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Second season most important for Idaho, Vandals enter Big Sky Conference play with crucial home games
Idaho men's basketball coach Don Verlin is as anxious as anybody to see what a nine day break from playing will mean on Thursday when the Vandals open Big Sky Conference play against Idaho State at the Cowan Spectrum.
The Vandals last played on Dec. 22 at Northern Kentucky before players departed for a five day Christmas vacation.
Based on the last two days of practice, Verlin admits to some nervousness. But he hasn't understated the importance of conference play to his team.
After all, if Idaho doesn't play well enough over the next three months then there won't be a postseason at all.
Unlike the Western Athletic Conference where every team makes the conference tournament, only eight of the 12 teams in the Big Sky will participate in the Big Sky Tournament. The four teams with the worst conference records will be left out of the tournament, hosted by the regular season conference champion.
Idaho opens Big Sky play with three consecutive home games: Idaho State on Jan. 1, defending conference champions Weber State on Jan. 3 and the favorite to host the conference tournament, Eastern Washington, on Jan. 10.
"What I’ve told our team is that there’s three parts to every season. There’s the preseason, there’s the conference season and the postseason," Verlin said. "Well, basically there’s no postseason if you don’t have a good conference season. Now, the most important of our season is the conference season and these three games at home are very important."
Idaho is familiar with the Bengals, having played its rivals from Pocatello the last two seasons in southern Idaho (both Vandal wins).
Verlin coached for 15 years with Weber State coach Randy Rahe. He said it will help the Vandals be prepared for the Wildcats, saying it'll feel like "an intra-squad scrimmage." The two coached under Stew Morrill at Colorado State and Utah State
A good start at home is imperative to Verlin.
"I think the real key in the Big Sky Conference is the depth of the league. I think every night there’s going to be a battle," Verlin said. "You look around the conference, there’s a number of good teams, a number of veteran teams that really work hard to protect the home court. That’s going to be important in conference play is to protect the home court."
If the Vandals are to come out of the opening weekend of Big Sky play with one or two wins, they will have to improve dramatically on the defensive end of the floor.
In their last three losses the Vandals conceded a combined 31 3-point baskets (on 71 attempts). Many of the misses were open looks. Currently, Idaho ranks No. 331 in the country in Ken Pomeroy's Adjusted Defensive Efficiency metric, out of 351 teams. The metric concludes that, on average, Idaho is giving up 108.3 points per 100 opponent possessions.
"We have to compete harder. We’ve got to get a little more nasty. We’ve got to grind a little bit harder," Verlin said. "We played a lot of games right down to the wire that we haven’t found a way to win. So the thing I’m looking for is a little bit more toughness, a little bit more competitive attitude."
The Vandals tip against Idaho State on Jan. 1 at 7 p.m. in its first Big Sky Conference contest since 1996.
FROM KENNEWICK — Washington State's 74-39 win over Idaho State at the Toyota Center on Saturday was about as easy as it gets. We have details after the jump. Read on.
FROM KENNEWICK — We've settled in on press row at the Toyota Center — which is courtside, a different perspective than usual — and have a few thoughts to share before Washington State and Idaho State take the court. Read on.
Idaho State has suspended football coach Mike Kramer for Saturday's game at Montana and issued a letter of reprimand. Kramer was under investigation by the university and the Pocatello Police Department for pushing receiver Derek Graves at practice on Oct. 3. "Following a thorough investigation coach Kramer will serve a one-game suspension for this Saturday’s game at Montana,” Idaho State Director of Athletics Jeff Tingey said in a statement. The school said he violated the Idaho State University Conduct Policy. Associate Head Coach Don Bailey will be the acting coach for Saturday's game. Bailey is a former Boise State assistant coach/Brian Murphy, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Does the punishment fit the offense?
There is still plenty of women’s basketball left for Eastern Washington this season, but it won’t be played at Reese Court. Jim Allen has this game story from the Eagles' loss to Idaho State on Saturday afternoon.
Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin was concerned about Saturday’s regular-seson finale against Idaho State at Roos Field even before it was announced that it will be John Zamberlin’s final game as the Bengals coach.
You can read about Baldwin’s increased concerns and how he felt about his former mentor at Central Washington University getting axed in this story that ran in Tuesday morning’s S-R. In addition, you can read EWU’s weekly game notes here and access the Big Sky’s weekly football press release here.
And be sure to check back later in the week for a feature story we’re doing on Eastern’s senior tight end Matt Martin, a former B8 standout at LaCrosse-Washtucna High School.
Idaho State has announced that its head football coach John Zamberlin will be relieved of his duties following Saturday’s Big Sky game against Eastern Washington at Roos Field.
Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin spents six seasons (1997-2002) as Zamberlin’s quarterbacks coach at Central Washington before hiring on at EWU as Paul Wulff’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
You can see the story the Idaho State Journal ran on Zamberlin’s dismissal and find out how his players reacted here.
As far as next weekend’s Woodward Field showdown between nationally ranked Big Sky Conference powers Weber State and Eastern Washington is concerned, EWU held up its end of the deal on Saturday by thumping Idaho State.
The Big Sky Conference schedule has been one of Eastern Washington University’s best friends in the early stages of the 2009 college football season. And it serves up another highly beatable opponent on Saturday, when the Eagles (3-1 overall, 2-0 in the Big Sky) travel to Pocatello, Idaho, to take on winless Idaho State (0-4, 0-1).
Eastern’s first two opponents — Northern Colorado and Sacramento State — figure to be second-division teams this fall, and ISU could well be the league’s bottom feeder. The Bengals are coming off a 33-22 home loss to D-II Central Washington and are struggling on both sides of the football.
I asked their coach, John Zamberlin, for his thoughts earlier this week on trying to defend EWU’s talented stable of receivers — which is so deep, it allowed Beau Baldwin to move a returning second-team all-conference wideout, Brynsen Brown, to defensive end.
You can read his comments below.