Idaho? Isn’t That Just One, Big Spud Field?

BY MIKE PRATER
THE IDAHO PRESS

Sports are stupid, oftentimes mysterious and bizarre, and that’s what makes the games, the storylines and the subplots so beautiful.

Until things turn ugly.

Welcome to Division I college basketball in Idaho, where coaches ride roller coasters and players wonder if they’re competing in a spotlight or standing solo in a spud field.

The most recent acts of stupid behavior: Boise State, Idaho and Idaho State combined to win 59 games in 2017-18 — the most ever since the 1969-70 season when the Broncos joined the NCAA.

Boise State 23-9; Idaho 22-9; and Idaho State 14-16.

One year later, this season, and here comes the stupid part, the same three programs combined to win 29 games — the worst season in the history of Division I basketball in this state. March Madness is just starting, and today is Selection Sunday, but all three of Idaho’s Division I programs are done and headed for spring break.

Boise State 13-20; Idaho 5-27; and Idaho State 11-19.

From 59 combined wins to 29, that’s a massive drop from one season to another. It’s frustrating, even in Idaho, where our Division I street cred may have peaked 42 years ago when Idaho State upset UCLA in the 1977 NCAA Tournament, ending the Bruins’ run of 10 consecutive Final Fours.

Boise State was supposed to be OK this year, but a series of close losses doomed their season into something historic — the Broncos’ first 20-loss season ever.

Idaho had six seniors on last year’s roster, and only one this year, to go along with six freshmen, so its nosedive makes some sense. But five wins and 17 double-digit losses?

Idaho State, well, we can typically count on the Bengals to be bad. They’ve had two winning seasons this century, and those were masterpieces of 15-14 (2002-03) and 16-15 (2015-16).

As for job security, Boise State coach Leon Rice is safe (unless Washington State comes calling) because of his overall track record and a strong-looking roster for next season.

Idaho coach Don Verlin should be OK because of the roster turnover and lack of leadership on the Moscow campus.

Idaho State coach Bill Evans could be done as his contract expires this offseason. His program hasn’t won ANY postseason games since 2009, as both the Bengals and Vandals were bounced from this week’s Big Sky Tournament in Boise before happy hour on the first day.

Evans, before his fate is decided, expressed his love — and concern — for the state of Idaho after Wednesday’s loss at CenturyLink Arena.

“I love Idaho, my family loves Idaho, I couldn’t get my wife out of Idaho. But when you call up a kid from Canada, or somewhere like that, who thinks Idaho is in another nation, it’s a little bit of a tough sell.’’
Maybe that’s the problem — coach isn’t aware that Idaho is in a different nation than Canada, but his point is well-taken. Division I recruits have a tough time making the decision to play college basketball in Idaho. And for good reason.
Boise is one of the most isolated cities in America.
The athletic department in Moscow has severe image issues.
And Pocatello is … well, Pocatello.
There are no major cities or fancy destinations, facilities and resources are lacking, and expectations from fans aren’t massive.
There’s no pressure, and no reason for Division I basketball in Idaho to be a regional or national difference-maker, especially if top players struggle to come here.
“Not everybody wants to come to Idaho,’’ Evans said. “They think Idaho is one big spud field, and it’s not.’’

So how do Division I programs in Idaho start winning more consistently?

“Gee, I guess if I knew that I would do it, and I’m not being disrespectful to you or rude to you,’’ Evans said. “Again, it’s a little bit of a harder sell. … Yeah, I want to win more games and maybe you and I can get together and you can tell me what you think I need to do.’’

The coach was understandably grumpy after another loss … and another losing season … in a state that has zero NCAA Tournament wins in 36 years … three NBA Draft picks in 34 years … and one conference tournament title in 24 years.

With all due respect to that shiny 2017-18 season, those stats are so bad, they’re stupid.

Mike Prater is the Idaho Press sports columnist and co-hosts Idaho Sports Talk on KTIK 93.1 FM The Ticket every Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. He can be found on Twitter @MikeFPrater and can be reached at mikefprater@gmail.com. Prater’s opinions are his own.

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