March of the Vikings

“You get in and anything can happen,” said head coach Tyler Geving, after his men’s basketball team secured a spot in the postseason with a win over Idaho State last Friday.

“You get in and anything can happen,” said head coach Tyler Geving, after his men’s basketball team secured a spot in the postseason with a win over Idaho State last Friday.

The Portland State squad is in the Big Sky Championships, but Geving’s team has a long, tough road ahead before it can win the title and with it the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

The Vikings begin their uphill playoff battle tomorrow when they square off against Montana State in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Big Sky Men’s Basketball Championship.

Portland State (12–18, 7–9 Big Sky) enters the conference tournament for the sixth consecutive year, but unlike years past, the Vikings come in as the No. 6 seed and will need three straight wins to earn a spot in the NCAA‘s March Madness.

Portland State won the last two Big Sky Tournaments, but also entered the brackets as the first and second seeds and enjoyed a quarterfinal bye. This year they have no such break.

To fight their way through the tournament, Geving will look to the experience of his players who have competed at that level.

“We’re going to lean a lot on those seniors,” he said. “Our guys that have been there and played in those games need to step up a bit.”

Montana State (10–6, 15–13 Big Sky) is also in its sixth-straight tournament appearance, and holds the advantage over the Vikings this season. The Wildcats are the third seed and swept the Vikings in the season series with a 77–71 win in Bozeman in January and a 79–71 win at the Stott last month. In both meetings, all five Montana starters scored in double digits.

In the January matchup with MSU, Portland State displayed stellar shooting with a .522 average from the field and .478 from outside the arc, but effectively handed the game away with 20 turnovers. A late-game comeback put the Vikings down by two, but four missed shots and a turnover in the last five possessions killed any chance of a win.

The meeting in Portland held similar shooting for the Viks. They nailed a .520 average overall and hit exactly half of their three-pointers, but after the lead changed nine times in the first 10 minutes of play, the Wildcats took control for good. A late PSU comeback was again spoiled, but this time by MSU’s performance at the free-throw line, where they sank 10 of 12 in the final 1:26 of play.

But Portland State is no longer in a slump. The Vikings ended conference play with two home wins. The first, over Idaho State last week, granted them postseason access, and the second, over regular season champion Weber State, proved PSU would be not be an easy sixth-seed speed bump.

“I think that’s the main thing,” Geving said. “I think you want to play well heading into March.”

Leading the Vikings’ march is this week’s Big Sky Player of the Week, senior guard Dominic Waters, who comes off his second straight 57-point weekend. In addition to his 18.9 points per game average, Waters leads the conference in assists and free throw percentage, is third in scoring and fourth in three-point percentage.

Alongside Waters is senior forward Jamie Jones, the league leader in double-doubles for the second consecutive year. Jones is averaging 16.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in conference games. He also leads the league with 70 blocks, which ties a PSU season record.

Rounding out the Portland State lineup are senior forward Julius Thomas with an average of 10.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, junior guard-forward Paul Guede to provide defensive pressure and junior guard Melvin Jones with an average of 11.8 points per game and a team-high 74 three-pointers.

For Geving and company, they have made their way into the tournament—now it is a matter of what they do once they are there. He summed it up best by his own words after the team’s win over Weber State.

“You kind of just get your guys in the right spot, but at the end of the day the players gotta make plays,” he said.

Portland State’s quarterfinal matchup with Montana State will take place at Worthington Arena in Bozeman, and begins at 6:05 p.m. local time on Saturday. The game will be aired on AM 800, KPDQ and streamed live along with live stats at