This picture of Cougars center Aron Baynes may be what the Vikings look like after Sunday night’s contest. The Washington State Cougars coached by Tony Bennett, suddenly became a good basketball team last year. After years and years of struggles, and terrible recruiting it looks like the Cougars may now have a squad that will be a power for years to come. Though they lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Vanderbilt, and lost in the finals of the Pac-10 tournament to USC, they had a very good team last year, and very well could have gone as far as the elite eight. This year, they return all of their best players, including studs Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver. So far this season, Washington State is 8-0, and they are coming off two very solid road victories at Baylor and Gonzaga. They have been on a quest to prove they’re a legitimate power in the Pac-10, and last night’s victory might have done just that. If they can get through this one unscathed, they should begin the Pac-10 season undefeated.
On the flip side of the coin there are the Vikings. They’re coming off a terrible game last night against Division III Lewis & Clark that they should have lost based on the way they played. That said, they are 6-3 so far, which gives them the best record in the Big Sky Conference. They will have Scott Morrison back on the inside who is 100%, but could be without Andre Murray, whose ankle injury’s severity is unknown at this time. The Vikings are also hoping to get two new additions to the roster, Alex Tiefenthaler and Justynn Hammond. Tiefenthaler transfered from Portland at this time last year, and Hammond has been in classes for over a year trying to become academically eligible. Tiefenthaler would be a big boost on the inside, where JR Moore has been largely ineffective, and Kyle Coston has been useless. He has made a few outside shots, but he’s still too small to fight for rebounds. Hammond, if eligible, would probably fit into the mix at backup small forward, or backup off guard.
Wazzu: Aron Baynes PSU: Scott Morrison
Unless Coach Bone really thought PSU could win this game, Morrison’s being held of the game last night doesn’t make much sense. Outside of the exhibition game, and Kevin Love, Scott hasn’t gone up against a player of this size. (6’10” 270) Baynes is a very strong inside presence, and has played a solid game offensively so far this season. Like Morrison, he gets fewer rebounds due to playing for a team on which the smaller players rebound well. Baynes plays the fewest minutes per game of any starter on the Cougs, but has a talented backup in Caleb Forrest, who is also effective on the inside. Morrison can compete with either one, but probably not both. Even if Tiefenthaler plays, they’ll probably have to play him at power forward, because Cowgill is way too big for Mara. I’ll give the edge to Wazzu, but only because they have a better backup, power wise.
Wazzu: Robbie Cowgill PSU: Tyrell Mara/Alex Tiefenthaler
There are very few teams in the country who start two guys this big. Cowgill is huge for a college level power forward at 6’10”. As a result, it creates big mismatches for opponents. For Portland State, it will be no different. They have a few options here. If Tiefenthaler is eligible, he’s a no brainer against Cowgill. If not, they could play Morrison here, with Moore at center. This would set up a match-up between two great shot blockers, as Morrison is #1 all-time at PSU, and Cowgill is 7th all-time at Wazzu. The third option is to go with their standard lineup and play Tyrell Mara here. It could definitely work, but would be risky. On the up side, Mara could really stretch the defense with his shooting and open up mid-range shots for Huff, Murray, and Lucas. On the down side, Mara is nowhere near big enough to guard Cowgill down low, and would either allow a bunch of points, or get in foul trouble early. Therefore, the Vikings will have to hope Tiefenthaler is eligible because he is both big enough to pound with Cowgill inside, and agile enough to keep up with his mid range shooting ability. Due to unknown factors, PSU can’t prepare properly for Cowgill, so I’ll give him the advantage.
Wazzu: Kyle Weaver PSU: Deonte Huff/Tyrell Mara
If Tiefenthaler is eligible to play, that opens up options at this position too. Mara, because of his physical nature, larger stature, rebounding ability, and intense defense, is a better match-up against Weaver. With two guys who are 6’6″, and have big hot streaks on offense to go along with tenacious defense, this could be a very intriguing match-up. If Tief can’t go, that puts Huff on Weaver. These two are also a good match-up, but one that favors the Cougars. Weaver is bigger, and a better on the ball defender than Huff. Both players are streaky shooters, but have the ability to get inside and create opportunities for themselves, as well as rebound with the big men. Either one presents a match-up that the Vikings could win given the right circumstances, but an unfriendly venue, just finishing finals, and a terrible warm up game don’t bode well for the Vikings.
Wazzu: Derrick Low PSU: Andre Murray/Dupree Lucas/Deonte Huff
Some college basketball analysts have said that Derrick Low is the best player in the country that nobody knows about. Because he plays on the west coast, combined with playing in a relatively small media market, Low gets no attention outside of road games. The people who you can be sure have their eyes on Low is the opposing coaches. Low is a deadly outside shooter who has the knack to get inside shots too, even though he is only 6’2″ and just under 200 pounds. He consistently plays at the level Dupree Lucas plays at when he’s at his best. That means trouble for the Vikings. Out of the three possible match-ups, none is a very good defender outside of Lucas. However, when Lucas goes 100% on the defensive end, he becomes non-existent on the offensive end. That’s why I think he’s the best choice in this one. Forcing him to play tough defense will keep him from taking stupid shots the second he gets the ball because he’ll be too tired to do so. If either of the other options for the Vikings play here, the result will be this: 25+ points for Low, about 10 for his opponent. Not bad for a match-up against a player who will compete for Pac-10 player of the year, but not good enough if the Vikings really want to have a chance to win.
Wazzu: Taylor Rochestie PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez
This may be the one place where the Vikings can actually compete in this game outside the center position. If it is to be, Dominguez will really have to be on his game. Both teams can play a quick game, so Dominguez won’t have an advantage if he tries to push too much. Good shooting, and quick hands on the defensive end will be necessary to achieve that goal. Rochestie is a very talented offensively, with the ability to stroke it from long range, and the ability to create good shots for his teammates. If he can exploit his major height advantage, it would benefit the Cougars in a big way. Look for him to try posting up early, as Lewis & Clark attempted unsuccessfully with Tillery. In this case, it is much more likely to work. If it does, Morrison is going to have to be ready with the help inside.
Both benches are pretty solid. Neither has a player on it who is doing any real damage offensively so far this season, but both have talented players (Harmeling, Forrest) (Lucas, Thomas.) The team that has the advantage in the match-up of the benches is the one who gets a good effort from one of the players not mentioned above. Maybe Coston can come up with a strong game in his home state, or maybe freshman Stephen Sauls can put up som points for the Cougs. Either way this is a good match-up.
Though I think the Cougars have an edge at every position, I think most of them are small advantages. However, the Cougs have home court advantage in this one, and big- time confidence off their game last night. The one thing the Vikings do have going for them is that the Cougars are coming off a very physical hard-fought victory against Gonzaga (as indicated by the photo.) If they overlook the Viks, then there is a chance this could be an exciting ball game. If not, it will likely resemble the one against UCLA. I predict a hard-fought battle, but I don’t think PSU can compete on these terms. There are too many unknowns in a match-up that already favored the Cougars.
Prediction: Washington State: 74-58