The WAC portion of Idaho's schedule starts tonight, and it won't be easy. Not tonight against league favorite Nevada or Saturday versus Fresno State. And not over the next two weeks.
Read on for more about the Vandals' conference opener.
So, maybe you're curious about the title of this post. Is Nevada really the WAC's best team, after going 13-19 last year and struggling last week with NCAA Division II newbie Cedarville?
Idaho coach Don Verlin says yes, and there doesn't seem to be any doubt in his mind at this point.
“It looks like Nevada is the elite team in the league with a Pac-10 road win and a Pac-10 home win,” he said last week. “I think they’ve been very, very good and they obviously return the most guys. They’re the best team.”
We spent some time on the Wolf Pack in our WAC primer that ran earlier this week and our Four Corners outlook for today.
Nevada certainly looked like the WAC's top team through the nonconference season, stringing together seven consecutive wins and beating Washington at home. The Wolf Pack, with the best mix of talent and experience in the league, also took down Arizona State and Montana on the road and narrowly fell to UNLV.
In terms of computer rankings, New Mexico State is ahead of Nevada in the RPI (93rd vs. 106th) and also has 10 wins. The Aggies could challenge UNR for the league title, but Utah State is coming on, Fresno State and Hawaii have impressive recent wins — and the Vandals certainly could be in the mix.
If anything, the first few weeks of the season will be a solid early gauge and should help bolster the Vandals' standing in the RPI (currently 248th out of 344 ranked teams). Idaho has a trip to Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State next week, then a road game at four-time WAC champion Utah State the following week.
By Jan. 21, UI will have taken on every WAC contender and played perhaps its toughest three road games of the conference season. It will be a telling stretch, and it means these two home games to start the WAC are critically important if Idaho wants to be in the league race.
“(This) opening weekend is a great weekend for us,” Verlin said. “And it’s huge with one less team (Boise State), if you’re going to have a chance to win the league, you’ve got to take care of your home cooking, 'cause road wins are going to be hard to get.”
Said guard Landon Tatum, “Even though Nevada is really good this year since they return everybody, Utah State is always Utah State and New Mexico State, we just know we’re going to have play every game to the best that we can because without that, you can’t win on the road and the WAC.”
For updates from tonight and throughout the season, follow me on Twitter @SR_JoshWright.