Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Three Factors Sank Bengals

We've all had plenty of time to ponder the demise of Idaho State's men's basketball team, whose season mercifully came to a conclusion Saturday in Cheney, Wash. The Bengals, who were picked to finish third in the conference by the coaches and fourth in the media pre-season poll, whimpered to an eighth-place conclusion, finishing ahead of only perennial cellar-dweller Sac State. To make matters worse, the Hornets swept the season series with ISU.

Quick and dirty, these are my three keys to the Bengals' melt-down this year:
  • Defense -- or lack thereof. Basketball stathead Ken Pomeroy publishes numbers in key areas such as defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 defensive possessions); effective field goal percentage (which factors in three-point defense); turnover percentage; offensive rebound percentage; three-point shooting percentage defense; and two-point shooting percentage.

The long and short of it is that Idaho State was terrible in all these key defensive departments. There are 347 Division I basketball teams. Idaho State finished 341 in effective defense, 337 in effective field goal percentage defense, 331 in turnover percentage, 301 in defending against offensive rebounds, 315 in three-point field goal percentage, and 331 in two-point field goal percentage.

If you look at last season's numbers, you'll see Idaho State was in the low 200s to the high 100s in just about every major category. In fact, if you look at ISU's three previous seasons under Joe O'Brien, their defense has never been close to ranking this poorly in those key factors. We've had Joe and both his assistants, Geoff Alexander and Tim Walsh, on our coaches' show this year, and every time you ask them to pinpoint a reason why the team has struggled this year, they all say the same thing: lousy defense.

Why was the defense so bad? That's the $100,000 question. Lack of effort and heart? No true big man to clog the middle? The loss of Matt Stucki who, at 6-6, could guard every position on the floor, which is key to the Bengals' switching man-to-man? I don't pretend to have an easy answer to the question, but my eyes told me ISU was bad on defense and, in this case, the statistics tell me my eyes didn't deceive.

  • Lack of Development Among the Seniors: All of us -- coaches, fans, analysts -- all of us have a tendency to look at young players and mentally project where they will be when they are seniors. I know when I looked at Amorrow Morgan, Donnie Carson, Demetrius Monroe, Austin Kilpatrick and Chron Tatum after their sophomore seasons, I saw the potential for a great team by the time this campaign rolled around. But it didn't happen, and one reason is that Morgan was the only one of those young players to develop into an all-conference quality player over his four years here.

Amorrow increased his productivity significantly every season, from 1.5 points and 1.1 rebounds as a freshman, to 9.7-2.9, 13.6-3.3 and 16.9-3.7. Only a significant ankle injury late in his senior year kept him from having one of the best seasons of any Bengal in the last decade.

Other than Row, however, only Monroe got significantly better over his four-year career: from 2.2-1.6 as a freshman to 9.3-7.2 as a senior. And Monroe's lack of physical strength meant that most of his productivity came in the non-conference portion of his senior season. He had five double-doubles by the first of January -- and two thereafter.

The other veterans finished their ISU careers consistently inconsistent. Here are their numbers from their first to their senior years: Kilpatrick: 5.3-1.5, 7.3-2.5, 4.2-1.8, 7.0-3.3; Carson: 1.4-.5, 6.2-2.5, 6.4-3.6, 4.7-3.0; Tatum (came to ISU as a sophomore): 4.8-2.4, 6.6-3.5, 5.8-4.0.

Why the lack of development? Again, you can offer up any number of potential answers, including acknowledging that maybe we just over-estimated their ability. I won't pretend to know the answer, but it's plain the growth many of us expected and hoped for simply wasn't there.

  • The Failure of the 2008 Recruiting Class: When O'Brien finished his second year on the job at ISU, he started feeling the pressure. He had one year left on his contract, the guy that hired him was gone, and he knew he had to make strides to keep his job. So he took a calculated gamble and brought in four junior college players to join with five returning juniors in a no-holds-barred bid to win the league by 2010.

For a whole host of reasons, the gamble failed. Of the five players O'Brien signed in the spring of 2008, two played only one season and left the program (Kal Bay and Felix Caspari), two played one year and were unavailable for most or all of this past season (Phyllip Taylor and Deividas Busma), and one (Sherrod Baldwin) has proven to be nothing more than a role player to this point in his career.

The Bay-Caspari duo from Eastern Utah were particularly big mistakes. O'Brien was looking for a fulltime point guard and decided to take Bay, who began his career at Colorado, as his primary point guard candidate. Bay turned out to be more of an under-sized shooting guard with limited point guard skills, played only 24 games because of injury, and left the program by the end of his first season. His good friend, Caspari, who was a serviceable back-up forward and energy guy, then waited until right before the start of this season to decide he was no longer interested in playing basketball -- far too late to allow O'Brien to recruit a replacement.

Busma, the 7-foot center, played only seven games this season before being sidelined by a stress fracture in his foot. O'Brien expects him to return next year, but there's something about bad feet and big guys that makes me nervous (Bill Walton, anybody?). And Busma, who has shown fleeting glimpses of athletic ability that both excite you and perplex, has yet to provide any kind of consistent production during his time at ISU. He averaged 4.2 points and 3.1 rebounds as a junior, 3.4 and 2.4 in his brief stint this season.

Taylor, meanwhile, was academically ineligible this year. The coaches have talked consistently about how he has improved offensively during practice, and we saw glimpses of that when he put up 23 points in the pre-season scrimmage. But none of that ability was available this past season, when the Bengals definitely could have used a third or fourth offensive weapon.

In summary, ISU has gotten very little production from that recruiting class, and passed on a good three-point shooter and potential local favorite in Pocatello High graduate Nick Hansen, who wound up at Weber State.

If you wanted to add a fourth factor to this year's disappointment, you could certainly talk about injuries. The Bengals lost both Morgan and point guard Broderick Gilchrest, their two "money producers," to significant injuries during conference play, Busma was out from the end of November on, and backup big man Rolando Little missed several weeks after he passed out while jogging on Christmas Eve.

But as much as those injuries hurt the Bengals, I'm not convinced they would have made the post-season tournament even if everybody had been largely healthy. This was one of those teams that, for whatever reasons, just never seemed destined for success.

--Brad B.

Monday, March 1, 2010


So one of the unexpected perks of not having a men's basketball team playing anymore is I got to really look at the women's basketball standings....and boy are they a mess. It reminded me of a few years ago when entering the final weekend of the regular season, Eastern Washington was in first place, and then there were six teams at 6-7, with Portland State at 5-8 ... crazy, crazy stuff. Well, everyone is asking poor Katie Zigars what the scenarios are...can ISU finish second? Can they get a bye? Who will they play? Where will they play?

Well, that's where my morning went....back to high school math. I'm guessing a lot of folks don't remember much of their high school math stuff, but I was fairly proficient at it (obviously based on what I do for a living), so I busted out the tried and true EXCEL spreadsheet and went to work.

Basically, the standings are as such...

EWU 11-4
SAC 9-5
ISU 9-6
PSU 9-6
UM 8-6
MSU 8-6
UNC 5-9
NAU 3-11
WSU 3-12

and basically, there are seven games left

UM @ NAU (Thursday)
MSU @ UNC (Thursday)
SAC @ ISU (Friday)
PSU @ EWU (Saturday)
MSU @ NAU (Saturday)
UM @ UNC (Saturday)
SAC @ WSU (Saturday)

Now, there are 128 different possible outcomes of those seven what I did was map out all 128 (once you know the number it's easy...for the UM/NAU game, I listed UM as a winner the first 64 slots, and then NAU as the winner the last 64, then on the next ro, MSU as the winner the first 32, then UNC the next 32, and then repeat. I did that all the way to the last game, SAC at WSU, which just alternated SAC and WSU on the line, giving me 128 different seven-game outcomes.

Now, no matter what happens in those seven games, someone somewhere will be tied (my favorite was the EWU winning the title at 11-5 and then SAC, PSU, ISU, UM, and MSU all finishing 10-6), and there is one scenario where there is a tie for 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 8th...crazy stuff.

This much is known. EWU will host with a win over PSU or a SAC loss to either ISU or WSU. If SAC sweeps and PSU beats EWU, than SAC is 1st, EWU is 2nd, and PSU is 3rd. EWU has clinched a bye.

SAC can finish from first through sixth, PSU, MSU, ISU, UM all can finish anywhere from second to sixth.

If ISU is the 3 seed, they can play PSU, UM, MSU, or SAC
If ISU is the 4 seed, they can play PSU, UM, MSU, or SAC
If ISU is the 5 seed, they can play PSU, UM, MSU, or SAC
If ISU is the 6 seed, they can play PSU, UM, MSU, or SAC

To get the #2 seed, ISU must have at a minimum a win over SAC and an EWU win over PSU...then it's various combinations of other things. The good thing is after the two games on Thursday, ISU will have a shot at second, no matter what.

Anyways, the spreadsheet is in two is hanging in Seton's office, and the other is spanning the length of Katie's shelf above her desk, along with the tiebreaker key. If the Big Sky agrees with everything I'll post that sucker here, because it's kind of awesome in it's own demented sad (but social) way...Here is what it looks like (sorry these are a little craptastic...took them on my phone)

that's all of it taped together

a blurry closeup of the names

five feet worth of scenario goodness

Senior Night

Brad Bugger touched on it, but a great chance to see a game on Friday night at Reed and honor Oana Iocavita, Devin Diehl, and Andrea Vidabeck, who have all been great to have around.

I'm gonna get to finally see a women's game, and I'm excited to see the league's biggest surprise in Sacramento State, who were 0-4 and are now 9-5, and just putting up points like crazy. They came back from an 18-point deficit at Northern Colorado by putting up 63 ... 63(!!?!?!?!) points in the second half against the Bears. Geez.

Softball Up to 3-4
ISU's softball team rock and rolled over the weekend against the College of Idaho, winning 10-1 and 11-3, with Brittany Olsin going nuts, going 5-for-7 in two games with three doubles, a home run, and 6 RBI, including five in game two.

Idaho State's 3-4 record is the best in the PCSC Mountain Division...

Idaho State 0-00.0003-40.429W2
Utah Valley 0-00.0003-50.375L3
Portland State 0-00.0004-80.333L1
Northern Colo. 0-00.0003-90.250W1
Seattle 0-00.0001-80.111L1
Weber State 0-00.0000-100.000L10 that's always good.

Also, I want to touch on something, and I'm only doing this because I'm gonna guess the same pinhead who posted some serious misinformation on the Bengal Den message board contacted Kelvin at the Idaho State Journal trying to stir up some controversy. This past weekend assistant coach Shelly Prochaska handled the team, and she will do the same for the Arizona State tournament this weekend, because we granted head coach Andrea Wilson some time off to tend to a personal family matter.

Of course, the phone call I got from Kelvin was that he got a tip that we placed Andrea on administrative leave. I can confirm and end all those rumors right here....Andrea Wilson is dealing with a personal issue and will be back with the team shortly. What sucks is I even had to put that out there, but I know how rumors get started...

Good Hearts...
One last thing....having traveled with the men's basketball team all year, I can tell you that it was fun to see the team busting their butts all the way through the final whistle on Saturday with nothing to play for. I credit that to the kinds of people that Joe O'Brien has recruited, and all six guys should get their degrees either this year or next, which is really what it is all about for those guys.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Videbeck Takes Bengals to New Level

When Claire Faucher's career ends at Portland State later this spring, she will undoubtedly go down as one of the best point guards in Big Sky Conference history. Faucher has recorded over 1000 points and 500 rebounds, is the all-time Big Sky Conference assist leader, and ranks No. 5 on the all-time steals list. But a funny thing happened to the Viking star on the way to rallying her team in the last couple of minutes of the PSU-Idaho State game Friday night: Andrea Videbeck (left).

With the Vikings down by seven and 1:34 to play, the 5-9 Faucher took the 5-4 Videback to the basket, looking for a hoop and possibly some harm to get PSU back into the game. Instead, Videbeck blocked Faucher's shot, got fouled on the other end of the floor and drained two free throws. A few seconds later, Faucher took the in-bounds pass, turned quickly upfloor and watched as Videbeck stripped her clean for a steal. Another foul, two more Videbeck free throws, game over.

That sequence was the best, but not the only, example of how Videbeck has simply taken control during the Bengals' current five-game winning streak that has lifted them into third place in the conference standings. During the three-game ISU home stand that began with an overtime win over Weber State a week ago and continued through wins over PSU and first-place Eastern Washington, Videbeck has averaged 18 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals.

The two-time transfer from Fresno State and Chandler-Gilbert JC scored 18 second-half and overtime points to rally the Bengals from 15 down against Weber State, drained 10 for 10 from the free throw line to hold off Portland State, then nailed four three-pointers to boost ISU to a quick start against the first-place Eagles. Other Bengals, most notably fellow senior Oana Iacovita, have contributed to ISU's hot streak, but nobody's made more money plays than the pride of Gilbert, Arizona.

And probably no player has been a bigger surprise in the Big Sky Conference this year. Coming off an illness-induced redshirt season which followed a junior campaign in which she averaged only 1.5 points and 2.6 assists per game, Videbeck was in a battle just for playing time at the beginning of this season. Indeed, true freshman Kaela Oakes got the starting call early in the year as Videbeck shook off the rust from her redshirt year. Videbeck has started only 19 of the Bengals' 27 contests so far this season.

But she is clearly in control now, ranking in the top 15 in seven different statistical categories during Big Sky play, including minutes (33 per game), scoring (seventh--14.7), assists (third--6.0), and steals (ninth--1.7). And she is absolute nails from the foul line late, hitting 40 of 44 free throw attempts in the final two minutes of games. Twice she has gone 10 for 10 from the line down the stretch to seal victories.

Videbeck hasn't been perfect, of course. Turnovers continue to be her bugaboo (she gave up eight against PSU and has two double-figure TO games this year -- against Montana and Sacramento State). She will get her biggest test of the year this Friday, when the Hornets come to town still with an opportunity to steal the Big Sky Conference regular season title. Sac is the quickest team in the league and their pressure drove Videbeck (a dozen turnovers) and the rest of the Bengals crazy in the Hornets' win earlier this year. But the way Andrea has continued to grow and respond to the pressure over the course of the season, I certainly wouldn't bet against her on senior night.

MVP Who?

The race for the Big Sky Conference women's MVP is about as unpredictable as the league standings right now. Typically, the coaches honor the best player from the best team. But this year, Eastern Washington, who still has a game-and-a-half lead over Sac State for the regular season championship, would be hard-pressed to offer up a convincing MVP candidate. The Eagles are deep and talented, but as a result, they don't have any player who averages over 28 minutes a game. That has limited the stats for star Eagle players like Julie Piper, who is probably their best MVP candidate while ranking 15th in Big Sky scoring (12pg) and fifth in rebounding (8pg).

If Sac State should happen to sneak in the back door and win the league, I could see one of two Hornets winning the MVP honor: Emily Christensen, who ranks sixth in league scoring (15.4) and eighth in rebounding (7); or Charday Hunt (second in scoring, 19.6, 17th in rebounding--5.0).

Certainly the most impressive statistical season has been generated by Northern Arizona freshman Amy Patton, who will undoubtedly win newcomer of the year honors. She leads the Big Sky in scoring (21 ppg) and rebounding (9.7) in league games only. But the Axers are currently in eighth place and league coaches almost never give MVP honors to players for teams that don't make the post-season playoffs.

ISU's Iacovita could make a reasonable case for MVP honors, ranking fourth in the league in both scoring (16.6 in league games) and rebounding (8.3). At the very least, she'll be a first-team all-league selection.

--Brad B.