Posted on: March 17, 2009 6:12 pm
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East Region: #13 Portland State vs #4 Xavier

On Friday afternoon in Boise, the 13th seeded Portland State Vikings take on the 4th seeded Xavier Musketeers at the Taco Bell Arena. Neither has been expected to advance past the second round. A win for Xavier could mean a chance at the Sweet 16 if the Wisconsin Badgers can find some way to upset the Florida State Seminoles. Portland State has a better shot at advancing further if FSU moves on given that they play much better in a fast-paced game. However, as neither of these outcomes is likely, the teams will focus on the task at hand, each other. Who are these teams, and what might we expect from them come Friday?

Let’s begin with Portland State. After receiving a righteous beat-down from eventual national champion Kansas in the first round last season, the Vikings struggled to replace seniors Scott Morrison and Deonte Huff. The 10-3 start included a loss to Big West cellar-dwellers Cal Poly and close wins against Division III Lewis & Clark College and transitioning Division I Seattle University. That said, the one point loss at Washington and victory on Gonzaga helped offset the negative energy flowing from the previously mentioned near-disasters. Since then, the Vikings also had their issues with the Big Sky schedule. Although there are deceiving point spreads like the 14 point home loss to Weber State that was competitive until the last two minutes, the 5 losses seem to describe the inconsistency that plagued the team all season. It seems, however, that they have righted the ship at the critical point, winning the six heading into the tournament.

Xavier hasn’t been playing its best basketball for a while now. The Musketeers went 20-2 to start the season, but have only played .500 basketball since. Sorry Xavier fans. I’m not buying the argument that beating Dayton by 17 required the same kind of sustained effort that it took to beat Memphis by 5. Granted, that wasn’t the same Tiger team that thrashed everyone in Conference USA. What I am buying with this team is that all their losses aside from an ugly one to Charlotte came at the hands of solid opponents. If they can find a way to pressure the Vikings’ outside shooters, they should be able to take care of business and move on. Whether or not they can do that is the question many analysts are asking themselves at this point.

Match-Ups
Center
XU: Jason Love PSU: Jamie Jones

Love hasn’t been the focal point of the Xavier offensive scheme at many points this season. However, this may be the time coach Sean Miller needs to get the big man involved. He is matched up with a fragile, finesse player in Jones to begin the game and should be able to use his bulk to get to the hole. Kenny Frease could also do some damage if given the opportunity against Jones. However, don’t be surprised to see the Ken Bone go with Julius Thomas or a 1-3-1 zone if the Musketeers rattle off a bunch of points in the paint early on. Another defensive option for the Vikings here is Tyrell Mara. Although Thomas is still likely to be in the game, it adds a little bit more size and strength to match up with Love and/or Frease. If Miller really forces the issue, the Xavier centers may out-produce those of Portland State on the offensive end. However, I think we’re more likely to see the biggest discrepancies in the rebounding numbers, because the Vikings are one of the worst defensive rebounding teams you’ll ever see.
Advantage: Musketeers

Power Forward
XU: Derrick Brown PSU: Kyle Coston

Brown has been touted as a future NBA player by Xavier fans and should get the opportunity to prove his mettle here as long as the Vikings play man defense. Coston is intense, but not the best on-ball defender. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brown have a huge night if the Vikings stick with man the entire game. We’re talking 25 points and 10 rebounds. Coston and Mara should be able to contribute about 10 points and 5 rebounds, but unfortunately that’s together, not apiece. If it isn’t obvious from those numbers, Brown has a huge advantage, and should enjoy the national spotlight.
Advantage: Musketeers

Small Forward
XU: B.J. Raymond PSU: Phil Nelson

Raymond’s numbers have really improved markedly every season. In his senior year, he has averaged 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game, which are all at least 25 percent increases from last years numbers. The dependable senior matches up with Phil Nelson, an enigmatic talent. The future star has been the best player on the floor at times, and the worst at others. His defense has improved significantly since the beginning of the season, but he continually seems to struggle against players who put forth their best effort on both ends of the floor. If he plays up to his potential, this match-up should be the most exciting on the court. If not, at least we’ll have fun watching Raymond do some damage. We’re likely to see some highlight-reel dunks from Nelson given the audience, even if he doesn’t hit a high percentage from outside. I think both players will play up to the environment, and we’ll see something special.
Advantage: Push

Shooting Guard
XU: C.J. Anderson PSU: Andre Murray

This match-up should also be a lot of fun to watch. Although Murray is significantly smaller in stature, he tends to play like a forward when necessary. I’m inclined to think it may be necessary in this one. For those of you who aren’t familiar with “Draeno,” he came in from the College of the Canyons and immediately shook things up. He took advantage of Dupree Lucas’ struggles last year and pushed his way into the starting lineup with a huge performance at Southern Utah. This season, he has taken over Deonte Huff’s role of rebounding better than his size, playing tough on-ball defense, and making big shots when needed. Anderson could provide a test for Andre as he has the sort of height that could make him dangerous. However, I think we’re more likely to see Murray on Raymond and Nelson on Anderson given the sizes and skill sets of the respective players. Regardless of what we see on Friday, these players aren’t likely to get the most hype. Neither player has the types of skills that make him an obvious pick over the other.
Advantage: Push

Point Guard
XU: Dante Jackson PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez

As many analysts have noted, Xavier does not have a true point guard. Will that hurt them? It’s hard to tell. Dominguez is very skilled, and has the ability to go off for 20 or 30 points on any given night. He is also a great passer, and has very quick hands, which could give Jackson fits. If you haven’t seen him play, you’ll be amazed by how quick he releases the ball on his jump shots. Jackson’s obvious advantage over Dominguez is his size. If he can post up, he may be able to exploit Jeremiah’s 5’6” frame. If this appears to be the game plan early, don’t be surprised to see the Vikings quickly transition to the 1-3-1 zone with one of their long-armed forwards (Coston or Nelson) at the top of the key. If Dominguez can’t handle the physicality, Dominic Waters will play the point. Ultimately, the quickness and scoring knack Dominguez has should be the one advantage the Vikings have over the X-men.
Advantage: Vikings

Bench
Xavier has a huge advantage here. Unlike the Big Sky Conference schedule, the Vikings will have to deal with significant depth that they just can’t counter. Jamel McLean, Kenny Frease, Brad Redford, Terrell Holloway all contribute to the offensive effort with more than 4 points per game. For all the Xavier fans out there, that should come as no surprise, but it’s a new experience for Viking fans who haven’t seen a team as deep as the Musketeers since they faced off with Baylor at the end of 2008. The main threat off the bench for the Vikings is Dominic Waters. Other contributors for the Vikings include backup center Julius Thomas and power forward Tyrell Mara. True freshman Wendell Wright has played in a number of games this season, but isn’t likely to see the floor in this one unless there is serious foul trouble or a large deficit one way or the other.
Advantage: Musketeers

This is a hard game to call. If PSU plays well, it’ll be close, regardless of how Xavier plays. If PSU plays like they did in the Big Sky Tournament, they’ll lose by 20. I’ll go with an optimistic prediction this time around. PSU has a shot at winning this game, but only if they shoot the ball like they did at home in the Bracket Buster game against Boise State and minimize the Musketeers’ offensive rebounding opportunities.

Prediction: PSU 74 XU 72

 

Posted on: March 11, 2009 1:08 am
Edited on: March 11, 2009 1:08 am
 

Big Sky Championship: MSU vs PSU

After a shocking semifinal upset of heavy tournament favorites Weber State, the only thing holding the Portland State Vikings back from a return to the NCAA tournament are the number 6 seed Montana State Bobcats. Then again, the Bobcats just did what the Vikings couldn’t for the second time this season– beat Weber State. The Bobcats have a fairly young lineup aside from Mbunga and could easily challenge at next season’s Big Sky regular season crown if they can find an inside scoring presence.

Match-Ups
Center
MSU: Divaldo Mbunga PSU: Jamie Jones

As one of the top players in the conference, Mbunga has been heavily lauded. Aside from the game against Portland State in Bozeman, he seems to be a road dog. Again, aside from the game against Portland State, he has been great away from Bozeman. Something’s gotta give. Away from Bozeman and against Portland State seems like a wash. However, the Bobcats are going to need everything Divo has if they’re going to get to the dance with their less than spectacular squad. Look for him to get into double figures in points and rebounds, as well as block a couple shots in this one. He goes up against Portland State’s finesse “big man” Jamie Jones. At 6’7”, Jones doesn’t really offer the type of size a coach wants in a center. He does, however, have the type of inside offensive game that helps spread out a defense, which is exactly what the Vikings to play their game. Jones is averaging only 6 points and 3 rebounds against the Bobcats’ big man. Expect more than that, but not enough to counteract Mbunga.
Advantage: Bobcats

Power Forward
MSU: Branden Johnson PSU: Kyle Coston

Johnson did nothing against Portland State in Bozeman, going scoreless in 12 minutes. However, he scored 9 points in Portland and appears ready to do more after a 16 point performance in the semifinal game against Weber State. That said, Kyle Coston, not the most productive offensive player in the world, has outplayed Johnson in both match-ups. Can Coston do it again? That may be difficult given that he is shooting just 33% at Dee Events Center, and went 0 for 4 against Idaho State. As has been pointed out many times this season, all the team needs from the 4 is a couple three balls and some defensive energy. There’s no doubt that’s gonna happen.
Advantage: Push

Small Forward
MSU: Erik Rush PSU: Phil Nelson

Rush presents an interesting match-up for the Vikings who play a traditional lineup. Last season, a guard/forward would have been no issue as the Viks had Deonte Huff and Dupree Lucas to fit that role. With a new year comes new talent. Phil Nelson has been every bit as spectacular as advertised coming in. Though not an offensive dynamo on a nightly basis, he provides prototypical small forward size that gives most Big Sky teams fits. Back to the match-up. Nelson played a solid first half against Idaho State’s Amorrow Morgan in the semis, but gave it up late. If he can keep up with Rush, this match-up should be no different. There’s no doubt that Nelson is the more physically talented player. The question is motivation. If Rush can get around screens quickly, that should neutralize Nelson, who tends to get rid of the ball quickly. If not, expect a big night from Phil.
Advantage: Vikings

Shooting Guard
MSU: Will Bynum PSU: Andre Murray

Will Bynum can be a very dangerous player for the Bobcats. In two games against Portland State, the junior has averaged 20 points and 4 rebounds. He also added an amazing 7 steals in Bozeman. If that happens again, don’t be surprised to see the Bobcats cutting down the nets. He matches up with Andre Murray, a player who averaged just 9 points in two games against Montana State. Why would any person in their right mind think this might turn out differently this time around? “Draeno” scored 21 points and carried the Vikings to victory in a game they seemed destined to lose from the time the second half started. The senior has also scored in double figures 19 times this season, including a 24 point effort on the road. Expect this to be the best match-up on the court, regardless of how much offense results.
Advantage: Push

Point Guard
MSU: Marquis Navarre PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez

Navarre has played okay against the Vikings considering he is being compared with two of the Big Sky’s best point guards in Dominic Waters and Jeremiah Dominguez. If he can produce another 10 points, like he did in Bozeman, the Bobcats may have a shot going down the stretch. However, that all depends on what they can get out of Bynum and Mbunga. Jeremiah Dominguez has finally reached the end of the road in the Big Sky Conference. After picking up the conference’s Most Valuable Player award last season, Dominguez persevered through injury to take a place on the first team all-conference squad this time around. Regardless of Wednesday night’s outcome, JD will always have a place in Viking fans’ hearts, as he was the one to finally get them to the NCAA tournament, and knock off a top-10 opponent.
Advantage: Vikings

Bench
Dom Waters has been great at times this season (41 points at Northern Arizona), and fairly putrid at others (0 at Cal Poly). Although the reason for this inconsistency is unknown, Waters seems to find his confidence every time he steps out on to the court, something the Vikings will need next year with Dominguez’ departure. Along with Julius Thomas and Tyrell Mara, he makes up one of the better benches in the conference. They match up with Bobby Howard and Austin Brown, two solid rebounders with an ability to score the basketball if need be. I wouldn’t bet on much coming from the benches scoring wise in this one given the magnitude of the game. In all likelihood, this is the last time either team will have a chance at winning this season.
Advantage: Vikings

Ultimately, I can’t go against the Vikings if they aren’t playing Weber State. No team has looked better than the Vikings since they lost on the road at Baylor, something they’ll have to deal with if they play any more games this season. As long as Jamie Jones and Julius Thomas can produce a couple points inside, there should be plenty of room for the Viking marksmen to gun away. Don’t expect it to be pretty, but Bone’s boys should get it done. Nobody wants to see a team with only 14 wins in the Big Dance.
Prediction: PSU 71 MSU 66

 

 

 

Posted on: March 9, 2009 5:24 pm
 

Big Sky Semi-finals: ISU vs PSU

Meeting for the third time after splitting this season’s previous match-ups, the Idaho State Bengals and Portland State Vikings get to take care of some unfinished business. Both teams would really like this win from a standpoint that it would give them bragging rights, but the ultimate prize is the obvious berth in the Big Sky Championship. For the Vikings, a win would give them the chance to prove that they can beat Weber State after playing two close games without a positive result. The neutral court should be interesting. Idaho State is likely to bring more of their own fans, and is also likely to have the support of the Weber State faithful. The solace for the Vikings is that they have led by double figures in both of the previous games. If they can sustain 40 minutes of intensity, they should win.

Match-Ups
Center
ISU: Demetrius Monroe/Deividas Busma/Lucas Steijn/Felix Caspari PSU: Jamie Jones

The player seeing the majority of the minutes at center for the Bengals is anyone’s guess (probably Steijn). Perhaps the lack of a consistent option is the reason, and maybe playing everyone in this group between 10-15 minutes at one of the two big man spots just keeps them all fresh and effective. The main man up front in the most recent match-up was Honorable Mention All Big Sky Lucas Steijn. If Steijn is the answer for Idaho State, he presents major match-up problems for the 6’7” Jones and 6’5” Thomas. The one positive for the Vikings in all of this is that Steijn is primarily a jump shooter with very little power game. Don’t expect him to have his way with the Viking big men the same way Brandon Moore of Eastern Washington did. Jones was a non factor in the February 12 game coming off his foot injury. If he can provide an inside scoring presence, the Vikings are a different team. Look for the coaching staff to call plays that will get him established early as they have in recent games. Ultimately, the majority of both teams’ points will come elsewhere, so the stat to watch for is offensive rebounds, which every team in the Big Sky seems to give up at an astronomical rate.
Advantage: Push

Power Forward
ISU: Chron Tatum PSU: Kyle Coston

Even though he played 25 minutes in the game in Pocatello, Kyle Coston managed just 1 point. Since then, he has averaged 8 points per game, with the only sub-par performance coming at Eastern Washington. Nobody on the Viking coaching staff expects Kyle to match Tatum’s all-around game. However, if he can play tough defense and keep Tatum off the boards by making some 3 pointers, he will make a lot of people happy. Tatum has averaged 13 points and 5 rebounds against the Vikings this season. Expect him to be right on those numbers again. If he’s the one who leads the Bengals in scoring, they have no chance.
Advantage: Bengals

Small Forward
ISU: Amorrow Morgan PSU: Phil Nelson

Morgan is the guy that transforms the Bengals from a mediocre team into the team that was expected to challenge for the Big Sky regular season title this year. Unfortunately, things haven’t turned out quite as expected in Pocatello. Amorrow has averaged 13.6 points per game this season, but gone over 20 just twice during the Big Sky portion of the schedule. That said, this is Idaho State’s chance at redemption. They beat a pesky Northern Colorado squad at home after trailing at halftime and now sit two games from the NCAA tournament. The only problem is that those two games match them up with Portland State, the most physically talented team in the conference, and if they win, Weber State, the best coached and most complete team. Coach Joe O’Brien will need Morgan to have at least 15 points if they hope to move on. He matches up with the frontrunner for next season’s Big Sky player of the year in Phil Nelson. It’s been a bit of an up and down year for Nelson, but the next two games provide him an opportunity to carry the team back towards its goal: a return to the NCAA tournament. However, if he isn’t effective, don’t be surprised to see Andre Murray log heavy minutes at the 3.
Advantage: Push

Shooting Guard
ISU: Donnie Carson PSU: Andre Murray

One never knows what to expect from a match-up like this one. Both Carson and Murray played very strong games the last time these teams met up. What’s different this time around? Well, after scoring 24 points in Pocatello, Andre has averaged just under 8 points per game. Carson has had two big games in his last five, but also had two awful performances. If he expects to play significant minutes in a game of this magnitude, he will need to step up and contribute in the way he has in his better games. After all, he is a far more complete player than Kilpatrick, the other option here.
Advantage: Vikings

Point Guard
ISU: Matt Stucki PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez

Although this should be the most fun match-up to watch, it seems like one of the two stars is always guarding somebody else. When the two teams met in Portland, Stucki shadowed Phil Nelson the entire game. In the second game, he played more off the ball and let Sherrod Baldwin and Amorrow Morgan handle it while he carried the team offensively. Perhaps third time’s the charm? I wouldn’t bet on it. In all likelihood we’ll see one of the first two scenarios relive itself. If Morgan is having a good shooting night, we’re likely to see Stucki shadow Nelson. If he isn’t, look for Stucki to try to match the multifaceted Viking offensive attack with his ability to hit the outside shot and get to the line. Either way, don’t expect him to be one on one with Dominguez the whole game. Last week, Jeremiah was rewarded with another First Team All Big Sky selection for his second great season in a row. He will be sorely missed next season, and the team will have to find somebody new to take and make the big time shots. Both players have put on a great show for Big Sky fans in the past couple years and should have opportunities to play basketball somewhere in Europe next year if they choose to.
Advantage: Push

Bench
Given that these teams have already played each other twice, we know the story of the bench players. Dominic Waters and Felix Caspari get to see each other again after their fight on the way to the locker room in Portland. Other contributors for the Bengals include Austin Kilpatrick, a shooter, and Sherrod Baldwin. The Vikings rely on Julius Thomas’ energy and Tyrell Mara’s defensive prowess off the bench.
Advantage: Vikings

Prediction: PSU 78 ISU 73

 

Posted on: February 21, 2009 12:59 am
 

Bracket Buster: Boise State @ Portland State

Portland State is playing in a nationally televised game for the first time since Kansas knocked them out of last season’s NCAA tournament as part of ESPN’s Bracket Busters. The complete schedule can be viewed here. They take on the Boise State Broncos (17-8) of the Western Athletic Conference, a team who has looked very good at times (victory over 25-2 Utah State), and questionable at others (home losses to 9-17 San Francisco and 12-13 Idaho). They face a team with just as many questions going into this match-up. Although Portland State has been a very respectable 10-1 at home, but a disappointing 6-7 on the road with losses to Cal Poly and and Hampton.

Match-Ups

Center

BSU: Ike Okoye PSU: Jamie Jones

It may be a good sign for PSU that Jamie Jones finally appears to have recovered from the hand and foot injuries that made him ineffective for most of the Big Sky Conference schedule. With an established presence inside, the Vikings are a legitimate team to watch going forward. He will have to be assertive though, as Okoye is a shot blocker who will take advantage of any weakness around the tin. Okoye has had some big games, but only averages 9 points and 6 rebounds. He hasn’t done much in the past three games, while Jones appears to be back to his old self.

Advantage: Vikings

Power Forward

BSU: Mark Sanchez PSU: Kyle Coston

Coston became assertive to a point not seen since the first five games of the season on Thursday night. Back to back 10 point games appear to have Kyle back to the form fans expected from him most of the year. Unfortunately, he matches up with Boise State’s most talented player, senior Mark Sanchez (no, not USC’s quarterback), a 235 pound bruiser who should be able to bully Coston around. I expect a lot more Tyrell Mara than Coston given his tough defense and ability to match up with bigger players. Sanchez is more talented than either of the guys PSU has to throw out there (25 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists against Idaho State), even though the score line could tip in their favor if they get hot from outside.

Advantage: Broncos

Small Forward

BSU: Paul Noonan PSU: Phil Nelson

Nelson was the highest rated recruit coming out of Oregon in the class of 2006. However, Noonan may have been the hottest prospect near the end of the process. He eventually committed to Boise State spurning offers from Portland State and Eastern Washington. The Beaverton native likely returns with hopes of impressing in front of a quasi home town crowd. The Viks will no doubt attempt to show Noonan that he made the wrong choice picking the Broncos. Ultimately, Nelson should get the best of Noonan given his superior athleticism and offensive ability.

Advantage: Vikings

Shooting Guard

BSU: Aaron Garner PSU: Andre Murray

Garner is certainly not the Broncos most talented offensive player. He is averaging just 6 points per game. Given this ineffectiveness, he surrendered minutes to La’Shard Anderson in the loss to Idaho. Andre Murray on the other hand has been one of the most consistent offensive players all year for the Vikings, averaging 11 points per game. As has been stated in previous blogs, the only thing standing between Andre and major production may be a need. When other players have assumed their share of the load, he has been in the single digits, but when they haven’t he’s had to pick up the slack (24 points @ Idaho State). I’d guess that Saturday should be one of his less productive games given the recent progress of frontcourt players.

Advantage: Vikings

Point Guard

BSU: Anthony Thomas PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez

Dominguez never ceases to amaze Viking fans, and regardless of his questionnable early game antics against Northern Colorado, he was able to redeem himself with a buzzer beater. He matches up with Anthony Thomas, a 6 foot point guard with the ability to score, pass and rebound. Dominguez faces the same question in this match-up that he has throughout his basketball career: Can he overcome his size disadvantage with his speed and outplay his opponent? In the majority of cases, he has stepped up and answered that question affirmatively, the possible exceptions taking place while he was suffering from a hand injury. Although Thomas brings a little more talent to the table than most Big Sky point guards, I still expect him to be outclassed by Dominguez.

Advantage: Vikings

Bench

Though Okoye is listed as the starting center in the breakdown, Kurt Cunningham has also filled that role this season. The 265 pound bruiser could definitely present some problems for the Vikings, and seems like a good man for the Broncos to have on the floor when Jamie Jones is out there. The issue for Boise State is the recent playing time for Julius Thomas. There’s no way  Cunningham can keep up with Thomas, and given the Vikings’ fast-paced offense, he could quickly become a liability. Given this fact, Okoye seems the likely choice for extended time. Other factors off the bench include Jamar Greene and La’Shard Anderson a pair of guards. The records, point production, eight man rotations for each team are fairly comparable, so expect a close game. 

Advantage: Push

Prediction: PSU 76 BSU 71

Posted on: February 11, 2009 8:03 pm
Edited on: February 11, 2009 8:04 pm
 

Portland State @ Weber State

Does anybody really need a reason to watch this game? It is the game of the year in the Big Sky Conference, and an absolute must-win for the Vikings if they have any aspiration for hosting the conference tournament. If you do, here are a few.
1) Daviin Davis matching up with Phil Nelson means the two most physically gifted players in the conference. You’re guaranteed at least one highlight reel dunk, if not from one of these two show stoppers, then from Andre Murray.
2) Kellen McCoy takes another shot at proving he deserves to be the Player of the Year in the Big Sky. However, he’ll have to prove that by out-dueling last year’s MVP, Portland State’s Jeremiah Dominguez.
3) This game is the likely preview of the conference title game. For those that think Montana has a shot at getting there, I advise taking into account that Wayne Tinkle is the coach. Unless they host, the Grizzlies aren’t going to the Big Dance.
4) The best two coaches in the Big Sky face off again. Randy Rahe and Ken Bone are still here for now, but are likely to be the head men at big-time programs within the next five years.
If you still don’t plan on watching this game, (it’s free on Big Sky TV) I really hope you’ve got a good party to go to.

Match-Ups
Center
WSU: Steve Panos PSU: Julius Thomas

Here’s a scary thought for Viking fans: the team goes into the toughest environment in the entire conference shorthanded, and two games behind. The shorthanded comment of course refers to the potential absence of Jamie Jones, who frankly appeared to have been physically diminished for about 2 months. Thomas has been better than Jones in recent days, so this isn’t the biggest loss (Jones only had 2 points and 1 rebound in the first game between the two). The problem is the lack of depth and physical presence to match up with Panos. Mara seeing significant time here would be no surprise, especially if Thomas gets into foul trouble. If Jones is healthy enough to go, he’ll probably see time, even though he doesn’t match up well with Panos. As far as advantages, one has physical tools while the other is more polished and bigger. Take your pick if you must.
Advantage: Push

Power Forward
WSU: Kyle Bullinger PSU: Kyle Coston

Kyle Bullinger had the game of his short career (22 points, 8 rebounds) the last time he matched up with the Vikings. It seemed like every shot he took in the second half went in, even from 28 feet away. Before he came to Portland, he scored 17 at home against Northern Colorado on 6 of 10 shooting. Guess what happened on February 5th? Try the exact same outcome. It’s a lucky thing the Wildcats play Eastern Washington first. Ultimately, I don’t think Bullinger is going to score 22 again, or pull down 8 rebounds. However, he should be plenty productive to overmatch Kyle Coston. The last time Kyle scored 11 in a game, he promptly came up empty in the next game. Like the Wildcats, the Vikings have a game before Saturday’s title fight. Nevertheless, there is no indication that Kyle is anywhere near returning to the form that had him in double-figures for 5 straight games earlier in the year. In fact, a very good argument could be made for Mara starting if Bullinger was not such a finesse player.
Advantage: Wildcats

Small Forward
WSU: Daviin Davis PSU: Phil Nelson

Yes, I know Hansen is the guy here on a normal night. However, if anybody wants to argue with Davis’ stats against PSU, they’re stupid. Davis is the most physically gifted bench player in the conference by far, and a Portland State killer. He is the one person that can shut down Phil Nelson on a night his shot is on. I acknowledge that Nelson is a better offensive player, but that is it. Davis has far more energy, rebounding ability, and defensive prowess. If Randy Rahe puts Hansen on the floor at any point, except to spell Davis, he should be fired on the spot.
Advantage: Wildcats

Shooting Guard
WSU: Damian Lillard PSU: Andre Murray

Andre Murray is a better shooter and defender than Lillard with more experience. Lillard’s one advantage is his ball-handling ability. He also displayed an uncanny knack for using the glass in the first match-up between the two teams in Portland. If Bullinger can’t produce the type of scoring effort he did in the first game, look for Lillard to be one of the guys the Wildcats depend on late in the game. I have to give the advantage to Murray here. The Viks will need him to score and defend given the lack of an inside presence. He can handle that assignment. Look for a big night from Andre in the must-win contest.
Advantage: Vikings

Point Guard
WSU: Kellen McCoy PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez

I’m going to take Dominguez. No doubt in my mind about that, even with McCoy as the front-runner for Big Sky MVP. Jeremiah completely outclassed McCoy when they played on January 8. For those of you that ask about the stats, look at the free throw numbers, then the number of fouls on JD and Waters. McCoy did his damage against Waters and at the end of the game when the Viks were forced to foul. Although McCoy is playing the way Dominguez was at this point last year, (25 points, 8 rebounds-he’s 5’6”, 5 assists at Northern Colorado) there’s no question who the “Real McCoy” is when we’re talking about the best point guard in the Big Sky. Dominguez is passing better now than he has at any other point since he arrived at PSU (11 assists to go along with 15 points against Northern Arizona).
Advantage: Vikings

Bench
Although Davis may come off the bench for the Wildcats, Hansen is going to fill the bench-type minutes, so I’ll factor him in here. Trevor Morris was effective in limited minutes, and has been pretty consistent with 4 or more points per game. This is about it for Weber. I understand the possible argument that Waters is like a starter for PSU as Davis is for Weber. However, this simply isn’t the case. He is the third guard on a team that plays two. This makes him the best bench player in the conference. Tyrell Mara has been solid for PSU in recent games, and they will need him to be solid inside if they have any chance in this one. I give PSU the advantage given the minutes breakdown, which considers Davis a starter.
Advantage: Push

So who gets the nod? I give it to Weber at home, because I feel that Nelson is essential to Viking success without an inside presence. He hasn’t proven that he can score against better defenders. The only PSU might win is if they can reverse the free throw trend and shoot about 10 more than Weber.
Prediction: PSU 70 WSU 71

 

Posted on: January 28, 2009 8:58 pm
 

Portland State @ Montana

 

Given the relative ease with which the Vikings dispatched the Grizzlies in December, I’d love to believe that their Thursday night game will be identical. Unfortunately, that isn’t likely to be the case. The Grizzlies are 9-1 at home, the only loss coming early in the season at the hands of Santa Clara. Sitting third in the Big Sky, the Griz are hoping a bad weekend in Montana for the Vikings will translate into their getting right back in the race for home court during the Big Sky Tournament. However, that may be a tough task given that their opponent has won its last three games by an average of 21 points.

Match-Ups

Center

UM: Brian Qvale PSU: Jamie Jones

Sophomore Brian Qvale hasn’t developed into much of an offensive presence yet for the Grizzlies. Given the relative lack of production from the Viking big men in recent games, one might not expect that to be a problem. However, in the earlier match-up Julius Thomas had a double-double to go along with starter Jamie Jones’ 7 points. If nothing changes between Qvale and his freshman backup Derek Selvig, don’t be surprised to see another large gap in production.

Advantage: Vikings

Power Forward

UM: Jordan Hasquet PSU: Kyle Coston

Doesn’t it seem like Hasquet has been playing forever? The 4-year starter has seen a drop in production with the emergence of guard Anthony Johnson, but continues to play an important role in the Grizzly offensive schemes. Although he didn’t have his best game in the December match-up with the Vikings, he still produced plenty to eclipse the offensive output of Coston and Mara. Wayne Tinkle & Company better hope for one of Hasquet’s better games if they’re going to keep it closer than the 27 point spread seen in December. Tyrell Mara has reemerged on the offensive end and may warrant some more playing time. He’s averaging 10 points over his last three contests including a 12 point, 5 rebound, 4 assist effort in Saturday night’s win over Eastern Washington.

Advantage: Grizzlies

Small Forward

UM: Jack McGillis PSU: Phil Nelson

The 10 points that Jack McGillis scored in the December game may be a bit misleading given that 8 of those points came at the free throw line. One can only imagine what the point spread would have looked like if the Griz weren’t hitting their free throws...  I have to say I’ll never get tired of looking at that box score given the difficulty the Vikings have had against the Grizzlies on the football field. Phil Nelson has scored 20 or more points in two of three and looked really solid in the second half against Eastern Washington. When he’s playing like that the Vikings don’t need much other offense.

Advantage: Vikings

Shooting Guard

UM: Ryan Staudacher PSU: Andre Murray

Don’t expect Staudacher to be held scoreless this time around. The only other team to hold him scoreless this season was Duke. His 3 point stroke has been much better at home, so I’d expect 5-15 points. However, he produces very little in other categories. He matches up with a man who fills up the stat sheet and has the potential to score in bunches. A more interesting match-up will likely take place when one of the Taylors comes into the game.

Advantage: Vikings

Point Guard

UM: Anthony Johnson PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez

Johnson, whose wife Shaunte transferred with him from Yakima Valley CC to play at Montana, is exactly what the Grizzlies have needed. The veteran floor general has led the Griz into third place in the Big Sky with big offensive numbers and the sort of leadership they weren’t getting in the past two years. His height advantage over Dominguez should allow him to shoot whenever he wants. The question is if he can make up for his teammates’ lack of offense. It seems like a tired refrain to say Jeremiah Dominguez does what the team needs him to do. However, it bears repeating whenever he has a low-scoring night because people seem surprised when he doesn’t score 15 or more points. JD knows that he’s the one the team counts on to hit shots late if the game is close. Given that knowledge, he doesn’t feel obligated to take a majority of the shots early on unless he’s open. That’s why Jones and Nelson often get involved early. If the Viks need him to make shots down the stretch in this one, he’ll be there.

Advantage: Push

Bench

Recent returnee Ceylon Elgin-Taylor should provide the Griz a boost off the bench. Prior to Sunday’s game with Northern Colorado, he hadn’t played since December 6. The other major contributor off the bench is senior forward Kyle Sharp, who provides 5 points and 4 rebounds per game. As noted above, Tyrell Mara has been the bright spot off the bench recently for the Viks. Julius Thomas will be out to prove that his 14 point 10 rebound effort from the first game between the two wasn’t a fluke.

Advantage: Push

Overall, I think the Viks just have too much offense for the Griz to compete with-- even without an inside scorer. Although they have been good at home, they seem to lack the intangible quality that allows a team to win the tough games. Without that, I don’t see them competing for the Big Sky title. That said, I think PSU will have to be ready for a dogfight. The Grizzlies aren’t demoralized yet, and will be ready to defend the home floor.

Prediction: PSU 71 UM 66

Posted on: January 21, 2009 7:09 pm
Edited on: January 21, 2009 7:12 pm
 

Eastern Washington @ Portland State

Prior to Sunday afternoon’s game in Greeley, I would have been hard pressed to think of a PSU game I had witnessed that I would think of as boring. No longer. The defensive struggle with Northern Colorado was enough to make me pound another Mac's thankful that the awful display of basketball had come to an end. The one bright spot for the Vikings was another solid game from Andre Murray. That is, if you believe that the bad shooting was just that and not great Viking defense. All that said, the Vikings came back to Portland with a 14 point victory. While it doesn’t instill confidence in the fans, it gets the job done from the standpoint of the coaching staff. 


Eastern Washington has been hard to predict this season. They began 6-2, including a win at the Chiles Center. However, a 23 point loss at Northern Arizona seems to have brought them back down to earth. A Wednesday night home match-up with the Griz gives them an opportunity to get back on the good side of .500 before they walk in to the Stott Center as heavy underdogs on Saturday night. 

Match-Ups 
Center 
EWU: Brandon Moore PSU: Jamie Jones
 
Moore has served the role for the Eagles that the Vikings wish Donatas Visockis had for them. He has provided them with interior offense and strong rebounding, which have been very important to a team trying to hang on for contention in the Big Sky. His size and strength give the Eagles a decided advantage inside. Jamie Jones has become less effective as the season has gone on, averaging under 8 points per game during Big Sky play. If the Vikings expect to have any chance at winning a post season game, they’re going to need him to reverse his downward spiral. Given the paucity of shots he takes each game, it’s going to be tough. 
Advantage: Eagles 

Power Forward 
EWU: Mark Dunn PSU: Kyle Coston
 
A little cautious in his return from a bout with the Stott Center floor, Coston was ineffective at UNC. If he can find his stroke before Saturday’s game, it would pay big dividends for the rebounding efforts of the Vikings. Coston’s defender is big-bodied Mark Dunn, primarily a danger when he’s close to the basket. However, if Coston can’t find his stroke, don’t be surprised if EWU dominates this position from a statistical standpoint. 
Advantage: Eagles 

Small Forward 
EWU: Andy Genao PSU: Phil Nelson
 
Andy Genao’s cousin is Major League shortstop Julio Lugo. That’s about the only interesting information about Genao aside from his size (6’3” 205). He’s a strong rebounder for his size. Think Andre Murray. Genao will try one of the true small forwards in the Big Sky on Saturday. Phil’s problem all season has been a lack of consistency. However, his ability to keep his confidence after a tough run has allowed him to recover after a bad stretch. If Nelson is assertive in this game, he should have no trouble scoring 20+ points in his return to the Stott Center. 
Advantage: Vikings 

Shooting Guard 
EWU: Milan Stanojevic PSU: Andre Murray
 
Stanojevic, the senior gunner from Serbia, has the potential to put up big numbers in this contest. Then again, he’s matching up with Andre Murray who has been sensational on the defensive end in the last two games. He complimented that defensive performance with 15 much-needed points in Sunday’s win at Northern Colorado. Viking success in the near future (trip to Montana next week) may depend on him continuing his recent play. 
Advantage: Vikings 

Point Guard 
EWU: Benny Valentine PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez
 
Saturday night should be another fun one for Viking fans as another of the top point guards in the Big Sky Conference stops by the Stott Center. Although neither one dominated, it’s fair to say Dominguez out-dueled Kellen McCoy. Fans were robbed of the next match-up when Matt Stucki ended up playing point forward. However, given the size discrepancy, it made some sense. This time, fans should get a good show. Two diminutive point guards blessed with unmatched quickness and knack to score will take the floor (as long as Dominguez doesn’t break any more rules). Texas Tech transfer Benny Valentine has been the Eagles’ most consistent performer this year, scoring in double figures in all but two games. He has already dropped 30 points twice in Big Sky play, making him one of, if not the frontrunner for Big Sky Player of the Year. One of the few players worthy of disputing that claim is the incumbent, Jeremiah Dominguez. Although JD’s production has dipped of late, he has proven time and again that he can pick it up if the team needs him. Based on the respective teams’ records and point guard production, I expect Valentine to out-produce Dominguez in a Viking victory. 
Advantage: Eagles 

Bench
 
Coming off the bench, the Eagles have Adris "2 Hard 2 Guard” DeLeon, a player who has the potential to be just as dangerous as Dominic Waters (42 points against UNC last season). Other Eagle contributors off the bench include Chris Busch and Trey Gross. The Viking bench is a known commodity with the potential for Dominic Waters to go off on any given night. However, the Viks got a nice effort out of Tyrell Mara on Sunday. 
Advantage: Push 

Don’t expect things to turn around overnight for the Eagles. Though they have some nice pieces like Valentine, Moore, Stanojevic and DeLeon, they are all veterans. If some of the younger guys can start producing Eagle fans will have a lot more to look forward to than they do right now. Saturday night shouldn’t be too tough for the Viks if they aren’t looking ahead to the Montana trip. 
Prediction: PSU 73 EWU 62

Posted on: January 16, 2009 11:09 pm
 

PSU @ UNC

Portland State may wish it hadnít had such a long break in between games. Although it has probably helped them adjust to their new classes, they may have lost any momentum created by the thrashing they gave Idaho State. This could be important heading into one of the biggest conference road games theyíll play all season, on Sunday at Northern Colorado. If the Viks can win, it will allow them to create some space between themselves and one of the other title contenders. However, if they lose, they will be even in the standings.

The Bears have been tough at home this season, especially as of late. With a chance to feature in the game of the week, that should really be the case. The Vikings would be wise not to take them lightly.

Match-Ups

Center

UNC: Jabril Banks PSU: Jamie Jones

Banks poses an interesting match-up for Jones. They seem like perfect marks for one another, but the level of competition may be determined by whether or not Jones is fully recovered from a right wrist injury which has hampered him in recent weeks. As has been mentioned often in recent weeks, the Vikings really need Jones to score inside to keep their offense from becoming one-dimensional. The other reason they will need Jones is to counterbalance Banks, who is one of the top big men in the Big Sky Conference. Banks is coming off a big double-double last night in which he scored 23 points and brought down 10 boards.

Advantage: Push

Power Forward

UNC: Mike Proctor PSU: Kyle Coston

Although Coston has had a tough run shooting in recent games, he was able to score 11 with the help of a 5 for 5 night at the free throw line against Idaho State. As long as he stays in the lineup, he should excel against the true freshman Proctor who hasnít really produced much. Other options for the Bears include Kingman and Taylor Montgomery.

Advantage: Vikings

Small Forward

UNC: Neal Kingman PSU: Phil Nelson

Against Idaho State, Phil Nelson looked like he was ready to become the player we all hoped he could be coming into the season. He also looked like Rip Hamilton. I donít know if it was the mask that helped him become fearless inside, but if so, he should keep it on. He combined one of his best offensive games with a solid effort against one of the top wings in the Big Sky. Neal Kingman is likely to get the unenviable task of guarding Nelson to begin the game. As is the trend these days for forwards, Kingman can step outside and knock down the 3 ball. He had a great game against Portland in which he went 5 of 6 from long range and scored 18 points. However, given the way talent is distributed among the Bears, donít be surprised to see them go with a 3 guard lineup. If this is the case, Nelson will probably get another chance at proving his mettle at the 4, something he had trouble with late in the Weber State game.

Advantage: Vikings

Shooting Guard

UNC: Devon Beitzel PSU: Andre Murray

Beitzel can be an incredibly dangerous player at times, (as referenced by dropping 32 points on NAU) and nonexistent at others (Just 2 points against EWU). However, with 3 talented guards, UNC has had no problem picking up for him whether with Figures or John Pena. Even if heís feeling good, Beitzel will have to modify his game to deal with Andre Murrayís ability to block shots. Itís not often that guards have to deal with that sort of hindrance, but ignoring it wonít make it go away. Just ask Josh Akognon. If Ken Bone and the other Viking coaches looked at the stats, they might tell the team to get Murray the ball a lot more. He is shooting at over 49% and has improved his outside shot considerably in the past season. The only possible down side to this strategy would be the lost rebounding ability from the 2 spot. Given his success, I think he needs to take more shots regardless of what may happen.

Advantage: Push

Point Guard

UNC: Will Figures PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez

Figures is a very solid point guard who should match-up very well with Dominguez. He has scored at least 20 points in 4 of his last 5, so he wonít be taken lightly. Given his production, (12.4 ppg, 2.5 apg) he has to be considered a possibility for all-conference. However, his biggest asset may be his quickness which makes this Sunday a bit of a question mark. Jeremiah Dominguezí quickness may be rivaled only by Kellen McCoy. However, Dominguez was able to shut down McCoy on the offensive end (limited to just one field goal). If the Vikings need him to score, Dominguez has been able to do that too, as in the Portland game when he put the entire team on his back and carried them to victory. There is no reason to doubt that Dominguez will continue to be just what the Vikings need because that is what he has done since the first time he suited up.

Advantage: Vikings

Bench

John Pena is a really solid player, but he isnít quite on par with Dominic Waters. That said, UNC definitely has superior depth which would have given them the advantage prior to the loss of Jefferson Mason, who the Bears relied on for balance. Other contributors off the bench include Chris Kaba and Taylor Montgomery. Given the current makeups of the teamsí benches, I think production should be fairly even.

Advantage: Push

Given the importance and venue as well as each teamís offensive schemes I expect a close, exciting game. Ultimately, PSU should win. However, they will need to establish some sort of inside game with Jones and/or Thomas as well as a solid effort from Phil Nelson.

Prediction: PSU 76 UNC 73

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com