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Vandals men prepare for Texas State with another 20-win season in reach

The Idaho Vandals and forward Arkadiy Mkrtychyan are ready for their postseason game at Texas State. (Lance Iversen / Associated Press)
The Idaho Vandals and forward Arkadiy Mkrtychyan are ready for their postseason game at Texas State. (Lance Iversen / Associated Press)

The season is stretching into its sixth month and the Idaho men’s basketball team had to make another multileg trip for tonight’s second-round Postseason Tournament game at Texas State.

The Vandals, though, don’t mind the inconvenience one bit.

Winners of six of its last seven games, UI (19-13) knows what it can accomplish as a program if it stays on a roll: a second straight 20-win season with a victory over the Bobcats and a first postseason tournament title if it can string together a few more wins.

“We’re excited about the opportunity at Texas State. We’re excited to have an opportunity to win a tournament championship, and that’s obviously still in our grasps,” ninth-year Vandals coach Don Verlin said.

“You know, it’s a chance to add to this team’s legacy. They’ve got a chance to get to 20 wins. There’s a lot of positive things that can come out of these next few games.”

The Vandals last eclipsed 20 wins in consecutive seasons in 1988-89 and 1989-90 under Kermit Davis. They made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in those two seasons, and in the last two years they’ve appeared in the CBI and CIT.

This should be their toughest test during their recent taste of postseason hoops.

Texas State (21-13) reached the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship game, only to fall 59-53 to Troy – a team it had beaten twice in the regular season. The Bobcats are 179th in the RPI and 170th in KenPom’s rankings. (Idaho, for comparison, is 207th in the RPI and 214th in KenPom.)

TSU led the Sun Belt – the conference that Idaho has one year left in as a football-only member – in scoring defense (63.3 ppg) and is 124th nationally in defensive efficiency. Verlin said the Bobcats will probably be the best defensive team UI has faced this year.

“They’re just very fundamentally sound,” Verlin said. “They’ve got decent size, but not great size. Just very fundamentally sound. Don’t make mistakes. Don’t take chances.”

This is Texas State’s first foray in the postseason in 20 years. Its opening-round CIT win over Lamar was the program’s first postseason victory as an NCAA Division I team.

Bobcats coach Danny Kaspar is in his fourth year in San Marcos after coaching 13 years at Stephen F. Austin, the team Idaho steamrolled last week in its CIT opener.

The Vandals and Bobcats were going to play this past weekend, but the CIT couldn’t arrange a flight for Idaho in time. UI flew to Seattle on Monday evening and stayed overnight before flying to Dallas on Tuesday and then busing 4 hours to San Marcos. (No flights were available to Austin or San Antonio, two closer cities.)

Verlin expects CIT officials will keep the Vandals on the road if they beat Texas State, with a quarterfinal game Friday or Saturday.

He said a home game in the semifinals, if the Vandals advance that far in the single-elimination event, is possible – but “I wouldn’t say it’s a great possibility.”

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