Vikings face huge game Saturday

Besides a 98-77 blowout at Montana, the difference in the Vikings current five-game losing streak has been eight points. Eight measly little points have put the Vikings (8-14, 1-8 Big Sky) in the unenviable position of dead last in the Big Sky Conference. Eight points separate a good team from the one that will step onto Reese Court Saturday night in Cheney, Wash., searching for answers and fighting for the last slim hope of the postseason.

Answers have not come nearly as easily as the questions that surround this team. Why can’t the team finish games? Why is the offense this inconsistent this late in the season? Who is the go to player?

The questions are all related. The team is young and the system is still relatively new. It takes more than a year for players to adjust to a new offensive scheme, and the Vikings simply don’t have the athleticism needed to run first year head coach Ken Bone’s up-tempo style.

The Vikings are one of the least athletic teams in the Big Sky and Bone shuffles players in and out of games trying to keep them fresh. Only senior guard Jake Schroeder and sophomore point man Ryan Sommer average over 30 minutes a game, and only Schroeder and junior forward Juma Kamara average double digit scoring. Kamara only checks in for 26 minutes a game, even though he averages 11 points a game and is shooting 57 percent from three in Big Sky games.

The Vikings’ offense has been anemic during their losing streak. They have broken 70 points just once, though they have also held their opponents to under 70 in all but the Montana game three weeks ago. Clearly the defense is not the problem here.

The inability to hold leads late is indicative of a lack of scoring, not bad defense. The stops have been there. In the last three losses, including two heartbreakers during last weekend’s home stand, the Vikings have been right there at the end with a chance to win. The ball simply hasn’t found its way into the hoop.

Part of the problem has been the Vikings’ ineptitude from the charity stripe. The team is making only 66 percent of their free throws and the players who go to the line the most shoot the worst. Centers Scott Morrison and Anthony Washington both shoot just 60 percent through a combined 175 attempts. Jump shooter Jake Schroeder has made 81 percent of his attempts and leads the team, yet he has only gotten to the line 54 times.

Everyone knows it isn’t just poor free throw shooting that has sabotaged the season for the Viks. The team turns the ball over too much with 17 miscues a game while the offense generates just 14 assists per contest.

So where does this team go from here with only five games remaining and the chances of catching Weber State (9-13, 3-6 Big Sky) slim at best? This year, they probably go nowhere, sadly. The numbers do not add up favorably. Portland State got blown out by Rodney Stuckey and Eastern Washington 89-70 at the Stott Center on Jan. 14.

The two teams meet this Saturday with Stuckey coming off a Big Sky Player of the Week award that he earned by dropping 27.5 points and 6.5 rebounds a game in two wins last week. The freshman lit the Vikings up for 31 points in 30 minutes last time the two teams met in January.

If the Viks lose, which seems likely given their 3-8 road record, they will have to hope for both Weber State and Idaho State to lose as well. That would set up an all important weekend next week when PSU takes on those two schools in a road trip that will most likely determine the Big Sky tournament roster.

Beat both teams and come home for a raucous finale against Montana and Montana State and hope for the bad guys to lose. It’s not quite the plan the Vikings had when they were 7-6 and didn’t seem too worried about the other chumps in the Big Sky. They were peaking.

Who knew that the 7-6 mark was to be the apogee of the Vikings’ season. Now it’s the Viks who are working their tails off for a chance to dance in the Big Sky tourney. The Vikings won the Big Sky regular season last year. Now they’re the ones who are a day late and a bucket short.