| February 23, 2018

Men’s Basketball Preview: A rivalry brewing

Idaho men’s basketball is thriving as of late. Next in the sights is a rivalry game with a team Idaho is all too familiar with.

The Vandals are preparing for the second battle of the year with the Eastern Washington Eagles, a team the Vandals not only consider a conference rival, but a regional rival as well.

Idaho fans love to claim victorious in the great Battle of the Palouse, but as of 2014, when Idaho returned to the Big Sky conference, it has been the rivalry with the team from Cheney, WA that has been far more interesting.

Since that year, the Vandals and Eagles have met twice a year with the Eagles having the winning record at 3-4 since 2014.

Yet so far, the rivalry hasn’t resulted in any blowout victories from either team. The largest margin of victory was a 10-point victory by Eastern Washington last year.

The key this trip out? Idaho Head Coach Don Verlin said the fans could be the key to getting a big blowout win.

“I’d love to see the dome packed,” Verlin said. “This series has become a rivalry series, it’s a fun series, it should be a great crowd.”

On top of a big rivalry game, it also has a lot of weight as to how the rest of the conference season will play out for the Vandals. Idaho is currently sitting at third in the Big Sky Conference with big games against Montana and Weber State coming up to end the conference season.

Idaho has continued to find ways to win as of late, too. Ever since the gut wrenching loss to Portland State in the beginning of January, Idaho has won six of their last seven games, one of which a seven-point victory against the team from Cheney.

But one win over the Eastern Eagles doesn’t mean a guaranteed win this round.

“All that is thrown out in these rivalry games,” Verlin said. “What we are going to do is figure out how to put a good game plan together and go out and execute it.”

One of the key changes as of late has to be the change of scenery when it comes to Idaho’s starting lineup. It has been a senior switch-up with guard Chad Sherwood starting over guard Perrion Callandret as of late, which has greatly improved the offensive production.

“I thought we needed a little switch,” Verlin said. “I thought it helped in both avenues, it’s helped him and it’s helped us.”

Rarely is there a rivalry game that is easy to predict and this week’s matchup is no different.

The Idaho Vandals will take on the Eastern Washington Eagles 7:30 p.m. Friday in Cowan Spectrum.

Chris Deremer can be reached at cderemer@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @Cderemer_VN

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