend for them, having to go to the league leader in Weber State, and then they travel to ISU with a chance to either deliver a knockout blow to the Bengals, or really tighten the race, and even slip out of the top six. While the UNC/WSU game is the game of the week, the NAU/ISU is a fitting undercard. NAU has tough games from here on out, and just two at home, and they are probably the team ISU has the most realistic shot of catching.
(Games Left: @WSU, @ISU, EWU, PSU, @SAC)
Idaho State 3-8, 6-17
The Bengals are still breathing, and in reality, although it's tough, one good home weekend puts them amazingly in sixth place. Before we get to Friday, this much is clear...ISU has to beat Northern Arizona, because they own the tiebreaker with the 'Jacks if they do, as long as Montana finishes ahead of Montana State (or if ISU beats UNC on Friday, as long as either UNC or Montana finished ahead of MSU). A would at the very best put ISU two behind NAU with three to go, and NAU owning the tiebreaker. If ISU sweeps this weekend and NAU is swept, than ISU is the sixth place team with three to go. What that means is ISU better win on Friday as well. Oh that Weber State loss...oh that Sacramento State one point loss...oh, you get the picture.
(Games Left: UNC, NAU, @WSU, @PSU, @EWU)
Sacramento State 3-9, 9-16
The Hornets have nine losses, so they aren't in the same boat as ISU, and in fact it's worse, because they haven't beaten any of the top six teams, so they have zero tiebreakers, except over ISU and Eastern at this point. Still, they could finish 7-9 and squeak in somewhere, but it would mean a sweep at the Montanas and of NAU and Northern Colorado, and I'm guessing that's not happening. I suppose you never know, and the Hornets are a much more confident bunch,a nd Brian Katz is proving to be an excellent coach or this pesky squad.
(Games Left: @Seattle, @MSU, @UM, NAU, UNC)
Eastern Washington, 2-8, 6-18
Not as bad a shape with only eight losses, but they have a tough road ahead of them as well, and would need to at a minimum beat NAU and a few others and get some help. The have already played PSU twice and were swept, so their best shot is catching NAU. That shot is a longshot though with a tough schedule left as they have to face the top four one more time still, although three are at home.
(Games Left: MSU, UM, @NAU, @UNC, WSU, ISU)
Bottom line for Idaho State....sweeping the weekend could change everything...it could put them in sixth place with three to go, and I'm telling you that ISU is a lot like NAU....a scary team in the tournament that you don't want to face.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Areas where ISU has really been hurting for capable bodies the last few seasons appear to have more than enough players to create a competitive atmosphere come August. For example, at running back, where the Bengals had a hard time finding a healthy body to put on the field at times last season, there now appears to be at least seven legitimate candidates for playing time. They include newly-announced JC transfers Jahmel Rover (above) and Tavoy Moore, as well as holdovers Jordan Scott, Ben Laporta, Skylar Morgan, Darrius Coleman and Stew Tracy. None are sure things, mind you. Rover and Moore both had JC injury issues; Scott never got healthy enough to take a snap at ISU last year; Morgan and Laporta missed time last year, as well, Tracy had fumblitis and Coleman is unproven as a redshirt who may switch to the secondary.
But at least there are enough candidates, as the roster stands today, to present new Bengal offensive coordinator Phil Earley some options.
Same deal on the defensive side of the football. As I noted in my signing day evaluation, the Bengals have invested at least a dozen scholarships in the defensive line over the past two seasons. The result, if everyone stays healthy and they all return to the program, would be a defensive line that is three deep at every position. At defensive end, for example, you'd have returning starters Sean Rutten and Jeff Tuua; situational pass rusher Jarrid Nash; Rustin Phillips and Jake Rouser, who both started to come on last year before injuries intervened; and redshirt freshmen Jake Pele, Justin Vae'ena, and James Bergren.
At tackle, you have the two new JC transfers, Marcus Austin and Jordan Monga; returnees Chad O'Donnell and David Tyler; and redshirts Rob Tramonte, Tuiasosopo Niusulu and Isaiah Walker.
So you can almost predict improvement through sheer numbers in the two areas where Idaho State struggled the most recently, in the running game and up front defensively. Here's a quick look at the rest of the pre-spring football depth chart, by position.
One of the thinnest positions on the team by experience, but one of the deepest in pure numbers. Russel Hill, a part-time starter for the past three seasons, will likely be the man to beat come fall camp. He'll have the benefit of spring ball to learn Earley's new offensive system, while JC transfer Grayson Galloway will have to start picking things up during summer 7-on-7s. Behind those two will be a pack of youngsters: redshirt freshmen Kyle Morris and Jake Lammers; greyshirts Justin Level and Mike Davenport; and true freshman Riley Sessions, if the later doesn't go on an LDS mission first.
Some folks were surprised the Bengals didn't go for a junior college player to help fill out this position, but Moore, the running back, can line up in the slot, and they did sign a promising freshman athlete in Demetrius Cowherd who could wind up at receiver. Even if those two don't contribute right away, the Bengals still have decent depth here: Kelvin Krosch really came on at the end of last season; Isaiah Burel is a deep threat when healthy; and Roderick Rumble and Shaquille Senegal both got meaningful reps at the end of their true freshmen seasons.
Then there is the case of Andrew Benavides, who was on his way to an outstanding freshman campaign when he suffered a career-threatening injury vs. Northern Arizona last year. It will be interesting to see if Andrew came come back from that scare and play with the same reckless abandon that made him so effective before the injury.
Another injured freshman, Tubotein Taylor, also returns at receiver. Taylor suffered a broken ankle in a pre-season scrimmage and it may take him awhile to regain his explosiveness, as well.
This is another position where a new JC transfer (Andrew Zamora) will add depth to a group of youngsters who all got significant playing time last year: Bryant Ward, Josh Hill and John Van Vliet. In addition, Tyler Hjelseth, who missed all of last year with injury, has two years of playing time under his belt at the position.
The Bengals' offensive line took a lot of criticism last year, but when push came to shove, the ISU coaching staff opted for young depth rather than several JC transfers at this position. Four starters return: Mark Clampitt, who could play any position along the line; guards Mitch Rudder and Braedon Clayson; and tackle Travis Nua. Junior college transfer Elijah Rule, at 6-5, 335, played center in JC, but his frame may dictate a move outside to tackle.
Experienced depth will come from among Demetrius Grant (if he's healthy), Brad Shedd, Nick Tranmer and, if he stays on the offensive side of the football, Minh Williams.
The Bengals are bringing in three greyshirt freshmen here: Dave Frederickson, who originally signed with Hofstra; and the McElwain twins, Sean and Ryan, out of Eagle. The greyshirts will have the benefit of spring football, meaning they may be more ready to contribute in the fall than normal first-year linemen. Capital High's Nick Beckman will likely redshirt. Returning missionary Stetzon Bair, who is listed at 6-7, 245, reportedly has packed on another 30 pounds on his mission. Whether that means he'll contribute immediately or go on a crash conditioning program remains to be seen.
This is a position where I think Idaho State may be as deep and talented as most teams in the Big Sky Conference. AJ Storms, an all-conference performer as a sophomore, and Phil Arias, ISU's No. 2 tackler last year, both return here. Add Basim Hudeen, who was Hofstra's second-leading tackler last year, JC transfer Setaleki Fuapau, who at 240 pounds could be a situational pass rusher like Nash; Jeremy Gibson, who likely would have started last fall at OLB before academics bit him; and J.T. Albers, who saw significant time on special teams and at backup MLB.
If all of those players return and remain healthy, the Bengals will have plenty of fresh legs to put on the field late in the game, and their special teams will get a big boost.
This is a position where I think the Bengal coaching staff may still be a bit concerned, particularly at the corners. The safety spots look fairly stable, with returners Chris Holmsley and Dustin Tew, Hofstra transfer Greg Melendez and Phil Pleasant, who saw significant action last fall. The corner spots, however, are iffy, as in, "if they get eligible," Kelvin Miller and Kenny Viser may be the starters; if not, then you're looking at Keith McGowen, Cameron Gupton and Brenan Ghassemieh. Cowherd could also be a candidate here.
This one is a real "TBD." With both their starting place kicker and punter departing, the Bengals looked hard for a punter and a place kicker to challenge redshirt freshman Brendan Garcia, but they came up empty by signing day. I would expect at least one, maybe two late additions here.
Return to Hillsboro
About ten years or so ago, Idaho State played Portland State in Hillsboro Stadium, a high school facility located in the Portland suburbs, while the city's PG&E Park was being renovated. ISU will get the same experience this fall, with PG&E undergoing another renovation, this to accommodate Portland's new MSL soccer franchise. While Hillsboro Stadium usually accommodates high school teams, it's not a bad facility and they are installing a new field turf playing surface there in anticipation of the extra use it will get this fall.
While we're on the subject of Portland State, the Vikings are joining the ranks of FCS teams who are scheduling two big "money games" this season against FBS opponents. The Vikings, under new head coach Nigel Burton, will play Arizona State and Oregon of the PAC 10. Last year, Idaho State played both ASU and Oklahoma, Weber took on Wyoming and Colorado State and Northern Arizona played at Arizona and Mississippi. The Bengals will play two FBS opponents again next season: at Utah State and Georgia.
It's always fun to take a look at how early signing basketball recruits are doing during their senior season. Here's an update on Idaho State women's recruits:
PG Sheryl Bitter: Is averaging 12.5 points, 5 assists and 2.6 steals a game while shooting 39 percent from three-point range for the 11-10, 6-2 Shelley Russets.
2G Kara Jenkins: Averaging 4 points a game on an undefeated Auburn Riverside team that is ranked 30th in the nation by ESPN. Has to share the ball with a University of Washington recruit and several other talented teammates.
F Cydney Horton: The 6-foot post player is averaging 10.7 points and 7.8 rebounds a game for her Cherokee Trails, Colo. high school which has already more than doubled its win total of five from last season.