The Vikings’ season is spiraling dangerously close to out of control after their sixth loss in seven tries. The men’s basketball team is 1-6 in Big Sky Conference play and is riding a three-game losing streak, including Saturday’s heartbreaking 69-68 loss in Bozeman to the Montana State Bobcats.
The loss leaves the Vikings winless on the road in conference play and searching for answers as time is beginning to run out on the season. At 1-6, the Vikings are tied with Idaho State and Weber State for last in the Big Sky.
Montana State (12-9, 5-2 Big Sky) scored the final eight points Saturday night after trailing the whole way. The Vikings were coming off a 21-point loss at Montana Thursday and it seemed the win was sealed before the Bobcats pulled off the upset in the final two minutes.
Senior guard Jake Schroeder led the way with 15 points on 6-10 shooting. Junior forward Juma Kamara had a strong game with 12 points, including 3-3 from beyond the arc. Point guard Ryan Sommer struggled from the floor on 2-7 shooting but he grabbed a team-high six rebounds and also had four assists to go with seven points.
Six of the Big Sky’s nine teams compete in the Big Sky tournament, the winner of which earns a trip to play in the NCAA tournament. Last year the Vikings looked set to advance to March Madness with a strong senior-laden roster and the home court advantage at the Memorial Coliseum. This year, they are vying for the final spot in the Big Sky tournament and a chance at an upset.
If the Vikings wish to be in the tournament at all they need to find some offensive consistency. In seven Big Sky games, the Vikings are averaging just 70 points while giving up over 77 a game. They have yet to find a consistent, go-to scorer and have been poor on defense.
All of this has added up to losses that have happened in an exciting variety of ways – if you’re a fan of the other team. They’ve been blown out (a lot), given up a late lead (the MSU game) and been dominated by the best player in the conference (Eastern Washington’s Rodney Stuckey).
A big part of the problem is that the team is fairly un-athletic and slow. Schroeder is a pure shooter whose legs have turned wooden. Center Scott Morrison is talented but also lead-footed. The only two Vikings who can create their own shot are point guard Ryan Sommer and forward Juma Kamara.
Kamara is perhaps the most talented Viking but he also disappears from games for long stretches. He is capable of going off, but he’s just as likely to score eight points the next night. Sommer is a nice player but he is too short at 5-foot-11 and hasn’t been the same scoring threat he was in junior college.
The Vikings don’t get any breaks from the schedule. They play conference leader Northern Arizona on Thursday and take on Sacramento State Saturday night. After the Sac State game there are only two home games remaining. Montana and Montana State come to the Stott Center to finish the season.
Much of the problem has to do with head coach Ken Bone’s awkward position of going into a season without his own full recruiting class. Bone wants to run an up-tempo offense, but he is largely limited in that regard with the current roster he has to work with.
The Vikings have been plagued all year by teams that can run. The Vikings, meanwhile, have relied on the three-pointer to keep them in contests. When the shots aren’t falling, the offense stagnates and teams make runs on them. There is no solution to this other than to not rely on jump shooting, which doesn’t seem likely to change this deep into the 2005-06 campaign.