Big West Top 10 Countdown: No. 7

We're still a few months away before the games actually begin but Big West fan J. Kline gives us his early predictions of what's in store for the 2003-04 basketball season.

#8 Idaho
Predicted Record: 8-10

Can the University of Idaho possibly improve from last season, but lose more games? They can and will. The Vandals continue to evolve under Leonard Perry, who prioritizes defense and demands maximum effort from his players. Carrying the league's least effective offense, UI surprised many, going 9-9 and finishing 5th in the BWC. This year, the defense will be just as tough, the offense will improve, but there will be no surprises.

Perry's demanding style has produced results. UI was near the top of the BWC in every major defensive stat, leading in opponents 3-pt %. They committed few fouls, only slightly more than Utah State, who they upset in Logan. They had only one senior and (still) not a lot of size. By and large, the squad remains intact and should be equally as good at rebounding and denying open looks.

The offense is led by All-BWC performers SF Tyrone Hayes (2nd team) and SG Dwayne Williams (honorable mention). Hayes was easily the UI MVP leading them in ppg, rpg, steals, and blocks. Williams was streaky but came on late, converting 3-pters at 46% in the final 10 reg. season games. Tanoris Shepard, whose season ended last December (torn ACL) will bring another much-needed scorer that can handle the ball. And JC transfer Dandrick Jones will assume the role of PG, vacated by senior Justin Logan. Logan's leadership will be missed, but ultimately, the tandem of Shepard and Jones is an upgrade.

2003-04 Big West Projections
No. 10 Long Beach State
No. 9 Cal State Northridge
No. 8 UC Riverside
No. 7 Idaho

The frontcourt will miss PF Jack May, banished in July for "team rules violations." But, PF/C John Tinnon and PF Rashaad Powell (the league's most-undersized player) return. Add JC transfers Lionel Davis and Anton Lyons giving Perry a group of interchangeable parts that will rebound and score enough to be effective. Soph center David Radlovic will have to battle for p.t.

As tough as Idaho will be, the BWC will be tougher. Not only are there 9 legit competitors for the BWT (rather than 8 ) but the entire BWT incentive structure has changed. This year, it pays to finish 2nd, not 3rd; 4th, not 5th. Every game counts, so UI won't duplicate 4 road wins, particularly late-season steals like last season @UCR and @USU. It also remains to be seen if Vandals fans will back this team at home. They turn out for regional rivalries like BSU, EWU, and WSU, but not for BW games (except USU). Cowan Spectrum (7,000 seats, opened 2001) could be an imposing home-court, but not unless a football-crazy campus turns more attention to basketball.