The Idaho men's basketball team is one of the hottest clubs in the WAC. But can the Vandals summon a breakthrough this afternoon in the conference tournament? If they do, it will be a landmark day for Idaho.
We have more on the Vandals' tourney hopes below.
After the Idaho women's basketball team won last night to reach the WAC tournament semifinals, Vandals AD Rob Spear tweeted, “Great win for our women's basketball team tonight over San Jose. Now it's the men's turn.”
Don Verlin is 0-3 at the WAC tournament, and the Vandals' futility goes back longer than that. As we wrote about in our tournament preview, Idaho is 1-6 all time at this event and has never made the semifinals. Its only victory came in 2007 in a play-in game (back when the bottom two teams played to see who would face the league champion the following day).
Verlin isn't concerned with the Vandals' bleak tournament history, at least not this morning. What's more pressing in his mind is finding a way to beat Hawaii (tipoff is noon in Las Vegas) for the second time in a week. The Warriors, losers of five straight, will be without guard Zane Johnson — one of their three leading scorers. Johnson didn't make the trip because of an illness.
Idaho is a five-point favorite, and its chances have to be improved with Johnson's absence. The 6-foot-6 guard had 18 points in last week's 82-63 loss to UI a week ago, and he was a tough matchup because of his height. Landon Tatum and Deremy Geiger — the Vandals' starting backcourt — are both 5-11.
Keys for Idaho
Transition defense and rebounding. Those are the two things Verlin stressed earlier in the week, before the news filtered out about Johnson.
“The No. 1 key against Hawaii is to slow them down in transition,” the coach said. “They’re very good in transition. When you have a (Jeremiah) Ostrowski, who leads the conference in assists, he’s good at getting his guys the ball at the right spot. And rebounding. The big key over there on the Island is how well we rebounded the ball. That’s the kind of effort we need to have in the tournament.”
Last week UI outboarded Hawaii 46-27 — its most dominant rebounding performance since joining the WAC.
Matchup of note
One matchup to watch will be Idaho center Kyle Barone vs. Vander Joaquim. With Johnson out, Hawaii will probably try to play even more through its big men — Joaquim and Joston Thomas. Joaquim was 1 of 7 from the field against Barone last week with just four points (he averages 14.0) and nine rebounds.
Follow me on Twitter (@SR_JoshWright) for Idaho basketball and football updates.