Idaho's Stephen Madison has improved in each of his four years in Moscow. That seems like a fair summary of a fine career for the 6-foot-6 small forward out of Jefferson High in Portland, and it's something that coach Don Verlin appreciates. "I couldn't be happier with his development in the program," Verlin said last week.
Madison averaged 3.7 points per game as a freshman in 2010-11. The next year he bumped up his average to 12.1 ppg. Last year, he increased his scoring to 14.1 ppg, and as a senior he's averaging 17.5 points -- in addition to career-bests in almost every other statistical category.
He came into the week as the only player in the nation to lead his team in five areas – points (17.5 per game), rebounds (7.8), assists (2.4), steals (0.8) and blocks (0.6). But is that a good thing for the Vandals, who are languishing at 8-13 and 2-5 in the WAC?
We explore below.
Madison is carrying a huge load for the Vandals -- bigger even than Kyle Barone did last year since Barone had Madison as a natural complement. He's sparkled in many areas, but it's seemed at times that he's trying to do too much.
On top of leading the Vandals in all the aforementioned categories, Madison also leads the team in turnovers; his 55 are nearly a quarter of the team total. Verlin said he would like to see Madison distribute the ball more. At the same time, however, the sixth-year coach noted that he leads the team in assists.
It's been a strange year for the Vandals and for Madison. Without Barone, the WAC Player of the Year who graduated last year, Madison is the Vandals' primary offensive threat and often their only true playmaker on the low block, even though he's only 6-6. He's able to squeeze through double teams and draw contact to get to the free-throw line better than anyone on the team -- and probably better than anyone in the WAC.
Still, it's not great for Idaho that Madison is tops on the team in assists (that should ideally be Glen Dean or one of the guards) or blocked shots (Verlin would love Paulin Mpawe, Joe Kammerer or Ty Egbert to step up). The Vandals' play, especially since late December, bears this out.
Idaho is last in the WAC and one of the worst teams in the nation in assists (10.7 per game). It is also last in the WAC in steals and blocks, a byproduct of inconsistent post play and a defense that doesn't generate many turnovers.
All this shouldn't take away from Madison's superb senior season. But the Vandals have been their best under Verlin when they've been balanced, and the last two years with Barone and/or Madison producing so much more than the rest of the team has yielded shaky results.
NOTE -- Idaho hosts Seattle U on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Vandals are No. 276 in the official NCAA RPI (out of 349 teams).