By Braden Johnson, The Daily Evergreen sports editor
By now, even the most casual of Washington State men’s basketball fans know this year’s narrative.
The team lacks an interior presence on defense. Members don’t fit the high-octane, isolation offensive system Cougar head coach Ernie Kent employs. There’s still no clear leader on the floor.
Saturday’s latest home shellacking was a 70-54 loss to New Orleans, a squad that traveled over 2,500 miles for its first win over a Pac-12 team since 1998.
This only reaffirmed my beliefs — Idaho (4-3) has every right to be favored in this contest.
After all, the Vandals have claimed the past two meetings between the two schools with a 78-74 win in Moscow in 2015 and a 77-71 victory at Beasley Coliseum in 2014.
The final scores do not give Idaho justice.
The Vandals controlled the paint, while Washington State (3-4) struggled to hit its outside shots in both games, despite the single-digit difference in final scores. Idaho runs a more efficient program.
Sure, the Battle of the Palouse is technically a road game for Idaho, but given the sparse attendance at Beasley Coliseum so far, perhaps it should be declared a neutral-site game. I bet the number of Vandal fans and Cougar fans will be about even.
It’s a shame to see hard times fall on the Cougars.
However, it’s understandable at Idaho, the men’s basketball program carries greater significance with its undergraduate and alumni fan bases, compared to Washington State.
Kent and some team players have said it is difficult to play a good game when there is a lack of energy from the Cougar crowd.
This just sounds like another excuse to me.
I find no fault in students who prefer to hit the books than sit in a cavernous arena and watch a scatter-brained team. The Cougars lost six players in the offseason and have yet to schlep some form of a cohesive basketball game together.
Fans will emerge from the shadows once Washington State isn’t losing by double-digits at home to Mountain West and Southland conference teams.
It’s continuity between the head coach and his players that the Cougars lack, with continuous roster upheaval keeping the program from gaining traction.
Idaho head coach Don Verlin is in his ninth season at the school and won 21 games for the first time during the 2015-16 season. Verlin has taken the Vandals to the postseason four times in his tenure. The Vandals graduated three players, leaving much of the starting lineup in tact.
When Wednesday night rolls around, I’ll be at Beasley for the game. Certainly I could put those two hours toward my pile of homework, but it’s my job.
At the same time, I have a pretty good idea of how the game will go, and I think most people do too — another Idaho win.
Idaho, relish this golden opportunity to take a third-consecutive game from a regional, Pac-12 rival that gleefully pokes fun at the Vandals’ conference affiliation.
A Big Sky team shouldn’t be outperforming its neighboring Pac-12 rival, though that’s exactly what is happening. Ultimately, I don’t blame anyone for tuning out the Washington State men’s basketball team until the Cougars win in the Battle of the Palouse.
Tipoff is 7 p.m. Wednesday in Pullman.
Braden Johnson can be reached at email@example.com