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An advanced statistical look at Idaho’s final stretch

Victors of three of their last four games, the Vandals have all of a sudden sprung themselves back into the mix in the middle of the Big Sky Conference. Idaho is 6-6 in conference play, currently good for sixth place. 


Idaho is four games behind Eastern Washington for the top spot, rendering it unlikely that Idaho is in play for the regular season title. But Idaho is only two games behind fourth-place Northern Arizona, the Vandals' opponent on Thursday night in Flagstaff, Ariz. 

The higher the finish, the better for Idaho. Avoiding Eastern Washington, Sacramento State and Montana in the first round of the conference tournament makes a run to the conference championship game more likely for the Vandals. 

This is all considering Idaho finishes in the top eight and qualifies for the conference tournament, which looks like a solid prospect at the moment. 

So how do the final six games look to pan out for the Vandals?

Favorably, says the statistical projections of college basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy.

Ken Pomeroy gives Idaho an over 50-percent chance to win four of its last six games, including two road games. The two games Idaho is not favored in are road games at Northern Arizona and Weber State. 

It breaks down as such. 

Feb. 19 at Northern Arizona - 32-percent chance of victory.
Feb. 21 at Southern Utah - 58 percent
Feb. 26 vs. Montana - 53 percent
Feb. 28 vs. Montana State - 85 percent
March 5 at Weber State - 48 percent
March 7 at Idaho State - 59 percent

Pomeroy's projections assume that will average out to a 3-3 finish, meaning 14-15 overall and 9-9 in Big Sky play. That should be good enough to qualify for the tournament with a seed ranging from No. 5 to No. 7. 

KenPom's numbers think very fondly of Idaho's offensive system. A combination of a running offense and an effective half-court offense driving the ball, shooting the 3 and finding post players, he rates Idaho as the No. 17 most efficient field-goal shooting team in the country and No. 81 in overall offensive efficiency. 

KenPom's numbers think Idaho's defense, however, is beyond atrocious. Idaho ranks No. 318 in field goal efficiency defense and No. 324 in overall defensively efficiency.

I guess you could say those two facets meet in the middle to produce a very average Big Sky basketball team. 

Other numbers think similarly. 

Idaho is good at protecting the ball (18.2 percent turnover rate) but bad at forcing them (14.2 percent). Idaho is ranked No. 2 nationally in shooting the 3 (Thanks, Connor Hill) at 42.6 percent. Not great at defending it, opponents shoot 35.4 percent. Opponents shoot 53.7 percent on 2-point attempts while the Vandals shoot 50.8 percent themselves. 

Challenging teams to outscore the Vandals have produced generally favorably results. Three of Idaho's conference losses were by three points, both Eastern Washington losses and a loss at Sacramento State. Only one of Idaho's six wins was by one possession, an 86-84 win over Weber State. 

KenPom releases probabilities for teams to win their respective conference tournaments when that time comes around, and I expect Idaho to rank generally low on that. But given their style of play and form as of late it's not unimaginable that Idaho should at least expect to see a run to the semifinal. 

First things first, at least achieving a split on this upcoming road swing is imperative for Idaho to maintain its position in the standings. The odds are in the Vandals' favor to achieve that, at least. 

Sean Kramer
Sean Kramer is a freelance correspondent who covers the University of Idaho football team and men's basketball team.

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