Season tips off tonight against Pepperdine

Everything counts as Portland State men’s basketball hosts the Pepperdine University Waves to open the season for both teams tonight at the Stott Center.

Everything counts as Portland State men’s basketball hosts the Pepperdine University Waves to open the season for both teams tonight at the Stott Center.

The Vikings are coming off a 119-74 blowout win over Linfield in last week’s exhibition game. Led by senior Melvin Jones’ 24 points, six assists and four steals, PSU is heading into the 2010–11 season with a lot of confidence.

“The guys feel good about where they’re at right now,” second-year head coach Tyler Geving said. “Everybody’s pretty fired up.”

Offensively, Portland State should be dynamite. The Vikings play an explosive, fast-paced offensive style of basketball that doesn’t waste a lot of the shot-clock and produces a high volume of attempts. Last season, the Vikings were the highest scoring team in the Big Sky, averaging 80.7 points per game, and led the conference in three-pointers made and attempted.

“We’re fun to watch. We’re up-tempo and we’ll score a lot of points and shoot a lot of threes,” Geving said. “We give our guys a lot of freedom on the offensive end.”

To improve on last season’s record (13-19 overall, 7-9 Big Sky Conference), the Vikings will need to focus on defense. They showed poor help defense and gave up too many easy baskets inside the key against Linfield.

“Defensively, we weren’t very good (versus Linfield),” Geving said. “We need to clean up our weak-side defense. We were a little slow, and a step late on our rotations.”

Senior Phil Nelson, who made 48 three-point baskets and averaged 12.9 points and 3.3 rebounds per game last season, agreed with Geving.

“We’ve got to keep teams out of the paint,” Nelson said. “We haven’t been doing a good job of that so far.”

Portland State will also need to push the pace on both sides of the ball this season. Fortunately, the Vikings have a speedy and athletic roster that’s deep enough to handle a high-intensity 40 minutes. Don’t be surprised to see PSU dig 10-deep into their bench this year.

“I think we’re a little bit tougher and we also have better depth, so we can play with a little more energy.” Geving said.

Pepperdine and Portland State met in Malibu, Calif. last season, with the Vikings winning, 93-81. However, the Waves enter this season with a majority of their roster intact, including the top two returning scorers. Guard Keion Bell (18.5 points per game) and Mychel Thompson (11.8 points per game) will lead the Waves’ campaign for redemption against the Vikings.

“Bell and Thompson are probably as good as wings as we’ll see all year.” Geving said. “Both guys are going to find a way to score and put up shots, so you just have to make them work for everything.”

Pepperdine will likely try and slow down the Viking attack by utilizing a lot of zone defense, possibly using both a 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone. PSU’s fast-paced play should help them against the zone, as the team often initiates its offense before opposing defenses have time to set up.

Keeping turnovers down will also be imperative against the Waves’ defense. Portland State’s big men accounted for nine of the team’s 13 turnovers last week.

“Our bigs need to play well,” Geving said. “If we can take care of the ball then we’re not wasting possessions, and then you always give yourself a chance to win.”

Tonight’s match-up will be a good measuring stick to see where the team is compared to last year. Portland State will combine three of last season’s starters with eight letter-winners, three incoming junior-college transfers and a returning redshirt player.

However, the Vikings graduated 55 percent of their scoring, 49 percent of their rebounds, 57 percent of their assists and 77 percent of their blocked shots from last season.

Despite a new-look roster that’s still taking shape and defining its identity, the Vikings remember the success they had against Pepperdine in the past and don’t expect much to change tonight, especially at home, where the team was 8-4 last season.

“It’s really exciting. Knowing we played well against them last year definitely gives us confidence,” Nelson said. “And this time, it’s at our place.” ?