On College Hoops
All signs point to Portland State winning the Big Sky tournament next week and advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. It's the flat-out best team in the conference.
Then again, upsets happen. Portland State lost out on an NCAA bid in 2005 when it fell here in the Big Sky tourney, and then got passed over by the National Invitation Tournament.
If disaster strikes next week, the Vikings (21-9, 14-2 Big Sky) still would go to the NIT, based on their Big Sky regular-season title.
Saturday's Big Sky tourney matchups have sixth-seeded Montana State (15-14) at third-seeded Weber State (15-13), and fifth-seeded Montana (14-15) at fourth-seeded Idaho State (11-18). The lowest remaining seed will play top-seeded PSU at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the semifinals in the Rose Garden, after the other advancing team plays second-seeded Northern Arizona here at 5:30 p.m.
The semifinal winners play 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Rose Garden for the Big Sky's automatic NCAA berth.
The Vikings have a 9-1 record against the other Big Sky tourney teams. They won seven of those games by an average of eight points and beat Montana State by 28 and Montana by 52 on their last road trip. The lone loss: 73-68 at Weber State on Jan. 10, when the Wildcats shot .500 from the field (.400 on 3-pointers) and .821 (23 of 28) from the foul line.
Without knowing who the Vikings will be playing, here are scouting reports on the other Big Sky tourney teams, with comments from PSU coach Ken Bone, post Scott Morrison and point guard Jeremiah Dominguez:
Carlos Taylor led the Big Sky in scoring (18.3 points per game) and post Divaldo Mbunga added 12.1 points and 5.6 rebounds, while shooting .556.
Bone: 'Carlos Taylor is really good. He can score. He does almost everything off the bounce, and he can shoot the 3.'
Morrison: 'They shot 38 percent and we shot 70 (in PSU's 96-66 win). If we shoot a regular percentage, it's a different game.'
Post Andrew Strait shot .637 from the floor, averaging 13.3 points and 6.7 rebounds; he had a broken nose in the last PSU-Montana game. Jordan Hasquet added 13.9 points and 7.3 rebounds.
Bone: 'They are way better than what we saw (in a 108-56 win). Andrew Strait's going down as one of the best players ever there. They have seven, eight kids who are really good players.'
Dominguez: 'They're good. It wouldn't be a 52-point game. But if we take them out of their offense, they don't have anything.'
The Vikings recovered from their Weber State loss to win at Pocatello 71-61 on Jan. 13, with 6-9 forward Alex Tiefenthaler hitting five 3-pointers.
Bone: 'They play a lot of zone - they started (players who are) 6-4, 6-5, 6-6, 6-8, 6-8. We need a guy who can shoot and see over the defense.'
Morrison: 'They're a solid team, like a secondary Weber.'
Dominguez: 'They have bigger guards, but I think we're quicker. We can work in and out on them.'
Low-scoring Daviin Davis had 23 and 20 points against PSU, and Kellen McCoy had 21 in the second game. Arturas Valeika topped the Big Sky in rebounding (9.6). The team led the Big Sky in scoring defense (65.8 points).
Bone: 'Extremely well coached and execute their offense really well.'
Dominguez: 'Good defense. Balanced team. They can shoot it inside and out.'
Post Kyle Landry averages 17.7 points and 8.0 rebounds, and guard Josh Wilson led the Big Sky in assists (5.43). The team led the Big Sky in shooting (.485) and rebounding margin (plus-4.2) and assists (16.1). A breakthrough 71-68 PSU win at Flagstaff, Ariz., came Feb. 7.
Bone: 'Consistently good every year, a great system. Josh Wilson and Kyle Landry are a good inside-outside punch.'
Dominguez: 'They mostly try to get the ball out and push it, and they like transition points. They have a nice big guy down there and base offense around him. Stop him, it's easier for us.'
The keys in the Big Sky games will be 'taking care of the ball and making sure we're patient enough to get high percentage shots,' Bone says. 'On the defensive end, we have to do a good job with transition defense; our quarter-court defense, top of the key down, will be fine.' … 'We weren't mentally tough' in the 76-74 win against Eastern Washington on Tuesday, Bone says, but he doesn't expect any hangover. … The Vikings led the Big Sky in scoring (74.6) and 3-point shooting (.392) and 3-pointers made (268) and 3-point defense (.343). … As expected, Dominguez was named Big Sky player of the year, joined on the first team by Deonte Huff; Morrison was named to the second team. The 5-6 Dominguez averaged 14 points a game, led the Big Sky in steals and had a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, not to mention his 44 percent 3-point shooting and all his clutch plays. 'Our kids feed off his confidence and the way he plays,' Bone says. … Morrison started on the 2005 team that lost in the Big Sky semifinals. 'Winning a (regular-season) championship is nice and we got a ring,' Morrison says, reflecting on 2005 and this season, 'but it'll be a nicer ring and a lot more fun if we go to the Big Dance. We've played so well going into it.' … Dominguez, on the Big Sky tourney: 'If we don't win those games, we didn't accomplish anything. If we don't do it, it would be a disappointment. It'd be a step back.' … PSU reserve Justynn Hammond wasn't at the final home game; he's dealing with a family issue, Bone says.