Idaho State-Montana Tech

ISU men’s basketball coach Ryan Looney high-fives his bench during the Bengals’ exhibition Oct. 29 against Montana Tech at Reed Gym.

Based on the smallest of sample sizes, this year’s Idaho State men’s basketball team has clear strengths, but a couple of glaring weaknesses.

The Bengals (0-1) lost their season-opener 54-40 on Tuesday at Wyoming, yielding mixed results in the box score.

First, the 40 points are ISU’s fewest in a game since 2014 — and fewer than all but one of the 200-plus Division I teams that had completed a game as of Wednesday night (Syracuse scored 34 in a 48-34 loss to Virginia).

And at the free-throw line, ISU made 6 of 18 (33.3%) to open the season, ranking last among teams that completed a game.

But the Bengals’ defense showed reasons for optimism.

Wyoming’s 54 points are the fewest Idaho State has given up to a D-1 team since 2014, ranking the Bengals 43rd in scoring defense after one game. ISU also pulled down 13 offensive rebounds and outrebounded Wyoming, despite being outsized.

If Idaho State’s offense and free-throw shooting can catch up to the defense, the Bengals will be a tough out.

But it will likely be a long process, for multiple reasons.

ISU’s roster includes 10 new players and an all-new coaching staff. Plus, three expected contributors — Daxton Carr, Brayden Parker and Balint Mocsan — have yet to see the floor this season, through two exhibitions and Tuesday’s opener.

“I just hope our fans can stay patient with us,” Bengals coach Ryan Looney said Tuesday in a postgame radio interview. “We’re working as hard as we can to build a program that everyone can be proud of, and we’ll get there. It’s probably going to take a little time.”

ISU may get a chance to improve its offensive results Thursday at Air Force.

The Falcons, who open their season against ISU, rated poorly in some key defensive metrics last season, including opponent’s effective field-goal percentage (53.5), opponent’s 2-point field goal percentage (53.6) and opponent’s percentage of points coming from 3-pointers (39.3).

Idaho State shot 24 3s versus Wyoming, many of which were forced up after the Cowboys cut off the Bengals’ driving lanes. Jared Stutzman and Chier Maker should look to have more success from outside against Air Force after combining to go 2 for 15 from the arc Tuesday.

“We needed Chier and Jared to shoot it well. They did not, but that’ll change,” Looney said Tuesday. “Part of it is just them getting more comfortable in what we’re doing with our offensive system.”

SCOUTING AIR FORCE

Air Force was picked to finish eighth in the 11-team Mountain West Conference in the league’s preseason media poll.

The Falcons return all five starters from last season’s team, led by preseason all-conference pick Lavelle Scottie. The 6-foot-7 senior was a third-team all-conference honoree last season, when he averaged 15.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.

Air Force beat Colorado Christian 85-73 in an exhibition Nov. 1. Scottie led five Falcons in double-figure points with 16.

“We’ll be ready for it,” Looney said of Thursday’s matchup. “I don’t know that (Air Force’s) tempo will be all that much different than Wyoming’s was, but they’ll do a lot of things on offense that will challenge what we’re doing defensively.”