It's been two weeks since the Idaho basketball team played at Cowan Spectrum. In that time, the Vandals have won two out of three and had their seed (and opponent) determined for next week's WAC tournament. But before the postseason starts, they play their last game of the regular season against Seattle U at home.
We've got the full rundown below, and we also have more on the remarkable career of Kyle Barone.
No matter what happens against the last-place Redhawks, Idaho knows it will be the sixth seed and play New Mexico State on Thursday at noon in Las Vegas in the quarterfinals of the WAC tourney. That matchup will either scare or excite Vandals fans -- Idaho has lost twice to the Aggies by a combined three points, but NMSU on Thursday night trounced league-leading and previously unbeaten in conference Louisiana Tech by 18 points.
Tonight the Vandals (11-17, 6-11) will put a close to a disappointing regular season, not to mention a particularly rough season at home. They'll honor four seniors before the game, most notably Barone. The senior center has carved out a remarkably consistent career. He's played in more games than anyone in school history, never missing a contest in four years, and he'll finish his time at UI in the top three in rebounds and free throws attempted and made and in the top five in points scored.
This season he's third in the WAC in points and first in rebounds. In conference games, he's averaging a double-double (17.7 points and 10.9 rebounds).
I profiled Barone a few weeks ago, and when I talked to Verlin for the story, he had a hard time putting all of Barone's accomplishments in perspective. "But I will tell you this: Since I’ve watched Idaho basketball, even before I got here, there’s never been a big man like him. And I think Kyle can play just about anywhere in the country with how he’s progressed. Now, he couldn’t when he first got (here), but he’s progressed and worked hard and developed."
One last note on Barone: If it weren't for his subpar grades in high school, he would likely have ended up at USC or a program of similar stature. His dad also told me he got a call late in the recruiting process from Gonzaga assistant Ray Giacoletti, who wanted to share how much he thought of Barone.
The other three Idaho seniors are Mike McChristian, Wendell Faines and Mansa Habeeb, all of whom were JC transfers and have made solid contributions this year. Here is Verlin on each of them:
- On McChristian, who started the season at point guard, moved to off-guard and has since gone back to running the offense at the point: “He has been a utility guy for us all the way through the season and he’s a great defender. I’m really proud of the way Mike has played and adjusted to me moving him around.”
- On Habeeb: “Mansa is a spirited worker and comes to work every single day. He’s a good defender and has really progressed with his scoring by getting the ball to the basket. I like his energy and excitement and enthusiasm he brings to the games.”
- On Faines: “Wendell is a big rebounder for us and has a big presence inside. He has played a lot of solid games for us.”
Late into his last season in Moscow, Barone still thinks the Vandals has a postseason run in them -- even though they are 0-4 in the WAC tourney under Verlin. “Every year it seems like we could win a game or two,” Barone said. “I truly believe that we have the team to win it.”
The tournament will be played at the Orleans Arena in Vegas, with probably just a smattering of Vandals fans in attendance. But at least it's not Cowan Spectrum. Idaho is just 2-6 in WAC home games, a big reason why it has slid into the mid tier of the 10-team conference after surprisingly strong conference finishes in three of Verlin's four previous years.
Another reason why Idaho is 11-17? Its defense. The Vandals have the second-worst 3-point field goal percentage defense in the conference. But it goes beyond that. They're also in the bottom 30 in the nation -- No. 322 -- in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. They're sandwiched between 3-27 Kennesaw State and 8-23 Austin Peay. (UI is 54th in adjusted offense, which indicates just how much better the Vandals have been when they've had the ball.)
For more on the Vandals, follow me on Twitter @SR_JoshWright.