| March 18, 2018

Men’s Basketball Preview: A familiar feeling

Idaho men’s basketball may be met with an acute sense of deja vu come Saturday when it takes on Weber State in Ogden, Utah.

The Wildcats show resemblance to the Vandals’ opponent last Saturday in Montana, considering their heavy-handed offensive attack, complimented by an exceptional defense.

Weber State (19-7, BSC 12-2) even has a near-model record to that of Idaho (19-7, BSC 11-3), besides its sweep of Northern Colorado, a reversed result for the Vandals.

The Wildcats own the No. 2 scoring offense and third-ranked defense in the conference, while Idaho still sits back at seventh in the former category and at first in the latter.

However, the Vandals’ offensive attack has proven itself near opposite to where it currently sits in the rankings. Idaho has racked up an average of nearly 85 points per game over a six-game winning streak, nearly 10 points higher than its scoring average on the season.

The Vandals have been on a tear through the month of February, as has Weber State The Wildcats, who boast the nation’s No. 8 shooting percentage from the field, haven’t lost since Jan. 13 and are currently in the midst of a nine-game winning streak. A great chunk of that flare comes thanks, in part to Weber’s own all-star in sophomore guard and preseason all-conference pick, Jerrick Harding.

Harding drops just over 21 points per game, good enough for the No. 1 spot in the Big Sky. His mob of buckets doesn’t lack efficiency though, considering he’s shooting over 54 percent, which is immaculate for a guard. He ranks 14th nationally in points-per-game and owns the seventh-highest percent from the floor among all guards.

Over the stretch, Harding’s lowest point total was a measly 14 — compared to the rest of his numbers over the tear — against Portland State. He’s averaging 22.3 points per-game since the nonstop besting began over a month ago, and the rest of his Wildcats aren’t lagging too far behind.

Featuring the NCAA’s 28th-ranked overall offensive rating, Weber is riddled with scorers and deep-ball sharpshooters. Four players are averaging double-figures over the last nine games, and, as a whole, Weber is netting nearly 51 percent of its shot attempts since it began stringing consecutive wins together.

The Wildcats did nearly drop a pair of overtime thrillers to Northern Colorado and Portland State, but aside from those, it has by and large handled its opponents. Like Idaho, for example, the Vandals have often supplied their fans scares — see Eastern Washington ­— but have been adept at reorganizing down the stretch.

Three Wildcats have taken more than 70 3-pointers, and all three rank top-15 in long-ball percentage. The Vandals will have to take extra care around the perimeter when up against the conference’s top-three team in both attempts and efficiency, as will Weber State. The Vandals are the No. 2 Big Sky team in percentage from behind the arc.

After taking into account Weber’s incredible run, a closer look at Idaho’s six-game streak is necessary.

The Vandals sit in second, three percent behind Weber in shooting efficiency, but are canning over 52 percent of their shots over their six-game run. Idaho also owns the sixth-best 3-point shooting percentage in the nation, but Weber is second.

Senior forward Brayon Blake has been incredible for Idaho over its run. Though Harding’s numbers are impressive, Blake is matching his sum from the field for Idaho during its streak with his own 22.3 points per game.

Harding’s productivity is primarily on the offensive end, shooting the ball in particular. Meanwhile, along with a striking points-per-game stretch, Blake is averaging 10 boards-per-contest over the last six, contributing to a 20th ranked rebounding-margin position in the nation.

The Vandals have routinely discovered means to snatch triumph when faced with adversity. Their upset win over the conference’s top-seeded Montana last Saturday likely boosted morale to an all-season high, and they have an opportunity to repeat the deed against a comparably talented team.

Idaho’s defense will have its hands full with both its own destiny and an exceptional Weber offense, but the Vandals have regularly discovered means to effectively put teams away late — they are by far the conference’s best defensive team, after all.

We’ve experienced this before, just one week ago. Weber gets upset-minded Eastern Washington before returning home to take on the Vandals. Right now, Idaho’s offense is at its peak, but so is Weber’s. Idaho has a slight advantage on defense and the boards, and that’s what it may come down to yet again.

Colton Clark can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @coltonclark95

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