At 4-5, one would expect the San Jose State Spartans to be at the back of the pack in the WAC conference. However, this appears to be a down year for the conference as they are right in the middle so far. On the down side, none of those wins come against a team that is better than mediocre. This is another chance to make a statement against a team with a winning record. On December 15, they lost to Northern Arizona at home. They are a very young team. The two leading scorers are a sophomore and freshman respectively.
Well, what can you say about the Vikings? They weren’t able to win in the state of Washington, and that they cannot shoot free throws consistently well. It has been their downfall in two exciting games, the championship game of the TOWC against Colorado State and the EWU game Saturday. The good sign is that the level of competition will be fairly consistent the rest of the season. To this point, there has been a tough game, then an easy one. Perhaps consistency will help the team come together. The one glaring hole on this team is Scott Morrison. He disappeared recently, either due to bad play, or an injury, but the void has not been filled. The one thing that is obvious to fans is that the entire team suffers when he isn’t on the court.
SJSU: C.J. Webster PSU: Scott Morrison/Julius Thomas
At 6’8″ 255, Webster is similar to the size the Vikings will see all year in the Big Sky. The choice is whether or not to use Morrison. If they are going to remove him from the lineup, they might as well do it now, because it hasn’t helped the team to see him start, play 15 minutes, then sit the rest of the game. If they choose to keep him in there, he needs to play at least 25 minutes, and he needs to get a lot more touches. His presence makes the outside players much more dangerous, and his rebounding ability in the middle gives everyone more opportunities. Webster is averaging 9.3 points and 7 rebounds per game. This may be the game to move Thomas to power forward because of the center’s size. Kyle Coston has been very inconsistent this season, and it would allow Tiefenthaler to play a position where he would fit in better. JR Moore will be able to deal with the wide-body inside, and perhaps give Bone a reason to play Morrison more. If Morrison plays 25 minutes, the Vikings have an advantage, if not, the Spartans will take advantage.
SJSU: Chris Oakes PSU: Tyrell Mara
Since becoming eligible two games ago, Oakes has been the best player for the Spartans. He is the prototypical power forward with the ability to score and rebound well inside, but lacking an outside shot. He has the size to overpower Mara inside, which means that the Vikings have to exploit him defensively by playing Mara outside. If not, the best option is probably to play Tiefenthaler to try to match his size. Oakes is the key guy for the Spartans, and power forwards have tended to produce high numbers against the Vikings, so I’ll give the advantage to him.
SJSU: Tim Pierce PSU: Deonte Huff
Pierce is a guy who has the ability to explode offensively if his shot is dropping. He and should be a good match-up because they both have the instinct to be the guy for their teams. I think Huff will outproduce Pierce in this game because the Vikings have really relied on him in recent games. Pierce has less pressure to score due to the return of Oakes. After his first double-double of the year, Huff will try to stay hot, but the Vikings also need him to return to his status as the best free throw shooter. In the last 4 games, he is only 5-12 after a 5 game stretch where he was 23-25. The Vikings rely on the senior due to the recession of fellow seniors Lucas and Morrison.
SJSU: Justin Graham PSU: Dupree Lucas
The freshman Graham has had a great season for the Spartans picking up some of the scoring slack when Oakes was out. After a couple of steady games, Lucas got back to his early season form with bad shooting. After a great junior year, coach Ken Bone was expecting a lot more from Lucas. This is his opportunity to get it back on track. Perhaps he can exploit the freshman, and create better shots than he normally gets. If he can do that, he may be able to get back his confidence going into the bulk of the conference season. If he has trouble again, it may be the last straw. Murray has played much better than Lucas recently, and may be the better option going forward if Lucas continues shooting badly. Lucas is the better defender, so he will get the start. Perhaps the duo can hold Graham under 10 points. He and his backup, DaShawn Wright are averaging about 20 points per game, and should have the advantage in this match-up.
SJSU: Jamon Hill PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez
Hill is the only senior on the Spartans who really sees extended time. They will need him to provide leadership on a team that sorely needs it, especially if they are in this game late. Shockingly, even though he is under 6 feet tall, he is averaging over 3 rebounds per game. Dominguez had a tough second half against the Eagles after a perfect first half. The Vikings will need his points, as well as those of Polis to keep up with the pace of the Spartans. Both point guards have shot the ball well at the Stott Center this year, and that is likely to continue. The advantage definitely goes to the miniature duo of the Vikings, whose production has been a blessing in a down year for many.
The bench has disappeared recently for the Vikings aside from Murray and Polis. Guys like Hammond and Tiefenthaler will be relied upon to provide scoring and energy in a game that will likely have poor attendance. The two key guys for the Spartans are DaShawn Wright and Devonte Thomas, both of whom are wings. The Viking defenders have done a good job against bench scorers so far this season.
The Vikings haven’t played well recently, and this isn’t really a team to try to fix things against. Though they don’t have a great record, they are solid all the way around, and have the ability to score quickly. The Vikings play well at home, but this may not be much of an advantage without most of the students. If the Vikings can make their free throws, and get some inside production, they should win a close game.
Prediction: PSU 79-76