The Idaho men’s basketball team is no stranger to injury.
Last season, the program lost its two leading scorers during a pivotal stretch of conference play, forcing head coach Don Verlin to turn to his bench. The players answered with a strong performance, helping the Vandals battle back and claim the third seed in the Big Sky postseason tournament.
The ability of the bench to rise to the challenge sparked a conversation as to what Idaho’s roster might accomplish when fully healthy. The team entered the preseason with high hopes and the expectation of again claiming one of the conference’s top seeds.
Then, disaster struck. During a 63-49 road loss to Northern Illinois, senior guard Perrion Callandret walked off the court after he appeared to injure his right knee.
At first, the move seemed precautionary. The status of the senior was described as “day-to-day,” leading many Vandal fans to release a deep sigh of relief.
But as the days wore on, anxiety began to build. On game nights, Callandret would slowly emerge from the tunnel in sweats, signaling yet another matchup the senior would miss.
Nearly a month and a half after the initial injury, Verlin announced Callandret would miss the remainder of the season with an unidentified knee issue.
The news dealt a heavy blow to the program. The Vandals dropped four of the next five games, including a 91-66 loss to defending conference champion Weber State.
While a general sense of panic may seem an appropriate option in this scenario, fans should not lose hope.
Several factors could help Idaho reverse course and regain a foothold in the Big Sky standings.
With the loss of Callandret, junior guard Victor Sanders now stands as the team’s driving force on the perimeter.
Although Sanders’ sharpshooting abilities pose a constant threat beyond the arc, the junior cannot shoulder the burden by himself. Offensive play in the paint will be crucial for the Vandals moving forward in conference play.
Luckily, the team has the necessary weapons in this area.
Junior transfer Brayon Blake already demonstrated an ability to serve as an instrumental component in the offense. The junior is known for his speed and physicality in the paint, two traits which helped him record the game-winning tip during Idaho’s 83-81 overtime victory against Montana State.
Meanwhile, junior Arkadiy Mkrtychyan and senior Ty Egbert stepped up as major contributors and earned valuable experience last year against conference opponents.
The trio has can wreak havoc in the paint, which will help create space on the perimeter for Sanders to attack the basket or launch a 3-pointer.
There is little doubt the Vandals face an uphill battle from this point forward. But with a few adjustments, the team can continue to frustrate and surprise Big Sky opponents.
Josh Grissom can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @GoshJrissom