This year’s Vikings men’s basketball team isn’t bad. Disappointing, maybe, considering last season’s record breaking 19-9 record and regular season Big Sky championship. But first year head coach Ken Bone’s team is a scrappy bunch with a good chance to return to the Big Sky tourney.
In fact, Portland State might even be better than their 7-8 record would indicate, which includes two Big Sky losses to start conference play. This season could be headed straight to forgettable, and the key to preventing that from happening is getting a healthy Ryan Sommer back.
Former head coach Heath Schroyer called last year’s point guard Will Funn “the straw that stirs the Vikings’ drink.” Ryan Sommer is the straw, the ice cubes and the lemonade for this year’s team. Out the last two games with a hamstring injury, it’s not surprising the Viks have limped out to a 0-2 Big Sky record.
Sommer is by far the best ball handler, he’s extremely quick and can stretch the defense with his ability to create shots and hit from range. Too bad he’s down right now. The Vikings miss his calming presence on the floor and that’s the reason they sputtered out the gate to a 0-2 Big Sky record.
Though the Viks miss Sommer, they are still relatively strong up front with big men Scott Morrison and Anthony Washington platooning at center and senior forward Tyler Hollist.
Senior shooting guard Jake Schroeder has battled his way out of a shooting slump, breaking out with a 24-point game in the Vikings’ loss to NAU last Saturday. Schroeder has been searching for consistency in his shot all season after starting hot on the Viks’ long road trip to start the year.
The best one-on-one player is JC guard/forward Juma Kamara. Kamara is a lanky 6-feet-6 and can create off the dribble. He is the only healthy Viking player with this ability and leads the team in scoring with 11.6 points a game and field goal percentage at a .513 clip, including 45 percent from beyond the three-point arc.
The main problem for the Vikings right now is depth. With Sommer down, senior backup guard Josh Neeley has been forced into a starting role. In his last three games, Neeley is averaging seven points to go along with four rebounds and four assists. Though Neeley is only an average ball handler and playmaker, he defends the ball exceptionally well and brings all-out energy and hustle when he is on the court.
What happens when Neeley needs a spell becomes the problem for the Viks. Little used Anthony Locke is the only real option, and he is largely untested. Freshman Tyrell Mara’s minutes have spiked, as he and senior forward Keith Sconiers have been the main beneficiaries of the trickle down effect.
The Vikings have a prime opportunity to score their first Big Sky win Saturday night at the Stott Center as they take on an Eastern Washington team that has limped out to a 5-10 record, worst in the Big Sky after the first week of conference play. The game is the first of a three game homestand for the Vikings, who will need to build momentum before heading on the road to take on both Montana schools. Portland State also closes out its season against Montana State and Montana.
There are no easy outs in the Big Sky this year. Sacramento State and Northern Arizona are both schools that have been perennially bad, yet they sit 2-3 in the conference right now. Even Eastern Washington is better than its 5-10 record belies.
In the Big Sky at this time of year no one cares that your starting point guard is out. There’s no sympathy. Opposing teams don’t see a team down on its luck, they see a win and they go for the throat.
To succeed this season and get back into the Big Sky tourney, the Vikings have to shoot the ball as well as they did versus NAU (52 percent). However they must also play defense and execute, something they failed to do versus the Lumberjacks when they gave up 86 points.
Right now the Vikings just have to get healthy, take advantage of this coming homestand and notch some wins. Portland State hasn’t been beaten in nine games at the Stott Center. To have a chance at the Big Sky tournament, they need to make it 10 games Saturday night.