Men's hoops season wrapup

Kyle Barone led WAC in FG percentage (61.1)

With a rebuilt lineup, Idaho was up-and-down early in the season. The Vandals scored just 33 points in a loss at Montana, but also won at Oregon in one of the final games at venerable Mac Court. Idaho established an identity as an unselfish offensive team that got after it on D, surprising the WAC with a 5-1 conference start and finishing tied for third, with a 64-56 home victory over Utah State.

Coach Don Verlin has taken Idaho to two postseason tournaments in his three years, turning around a woebegone program. The Vandals defied all expectations this season.

From a personnel standpoint, Verlin had to start over in 2010-11. Just about everyone thought that would be a negative. The Vandals returned one starter and only five letterwinners, including one, forward Brandon Wiley, who was coming off a redshirt season because of injury.

Idaho no longer had Mac Hobson, Kashif Watson and Steffan Johnson in the backcourt. The Vandals didn't have Marvin Jefferson in the post. Those four players accounted for 46 points per game in 2009-10.

Idaho didn't need them this season.

With balance and teamwork and chemistry, Idaho defied low expectations and extended its season into the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. The Vandals lost 81-73 in the opening round to San Francisco.

Idaho finished 18-14 overall and 9-7 in WAC play.

"It's not the most talented team (I've had), but they were the best team," Verlin told the Spokane Spokesman-Review. "I couldn't be prouder of the way they played."

With offensive balance and stingy defense, there was a lot to be proud of this season after the Vandals were picked to finish eighth in the WAC. Included in the season highlight was a 64-56 home victory over Utah State, as Idaho was the only WAC team to defeat the Aggies.


NOTES, QUOTES

--Idaho's 18 victories were the most for the program since the 1993-94 season.

--This was Idaho's second appearance in the CollegeInsider.com tournament. The Vandals won an opening-round game in 2009, beating Drake 69-67, before falling at Pacific 69-59.

--Idaho was picked to finish eighth in the WAC preseason polls (media and coaches), but ended up with the No. 4 seed in the league tournament with a 9-7 record. That was similar to coach Don Verlin's first season in 2008-09, when the Vandals were picked ninth in both polls but finished third with a 9-7 league mark.

--Idaho signed three players in the fall period, including two junior college transfers; F Wendell Faines from Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., and G Anthony Jones from Paris Junior College in Memphis, Tenn. Coach Don Verlin also signed G Xavier Bazile from Mt. Tahoma High in Tacoma, Wash. Verlin has at least one more scholarship available in the spring.

FINAL RECORD: 18-14, 9-7, tied for third in the WAC

2010-11 SEASON RECAP: With a revamped lineup, Idaho was up-and-down early in the season. The Vandals mustered only 33 points in a loss at Montana, but they also won at Oregon, playing one of the final games in venerable Mac Court. Idaho established an identity as an unselfish offensive team that would get after it on defense, surprising the WAC with a 5-1 start to league play. After a four-game conference losing streak, Idaho picked up the pace again, including a 64-56 home victory over Utah State on Feb. 9. The Vandals didn't have any postseason success, though, losing to San Jose State in the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament and falling at San Francisco in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com tournament.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's always tough at the end of the year and you're in the locker room, and there are three seniors who you'll never get to coach again. These guys have really worked hard and built a good foundation here at Idaho." -- Coach Don Verlin, on his trio of seniors: G Jeff Ledbetter, G Shawn Henderson and F Brandon Wiley.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THE GOOD NEWS: Idaho has played its best under coach Don Verlin when expectations were low, and the Vandals won't have predictions of greatness in 2011-12. But there is enough returning talent to build around, including PG Deremy Geiger, PF Luiz Toledo and 6-10 center Kyle Barone. This season's team bought into defense and the ability to grind out games. Those lessons should be an important carryover to next season.

THE BAD NEWS: The Vandals lose leading scorer Jeff Ledbetter, who was one of the best shooters in the WAC, hitting 99 of 218 (45.4 percent) of his 3-point attempts. Without Ledbetter and departed senior Shawn Henderson, Idaho has to replace two starting guards and the bulk of its distance shooting. Will there be an elite -- or even a very good -- perimeter scorer on this team? Newcomers might have to step in here. With coach Don Verlin's success, he is going to be mentioned as possibilities as other school.

KEY RETURNEES: Idaho will have a good post combination with PF Luiz Toledo (9.2 points and 4.4 rebounds) and C Kyle Barone (10.5 points, 5.8 rebounds). Deremy Geiger, in his first season at Idaho after transferring from Utah State, started every game this season and established himself as a solid Wax point guard. He averaged 8.7 points but needs to pull up his shooting percentages (32.1 percent overall and 31.4 percent from 3-point range). F Stephen Madison showed promise as the only freshman in the regular rotation.


PLAYER NOTES

--Senior G Jeff Ledbetter hit five 3-pointers in the season-ending loss to San Francisco, setting a school record with 99 for the season.

--Senior F Brandon Wiley did not miss from the field in his final three games. He went a combined 12 of 12 in that stretch.

--Sophomore C Kyle Barone led the WAC in field goal percentage (61.1, 127 of 208).



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