Following one of the best seasons in recent program history two years ago, the Idaho State men’s basketball team was supposed to have a good season.
After nearly a decade of losing 18-plus games, the 2015-16 team was the first to finish over the .500 mark since 2002-03. The Bengals had lost one starter from the previous year and were returning a point guard in Ethan Telfair who declared for the NBA draft a few months after the season.
But just like the previous year, the Bengals surprised the experts, only this time, it was for the wrong reason.
Poor defense, lack of rebounding and lots of turnovers with a side of some season-ending injuries caused the team to slip back into its losing tradition last season, going 6-26 (3-15 BSC).
“We were bad defensively,” said head coach Bill Evans. “You would think with the experience we had coming back we would be better, but we weren’t.”
Part of the problem last year, Evans said was team chemistry.
“It wasn’t as good,” Evans said on the 2016-17 season. “I think our unity wasn’t very good and I didn’t do a good job of coaching.”
The Bengals will be without Robert Jones III, Steven Lennox and Keshawn Liggins who all left the program with remaining eligibility, something Evans said happens regularly in today’s game.
Idaho State’s only lost senior from last season is Telfair, who was First-Team All-Big Sky two seasons ago.
“He was the guy,” said guard Geno Luzcando on Telfair, who is now a three-year starter. “We let him do whatever he wanted and now this year, it is us as a team. We aren’t Ethan now.”
Idaho State ranked 10th in the Big Sky in scoring defense last year and gave up 80 or more points 17 times and gave up over 90 on seven different occasions.
Idaho State also ranked last in the conference in assist-to-turnovers, giving the ball away almost 17 times per-game during conference play.
Evans said that depth would be the team’s biggest strength this season, saying how as many as ten guys could see the floor in any given night.
The Bengals return Brandon Boyd and Luzcando, to the backcourt this season while sharpshooter Gary Chivichyan is coming off a groin injury that kept him out most of the season.
Last season, Luzcando was forced down into the post due to a lack of depth and size in the blocks. As a result, the Bengals rebounding numbers suffered.
But with Kyle Ingram coming off an injury and the return of Novak Topalovic and the combo of newly acquired Jacob McCord, the reigning NWAC Player of the Year and Blake Truman, a six-eight forward from Snow College, Luzcando will move back out to the perimeter and ISU will have depth on the blocks.
“Now we have a true four and a true five,” Luzcando said. “Last year, I was playing the four and I’m not a true four. As a team, we are taller this year.”
Idaho State also signed Sam Dowd, a small, but shifty point guard from the College of Idaho and Jared Stutzman, but since Stutzman transferred from Utah Valley and not a junior college, he will have to miss the 2016-17 season due to NCAA rules.
This season, the Bengals will look to climb its way back out of the conference’s basement as they did two years ago when they were picked to finished last in the preseason by both polls.
Idaho State was picked to finish 10th by the coaches and 11th by the media this year in the preseason polls and will quickly be put to the test by opening its 2017-18 campaign by traveling to Arizona State.
“Even though it’s the same sport, there is so much that goes into it,” Truman, a Las Vegas native said. “When you get to this level, everybody understands the game and has a very good basketball IQ. Everybody is faster, more athletic and stronger.”
After traveling to Arizona State, Idaho State will host Utah Valley the following Tuesday night in Reed Gym before traveling to Washington State, San Jose State and Seattle University for a three-game road trip.
The Bengals will have a four-game homestand following the trip, where they will host Bethesda, Cal State Northridge, Northwest Nazarene and Youngstown State.