I cannot guarantee that I will have time to do a blog for every game, but I will do my best while I am here. The upcoming contest between the Portland State Vikings and the Montana Grizzlies is an intriguing mid-season match-up as the teams have become rivals in recent years. We all remember the fight after the game two years ago, and it looks like the game on Thursday should be just as hard-fought. Montana enters the contest with two convincing wins against Big Sky opponents which were preceded by a tough home loss against Weber State. The Grizzlies are again lead by their consistent inside duo, Jordan Hasquet and Andrew Strait. Portland State is coming off an extended hiatus which should benefit the team from a health standpoint, but it remains to be seen the effect it will have on team chemistry.
UM: Andrew Strait PSU: Scott Morrison
The Griz will almost definitely throw everything they have at Morrison offensively. Their combination will include at least Strait and Hasquet, as well as Brian Qvale and Kyle Sharp. There is no doubt that the Grizzly coaching staff has seen how different a team the Vikings are without Morrison on the floor, and it is likely they will try to get him in foul trouble from the opening tip. The Vikings do not have anywhere near the depth of the Grizzlies at center, so it is essential that Morrison stays on the floor for as many minutes as possible and that players like JR Moore and Tyrell Mara are available to spell him inside. Julius Thomas may be the direction Ken Bone wants to go, but it will be difficult for him to compete with the height that the Griz possess at center.
UM: Jordan Hasquet PSU: Kyle Coston/Alex Tiefenthaler
For what has been the most inconsistent position for the Viks all year, Thursday may be a relief. Coston and Tiefenthaler have been much better players at the Stott Center, and Tyrell Mara has not been healthy since his break-out game at the Top of the World Classic. The three man combo will be assigned the Grizzlies top offensive threat, Jordan Hasquet. He has dominated the Big Sky Conference, both offensively and on the glass. If he matches up with Morrison defensively, it will be a showdown between two of the premier big men in the conference. If he matches up at the 4 it will be up to the Viking combo to run him ragged around screens outside, and keep him honest by making a good percentage of the 3 point shots they take. Hasquet and Kyle Sharp should be able to eclipse the Viking players here offensively and on the glass. The question will be whether or not the Viks can keep it close.
UM: Ryan Staudacher PSU: Deonte Huff
If the Viks have a mismatch, this is it. Staudacher is big enough to compete with Huff, but is overmatched talent-wise. If he can hold Huff to less than 10 points, I think the Grizzlies should win easily. Unfortunately for him, I do not think that he is capable of that. I think the Viks will depend on strong games from Huff and Dominguez, and it will be up to Huff to keep the game close until the last five minutes. Staudacher is a bit of an unknown to the Viks as he played less than 10 mintues per game last season. At almost 32 per game this year, it is obvious that he has become an important part of the Grizzly attack.
UM: Matt Martin/Ceylon Elgin-Taylor PSU: Andre Murray
Murray has been a very important player to the Vikings this year. Unfortunately, he has also been very inconsistent. The Vikings need a huge effort from him on Thursday, especially if Dupree Lucas is unavailable behind him. Martin and Elgin-Taylor have both averaged 25 minutes a game, so it is up to Murray to play at least that much to provide an equal counterpart. I think Murray should be ready for the challenge if he can stay out of foul trouble.
UM: Cameron Rundles PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez
After a strong stretch of games, Dominguez is now leading the team in scoring. He is the go-to-guy down the stretch, and seems to relish the role, as he fares well again and again. This game should give him another opportunity to put the Big Sky on notice. Big or small, he has vanquished them all, and Rundles should provide quite a challenge as he stands 6 ft 1. Rundles is less of a scoring threat than he was last year, but has become a much better passer, an asset the tea, needs at the point. The Viks could definitely use a good shooting night from Mickey Polis, as their front-court match-ups are not likely to produce many points.
The Vikings are hoping to have a bit more depth available after the extended break. The team could definitely use the intensity of a player like Mara, or the scoring punch a player like Lucas has provided in the past. The Griz only have 3 bench players who have seen extended action this year, so it is imperative that the Viks try to push the pace and use the extra legs they have available. As that has been their style of play most of the year, it should not be a task with which they have too much trouble.
Both teams have won their last two games. However, they are at very different places in the conference standings. Thursday will be a chance for the Grizzlies to get back towards the top, where they were expected to be all season. For the Vikings it is a chance to keep pace with Northern Arizona and Weber State at the top of the table. I see this one playing out as a slugfest. Each team is going to take their best shot at the knockout early on, but it is the team that has the most left at the end who should pull it out. In an even match, who do you take? I will go with the home team on a last second floater by Dominguez.
Prediction: PSU 70-68