Monday, March 1, 2010

The SJSU - Idaho 'we couldn't wait' game preview

It's tough to finish regular season play on the road but everything evens out in the end as San Jose State 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 slection 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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