The Vandals' final stretch of the regular season begins Thursday night in San Antonio, where they'll try to complete a season sweep of Texas-San Antonio. Idaho (10-16) has three regular-season WAC games remaining — and as disappointing as the season has been for the Vandals, they still have something significant to play for.
We discuss after the jump.
The Vandals are 5-10 in conference games, good for sixth place in the WAC. It's a position they've been in for several weeks now, and even if they win out — which is possible given they play the three worst teams in the WAC — they can't get any better than the No. 6 seed for the conference tournament in Las Vegas.
A sixth-place finish, if that's what happens, would represent Idaho's worst mark in league since 2009-10. But it's lot better than seventh place. How so? Just look at the format of the WAC tournament.
The bottom four teams square off on March 12 — two days before the event starts in earnest at the Orleans Arena. The No. 7 seed plays the No. 10 seed, and the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds meet after that. Then on March 14, the winners of those two games come back to play the top two seeds, which would be Louisiana Tech and Denver if the season finished today.
Idaho wil avoid the play-in game and take on the third seed at noon on March 14 if it can lock up the sixth spot. And if nothing changes, UI would face New Mexico State, a team it has lost to twice … by a total of three points. The Vandals seem to match up better with the Aggies than either Denver or Louisiana Tech, even though UI nearly beat DU and LTU at home, too.
Of course, close losses and making just enough mistakes to lose late have headlined Idaho's season. The Vandals have gone through two separate four-game losing streaks this year, and in only one of those eight losses have they been blown out (a 16-point loss at Denver).
All the frustration can be forgotten with a run in the WAC tournament. But first, the Vandals would be well-advised to secure the sixth seed — and then get the monkey off their back with a win in the first round. Fifth-year coach Don Verlin is 0-4 in the conference tourney, and as he said before the season, “No question about it, it’s time to win some WAC tournament games.”