The Idaho men's basketball team finishes the regular season with two games against beatable opponents -- Chicago State and MIssouri-Kansas City. The problem for the Vandals? Both games are on the road.
It's almost been two full months since the Vandals last won away from Moscow, and they've won a total of three road games all season. After the jump, we take a look at what's gone wrong for Idaho (12-17, 5-9) on the road ahead of tonight's game at Chicago State and overall the last two seasons under Don Verlin. Read on.
First, here's Idaho's outlook for the final week of the regular season:
COMING UP: Tonight at Chicago State, 5; Saturday at UMKC, 7:35 p.m.
OUTLOOK: The story for Idaho early in the season was its homecourt woes. But it hasn’t won away from Moscow since Jan. 9 at Texas-Pan American and has the worst road record in the WAC (3-9 overall and 1-5 in conference games). After stumbling at Seattle U last week, the Vandals close out the regular season with a challenging Midwest road trip. Chicago State and Missouri-Kansas City have already bagged close wins in Moscow, and both are just ahead of UI in the league standings. If the Vandals finish seventh or better, they won’t have to play New Mexico State or Utah Valley in the opening round of next week’s WAC tournament in Las Vegas.
Note: In the WAC's official stats, Idaho is listed as 3-10 on the road and 2-1 in neutral-court games games. But in Idaho's official stats, the Vandals are 3-9 on the road and 2-2 in neutral-court games. The discrepancy: a loss to Boise State at CenturyLink Arena in Boise on Nov. 27. Both Idaho and BSU considered it a neutral-court game, even though CenturyLink Arena is less than 2 miles from BSU's campus.
As we pointed out in the outlook, Idaho hasn't just struggled on the road this season. This will be either Idaho's worst or second-worst year in Verlin's six-year tenure, depending on how the next couple of weeks play out.
In his first four years, Verlin went 69-62 -- a huge improvement from the previous six seasons under Leonard Perry and George Pfeifer -- and went to the CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament three out of four seasons. But the Vandals labored to a 12-18 record last year, despite having the WAC's best player (Kyle Barone). And this season they could finish with 20 losses for the first time since 2007-08, despite having the WAC's second-leading scorer (Stephen Madison).
Why the downturn? A few junior-college pickups have misfired, a few high school signees have transferred or not shown up. But mostly, Verlin's struggled to find a balanced roster the last two years. In 2012-13, Idaho's guard play was easily the worst in Verlin's time in Moscow. This year, its post play is easily the worst. If Verlin could have melded the two rosters, the Vandals would have been in much better shape the last two seasons.
Idaho played better the last month at home, but it already has nine true road losses this year (and 10 if you count the Boise State loss). UI's lone road wins: at UC Davis, at Portland State and at Texas-Pan American.
While the Vandals have been competitive on the road outside of a few losses, their weaknesses have been magnified on the road. They rank 310th out of 351 Division I teams in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy (after ranking 337th last year). And they've allowed at least 70 points in their last eight road games, six of which have been losses.
When a team can't get consistent stops on an opponent's homecourt -- the problem last week at Seattle U -- it's hard to win.
For more on the Vandals, follow along on Twitter: @SR_JoshWright.