Men's Hoops Faces Idaho On Thursday Night

It's tough to finish regular season play on the road but everything evens out in the end as San Jose State (14-14 / 6-8 WAC) challenges Idaho in Moscow on Thursday and Boise State in the capital come Saturday.

Call Idaho the enigma team of the Western Athletic Conference in 2009-2010. The Vandals finished a surprising 17-16 last season and reached post-season play against Drake and Pacific in the College Insider tournament. Experience was gained and then greater talent was added via recruiting and a prized transfer. This season was supposed to be a breakout one, but Coach Don Verlin's squad is currently 13-15 overall and 4-10 in WAC play.

Effecting the quality of play is the injury absence of frontcourter Brandon Wiley, a solid rebounder and inside scorer, and the graduation of point Terrence Simmons. Wiley is a plays-within-himself/does-the-dirtywork type while the latter wasn't a big scorer (although he shot well when left alone) but owned a solid and dependable 58/32 assist-to-turnover ratio.

The addition of Pacific transfer Steffan Johnson was supposed to broaden the firepower in the Vandal 2009-2010 backcourt. But the senior is averaging just below 10 points per game and, while okay with his 90/48 assist/turnover ratio, he hasn't shot all that well or consistently at 39% nor proved a creator for others.

Also consider Vandal star backcouter Mac Hopson and his comparative numbers: he finished last year at 194/96 in assists-to-turnovers but currently is at 134/92.

The team as a whole is in the minus with turnovers at 409/366.

Dovetailing into that deficit is the Vandal program currently underwater in steals at 168/214. Last season, Idaho owned the advantage at 213/182.

Our take: chemistry matters, as defined by the acceptance of roles and proving to be complementary-type players. Idaho had it last season, much less so in 2009-2010.

These two teams met on January 4th and here's our game report:

It was a battle of middleweights, quite the appropriate Whelliston-ian reference for two mid-majority schools. One would throw a punch, so to speak, followed with a rejoinder by the other. But neither could achieve a knockout so it was a match to be decided on points (pun intended).

San Jose State eventually triumphed over visiting Idaho 78-75.

C.J. Watson re-introduced himself to the WAC, Idaho specifically, with a 21/11 double-double. Adrian Oliver topped San Jose with 22 points. Chris Oakes contributed 18.

Midway through the second half, a five point run brought SJSU to within one at 56-55.

San Jose State then pulled ahead by seven and it was 71-65 in favor of the Spartans with 3:41 remaining. Kashif Watson scored for the Vandals sandwiched around a SJSU travel and a turnover on a steal.

Mac Peterson, off all night with his shooting, then nailed a trey to make the score 74-67. It was his sole make of the evening.

But Idaho wasn't done just yet.

Mac Hopson put in a deuce to bring the margin back to five, 74 to 69, at the 1:08 mark.

Adrian Oliver followed with a matching fallaway jumper.

Luiz Toledo was fouled and made one of two free throw attempts, making it 76-70.

Oliver misfired with a one-and-one at the foul line and Luciano de Souza calmly came down and buried a three-pointer, making it a one possession game at 76-73.

Robert Owens was fouled on the following possession and cooly knocked down both shots.

But amazingly, Watson then was fouled attempting a three-pointer. He made the front and back end shots, missing the middle attempt and that's how the contest ended.

The Vandals led 38-37 at the half. Webster topped SJSU with 13 points on 6-7 shooting. Chris Oakes missed some time as a precaution due to a pair of fouls. Idaho had just four free throw attempts after the first 20 minutes, making all. The biggest Idaho lead was three -- it was four for the Spartans. Luciano de Souza shot a sizzling 5-8.

After being out-boarded in the first half, San Jose State rebounded (again pun intended) to win that battle 29-24.

Idaho was led by Mac Hopson with 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Steffan Johnson helped out with 15 points -- on five three-pointers.


Also, most recently, the Vandals lost to a Kyle Gibson-less but home-advantaged Louisiana Tech 60-49.

Idaho and the WAC

Jan 02 @ Hawai`i 59 - 52 (W)
Jan 04 @ San Jose State 75 - 78 (L)
Jan 09 Louisiana Tech 71 - 77 (L)
Jan 11 New Mexico State 72 - 75 (L)
Jan 16 @ Nevada 68 - 76 (L)
Jan 23 Utah State 60 - 48 (L)
Jan 25 Boise State 67 - 77 (L) OT
Jan 28 Fresno State 74 - 59 (W)
Feb 03 Utah State 62 - 80 (L)
Feb 06 @Boise State 79 - 55 (W)
Feb 10 Nevada 66 - 67 (L)
Feb 13 @Fresno State 68 - 59 (W)
Feb 24 @ New Mexico State 57 - 74 (L)
Feb 27 @ Louisiana Tech 49 - 60 (L)

Idaho's Starting Quintet

Marvin Jefferson 6-foot-9: a scorer more on putbacks and dunk opportunities and a decent shotblocker who sometimes gets mired in foul trouble.

Luiz Toledo 6-foot-7: he is shooting 65% on the season but rarely attempts a shot more than 5-6 feet from the basket, tends to need to be set up for a scoring opportunity.

Kashif Watson 6-foot-4: he is a slicer and dicer who gets opponents out of position, resulting in whistles -- making him shoot from a decent distance harms his firepower.

Steffan Johnson 6-foot-1: has the potential to nail threes in a bunch if given the opportunity as two thirds of his shots are from that range and he is shooting better on his treys (39%) than overall (38%).

Mac Hopson 6-foot-2: he is the engineer of the offense but sometimes penetrates too deeply to make a play and is showing a somewhat awkward shooting motion on his three-pointers -- went 2-9 with four turnovers against LA Tech.

The Cavalry

Luciano de Souza 6-foot-7: his great Afro was braided last time we looked, he is a long distance, catch-and-shoot scorer almost exclusively.

Jeff Ledbetter 6-foot-3: he's the stand-in, or at least his hair is for Justin Graham circa 2008-2009 -- another three-point specialist.

Kyle Barone 6-10: he receives superlatives for his potential, at least offensively (59% shooting) but needs to muster better defensive play and rebounding which may arrive once he adds bulk and strength.

Shawn Henderson 6-3: he's an 'opportunistic' scorer and an 'energy guy' off the bench.

Marcus Lawrence 5-11: almost two thirds of the shot attempts have been treys so play him accordingly.

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.
Marcus Lawrence G 5-11 Jr.
Landon Tatum G 5-11 196 Jr. (redshirting)
Justin Stewart G 6-1 185 Fr.
Kashif Watson G 6-4 186 Sr.

Brandon Wiley F 6-6 218 Sr. (redshirting)
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. (redshirting)
Marvin Jefferson C 6-9 250 Sr.

What to Look For

- Idaho tends to go as Mac Hopson goes as he and Kashif Watson are the primary dribble-drive penetrators/creators.

- Coach Verlin has faced difficulty finding consistent production from just about everyone this season. Does this continue, or not?

- The WAC coaches collectively prognosticated a fourth place finish for the Vandals in 2009-2010, plus a first team selection for Mac Hopson. The media did likewise, in addition to naming Steffan Johnson pre-season Newcomer of the Year. At this point, none seem likely to happen.


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

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