Men’s basketball hosts Linfield tonight

The Portland State men’s basketball team continues to prepare for the start of the 2010-11 season as it plays host to Linfield tonight in an exhibition game at the Stott Center.

The Portland State men’s basketball team continues to prepare for the start of the 2010-11 season as it plays host to Linfield tonight in an exhibition game at the Stott Center.

The Vikings return three starters and eight letter-winners from a team that finished sixth in the Big Sky with a record of 7-9 in conference and 13-19 overall. 

Second-year head coach Tyler Geving will integrate five fresh faces to a roster with eight returning players as he tries to improve on his first season at the helm of the bench. The transition, he says, was challenging at times, as he replaced his long-time mentor and former head coach, Ken Bone. 

“It’s a (situation) where all of a sudden you’re the head coach, and I think some of the guys were resistant to it last year,” Geving said. 

“In some ways, I never felt like I was the head coach. Last year, I was pretty worried about personalities and dealing with egos. But this year, it’s more: we’re doing it this way and if you don’t like it, tough luck. You’re either in or you’re out,” he added.

Although only predicted to finish seventh in the Big Sky this year in the preseason polls, the team worked hard and trained together in the offseason, winning two of three games during an exhibition trip in the Bahamas in September. Geving emphasizing the positives and is hopeful that this team can compete for the conference title.

“We’re a lot better as a group, a lot better team, and have much better chemistry together already,” Geving said. 

Viking fans will get their first look at this year’s team at 7 p.m. tonight, when PSU hosts Linfield. Tonight’s game is an exhibition though, and will not count toward the 30-game regular season, which starts Nov. 12 at home against Pepperdine. The last time PSU played Linfield was in 2009, when the Vikings won at home, 85-52. 

Five keys for the Vikings this season

One – Phil Nelson

Portland State lost last season’s top two leading scorers, but still has senior Phil Nelson, the team’s returning leading scorer. Nelson averages 12.9 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, with 48 three-pointers made in 2009-10. The 6-foot-8 swingman should be on the radar of NBA scouts all season, and will be expected to not only increase his statistical production, but also provide leadership for the younger guys. 

Two – The transfers

The Vikings will be looking for major contributions from new transfers forward Chehales Tapscott and guards Terry Coleman and Charles Odum. Redshirt junior Nate Lozeau will also return at center. All four could potentially see time in the starting line-up and will need to find chemistry with their new teammates quickly. 

Three – Senior leadership

The Vikings lose 55 percent of the team’s scoring, 49 percent of the rebounds, 57 percent of the assists and 77 percent of the blocked shots from last season. Returning seniors Nelson, Melvin Jones, Paul Guede, and Phillip “Tree” Thomas will be counted on to step up when the team needs them on and off the court.  Look for sharp-shooting guard Jones, defensive stopper Guede, and energetic big-man Thomas to all see expanded roles. 

Four – Defense

Although Portland State has recently been known for their high scoring and exciting brand of fast-paced basketball, defense is one of Geving’s focuses this season. The Vikings led the conference last year with a scoring average of 80.7 points a game, but gave up an average of 79. The Vikings will need a tougher defensive mentality and a stronger physical presence in the paint, where the team was often pushed around. PSU finished near the bottom of the league in rebounding margin.

Five – Motivation

Due to poor academic performance through the 2005-09 seasons the Vikings will not be eligible to play in the NCAA tournament or the NIT this year. They can still bring Portland State its first-ever men’s Big Sky Championship and can play in other postseason tournaments such as the CBI. But how will this effect the team’s motivation? 

For new players like Southern Idaho transfer Odum, who’ll be playing his first game at the Stott Center tonight, the motivation is to simply put on a show for the fans.

“I’m really excited,” Odum said with a grin. “To finally get out in front of the fans is going to be great. We’ve got something to prove and we can’t wait to get out there and show everybody what we can do.”