Game Preview: SJSU Faces Idaho On Monday

The San Jose State men's basketball team (7-5) begins it's Western Athletic Conference schedule on Modnay with a 7:00 pm tip-off against the Idaho Vandals (7-4) at Walt McPherson Court on the San Jose State campus. Inside Sparta's Kevin McCarthy previews the match-up.

Idaho currently (Saturday morning) sits at 5-4 as we aren't counting wins against Eastern Oregon and Lewis & Clark. The Vandals play Hawaii in the islands on Saturday so the SJSU master plan surely is to have the Vandals be jetlagged while still dreaming about the inviting sand, warm surf and yes, those bikinis in January.

It's Monday night when Coach Don Verlin brings his troops to Walt McPherson Court to face San Jose State.

The 2009-2010 season started with a blast for the Vandals -- a seven-point "Super Bowl" smacking of Utah in Salt Lake City. Then a road loss to a better-than-usual Texas Southern squad tempered the elation. It was soon followed by a two-point road loss to Cal State Northridge. Questions began arising: just how good is Idaho?

All then seemed well after a 20 point spanking of Portland, which was ranked #25 at the time.

A road loss to Washington State wasn't unexpected and a rematch with Portland -- in the Rose City -- was then on tap. The Vandals figuratively didn't show up as the Pilots won by 30 points.

In the pre-season polls, Idaho was picked to finish fourth in the conference by both the coaches and media.

The Vandals didn't lose any players of significance so the expectations are that last season's 9-7 league record will be bettered.

Both the media and the coaches named Mac Hopson to the preseason all-WAC first team while the media voted fellow backcourter Steffan Johnson, a Pacific transfer who sat out last season, as the WAC Newcomer of the Year.

So more talent, greater experience and not that many new players to introduce to the system are all positive factors.

So why the erraticism?

We don't know the answer. More than likely, Coach Verlin and his staff are in the same boat as all of the WAC teams. It's takes a unit, playing well together, to be successful; as the league isn't composed of squads who have a star or two that are talented enough to take over and dominate contests when teammates are enduring off-nights, or vice versa.

Here's Travis Mason-Bushman at his topnotch Vandal Nation site after the loss to Portland:

"For the third straight game, the Vandals looked more interested in sleeping in than playing basketball last night. The Portland Pilots, hungry for revenge at home after a 20-point Idaho beatdown knocked them out of the Top 25 last week, gladly took advantage..

. ...Idaho has looked disjointed, sluggish and indifferent ever since its home win over then-No. 25 Portland two weeks ago. There's nothing good to talk about from this game, as virtually every stat was a season low for the Vandals: 38 percent shooting, 19 turnovers, even a spectacularly bad 12-for-29 performance from the free-throw line..."

But conference play is a brand new season, a slate swept clean and an opportunity to right any deficiencies.

By the way, why the nickname Vandals? From the Idaho athletic site: "One of the unique nicknames in sports, "Vandals" has been the nickname for University of Idaho athletic teams for more than 80 years. Area sportswriters coined the nickname as they tried to describe the tenacity with which coach Hec Edmundson's basketball teams played defense. It first was used in 1918 strictly for the men's basketball team and officially adopted for all teams in 1921. The sports editor of the school newspaper, Lloyd "Jazz" McCarty, along with the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Edward Maslin Hulme, made the final push for the nickname to be adopted, both as a tribute to the intensity of the athletic teams and to the Norsemen of old.

Idaho Schedule to Date

Nov 13 @ Utah 94 - 87 (W)

Nov 15 @ Texas Southern 65 - 72 (L)

Nov 21 @ North Dakota State 81 - 69 (W)

Nov 24 Sacramento State 75 - 61 (W)

Nov 28 Eastern Washington 76 - 54 (W)

Dec 03 @ Cal State Northridge 93 - 95 (L)

Dec 06 Portland 68 - 48 (W)

Dec 09 @ Washington State 64 - 76 (L)

Dec 12 Eastern Oregon 82 - 77 (W)

Dec 22 @ Portland 52 - 82 (L)

Dec 29 Lewis & Clark 71 - 52 (W)

Idaho's Starting Quintet

Marvin Jefferson 6-foot-9: 8.1 points and 6.7 rebounds a game, a team-leading 22 blocked shots, a scorer more on put-backs and dunk opportunities, needs to remain out of foul trouble.

Luiz Toledo 6-foot-7: 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds a game, shooting 66% from the floor, bothered earlier by injuries.

Kashif Watson 6-foot-4: 11.4 points and 3.5 rebounds a game, shooting 50% on the season, has not attempted a trey, his 55 free throw attempts are the most on the team as he is a slicer and dicer who gets opponents out of position, resulting in whistles.

Steffan Johnson 6-foot-1: 11.7 points per game, a team-leading 15 steals, shooting 42% overall, 44% from three-point range, watch for him on the offensive boards as his rebounding total is split 31 defensive and 30 offensive.

Mac Hopson 6-foot-2: averaging 13 points and four rebounds a game, with a team-leading 45 assists -- he makes the offense go. Hopson is shooting 45% overall, 28% from long distance. His turnover rate is inexplicably up this season but we haven't seen him play so don't have a clue as to the cause or causes.

Each starter averages 25-28 minutes per game.

A usual starter, Brandon Wiley, has been injured this season and that has definitely been a negative since he is sort of a 'glue'guy' who performs well in his roles and never reaches beyond his capabilities. Wiley has been out since November 15 and his current status is unknown.

The Cavalry

Luciano de Souza 6-foot-7: great hair and a long distance shooter almost exclusively, 31 of his 38 shot attempts have been treys.

Jeff Ledbetter 6-foot-3: ditto, even the hair, 28 of his 38 shots have been threes.

Kyle Barone 6-10: 4.6 rebounds a game and he is also shooting 63% from the floor, add some beef and he could be something.

Shawn Henderson: 6-3: backcourt depth.

The Vandal Roster (by position)

Mac Hopson G 6-2 185 Sr.
Jeff Ledbetter G 6-3 195 Jr.
Shawn Henderson G 6-3 178 Jr.
Steffan Johnson G 6-1 180 Sr.
Landon Tatum G 5-11 196 Jr.
Justin Stewart G 6-1 185 Fr.
Kashif Watson G 6-4 186 Sr.

Corey Stern, Corey F 6-7 200 Fr.
Brandon Wiley F 6-6 218 Sr.
Luciano de Souza F 6-7 210 Sr.
Luiz Toledo F 6-8 225 So.
Travis Blackstock F 6-5 206 Sr.

Kyle Barone C 6-10 220 Fr.
Joe Kammerer C 6-9 241 Fr.
Marvin Jefferson C 6-9 250 Sr.

What to Look For

* It may or may not mean anything but Idaho went 3-5 on the road in WAC play last season.

* Last year, Idaho lacked depth and size, finishing last in rebounding. This season, the Vandals have improved to the middle of the pack. Translated: rebounding totals should be close on Monday.

* Verlin's squad is shooting close to 41% from three-point range this season while holding opponents to 36%.

* Piggybacking on the above, Idaho is shooting 47% overall from the floor while holding opposing teams to 41%.

* The Vandals are nabbing 6.3 steals a game -- will that number be met or not or exceeded on Monday? The Spartans are a -31 in steals with opponents.

* Here's a curious statistic to track on Monday: In its 2009-2010 victories to date, Idaho has averaged 33+ points in paint to just 24 points in the paint in losses.

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Kevin McCarthy is the Basketball Editor for Inside Sparta. You may contact Kevin with any questions, comments, or tips at

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