After reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time last year, Portland State hopes to keep its dancing shoes on and return again this March. In most preseason polls the Vikings were picked to repeat as Big Sky Conference champs despite the fact that the team lost seven players from last year’s team, including three starters. In order to fill the void, head coach Ken Bone added some talented transfer students and inked some gifted preps to this year’s team.
Retooling for a repeat
After reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time last year, Portland State hopes to keep its dancing shoes on and return again this March.
In most preseason polls the Vikings were picked to repeat as Big Sky Conference champs despite the fact that the team lost seven players from last year’s team, including three starters.
In order to fill the void, head coach Ken Bone added some talented transfer students and inked some gifted preps to this year’s team.
However, with the addition of new players, the Vikings could face some team chemistry issues in the early parts of the season.
“Building chemistry is extremely important,” Bone said. “However, we added some kids with good character, so I think we will be good and be able to build good chemistry.”
After being named the Big Sky Player of the Year last season, senior point guard Jeremiah Dominguez is back to lead the team.
Dominguez, a transfer from the University of Portland averaged better than 14 points and four assists per game last season. He also led the Big Sky in steals and three-point field goals. The senior was also recently named as a preseason mid-major All-American.
Other key players returning from last year’s team include junior forwards Julius Thomas, Kyle Coston and Tyrell Mara. Thomas will provide the interior defense that the Vikings could miss due to Scott Morrison’s graduation. And Mara and Coston can both drain shots on the perimeter.
Joining Dominguez in the backcourt will be fellow seniors Andre Murray, an explosive and athletic player, and backup point guard Mickey Polis, who led the team in three-point percentage last season.
The Vikings also feature several talented transfers who will suit up for the first time this year. Sophomore forwards Jamie Jones and Phil Nelson and guard Dominic Waters will all earn minutes after transferring from other schools and sitting out last season.
But the road back to the NCAA Tournament will not be easy.
Bone and his staff assembled a difficult schedule to test the team before Big Sky play. The Vikings will take to the road for games at Baylor, Cal Poly, Washington and Gonzaga, all teams with recent success. The Vikings will also host Portland, Cal State Fullerton and another quality nonconference opponent as part of an ESPN Bracketbuster game later in the season.
In addition to the challenging nonconference schedule, Bone expects the Vikings to receive stiffer competition from the other Big Sky teams this year.
“It will be more competitive this year, but kids are buying into what we are trying to achieve,” Bone said.
The Big Five
Jeremiah DominguezSenior, point guard, 5-6Salem, Ore.2007-08 Statistics: 14.2 points, 4.1 assists, 2.1 rebounds, 1.9 stealsBig Sky Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year
Scouting Report: Though a bit slight of height at a listed 5-6, Dominguez is a solid point guard that can distribute and score. His greatest asset and also his most overlooked talent is his superb on-ball defense, as he has been known for hounding the opposing point guard into mistakes.
Andre MurraySenior, guard, 6-2Los Angeles, Calif.2007-08 Statistics: 22 starts, 9.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists
Scouting Report: Murray worked his way into the starting lineup and will be expected to fill the void of graduated seniors Deonte Huff and Dupree Lucas on the perimeter. A decent three-point shooter, Murray will earn minutes with solid defense and by providing some senior leadership in the backcourt.
Phil NelsonSophomore, forward, 6-7Keizer, Ore. 2006-07 Statistics (Washington): 9 starts, 4.7 points, 2 rebounds, .413 field goal percentage
Scouting Report: After transferring from Washington, Nelson will make his Vikings debut this year and projections are he will likely not disappoint. Nelson will match up favorably with others in the Big Sky Conference, as he can get his shot off and get to the rim at any time. But he will be challenged to mesh his style with his teammates’ and stay enthused.
Tyrell MaraJunior, forward, 6-6White Rock, British Columbia2007-08 Statistics: 14 starts, .403 three-point percentage, 4.7 points, 3.3 rebounds,
Scouting Report: Mara, the longest tenured Vikings player, serves as one of the team’s captains with Dominguez. Despite being athletically limited, Mara always seems to provide solid defense, good perimeter shooting and selfless play. He may be one of the “glue guys” on this talented team, but his play will be crucial.
Julius ThomasJunior, forward, 6-5Stockton, Calif.2007-08 Statistics: 14 minutes per game, 4 points, 3.1 rebounds, .715 field goal percentage
Scouting Report: A glance at Thomas’ statistics and you might come away underwhelmed, but the post plays much bigger than his size and his fearless attitude and athleticism make him a force to be reckoned with. Often he will be called on to defend players much bigger, so Thomas’ defense and rebounding could be key this season.
How deep is the pool? Bone often employs a nine to 10 man rotation and fans can expect more of the same this season.
Newcomers in the backcourt, sophomore Dominic Waters and freshman Wendell Wright, could provide the Vikings with a solid defensive core of second stringers.
“He will give us a bigger presence at the point,” Bone said of Waters. “He should help us at the defensive end as well as being a solid offensive player.”
In the frontcourt, sophomore transfer Jamie Jones can fill it up inside. A lefty with a soft touch, Jones will be a nice change of pace from the athletic Thomas. “Jamie has great hands, a nice jump hook and can score with either his right or left hands,” Bone said.
Other position battles will likely develop over the course of the season. Junior forward Kyle Coston will battle Mara for playing time and sophomore transfer Paul Guede will push for time from the wing.
The Vikings’ tallest player, sophomore center Donatas Visockis, is still working his way into the lineup and may need some time to adjust to the frenetic pace at which this team will play.
Box:Five Games to Watch
Dec. 14 WashingtonSeattleAnother stop at Bone’s former stomping ground, this game will be a homecoming for the Portland State head coach, assistant Curtis Allen and Nelson. How will the Vikings match up against one of the Pac-10’s best teams and senior big man Jon Brockman?
Nov. 18University of PortlandStott CenterThis annual matchup is becoming a fierce rivalry, especially with former Pilots Dominguez and Jones now wearing the green and black of Portland State.
Dec. 23GonzagaSpokane, Wash. The Bulldogs seem primed this season with their best team in recent memory. Can the Vikings hang with a team with talent and depth at every position?
Dec. 29 BaylorWaco, TexasAn NCAA Tournament team one year ago, the Bears should provide a solid road test for Portland State. If the Vikings are to continue their rise into national prominence, winning road games like this becomes essential.
Feb. 5Northern ArizonaStott CenterFacing the Lumberjacks towards the end of the season, this game could decide the pecking order in the Big Sky. The Vikings defeated Northern Arizona in the Big Sky Tournament’s championship game last March.