Over the course of the season, the Vikings may be the most inconsistent team in the country. They have had standout games from 3 different players at the power forward position, 2 at the point, and 2 at shooting guard. The coaches have utilized offensive schemes that focused on using Scott Morrison in the post, and have benched him for long stretches in favor of a smaller, quicker lineup. With at least 13 games left, what can we expect from the Vikings? Saturday brings the UNC Bears to the Stott Center. A rapidly improving team, the Bears have already doubled their win total from last year, and have beaten defending Big Sky champion Weber State.
UNC: Jabril Banks PSU: Scott Morrison
No matter who matches up with Morrison, there will be a decided size advantage for the Vikings. Without Kirk Archibeque inside due to a concussion, the Bears will have to choose between two guys who are really combo forwards, Banks and Taylor Montgomery. Banks is the more talented of the two. The former Iowa Hawkeye and Indian Hills CC player is leading the team in scoring and rebounding at 13.7 per game 6.2 per game. He is also the only player who qualifies who is leading Scott Morrison in field goal percentage. He has only attempted 2 three point shots all year which means Morrison will be able to play his style of defense against Banks. Though Morrison has been less productive than Banks all year, his size advantage and style of play should allow him to out-produce Banks in this game, and ultimately lead the Vikings to victory.
UNC: Taylor Montgomery PSU: Kyle Coston/Alex Tiefenthaler
If Coston is not productive early, Ken Bone will not be hesitant to use Tiefenthaler who had the best game of his collegiate career against Idaho State on Sunday. Montgomery is not much of an offensive threat, but should be able to power past the opposition inside because they lack his power. However, the specialty of all the Viking power forwards this season has been their ability to hit the outside shot. Whoever plays here for the Viks should be more productive than Montgomery.
UNC: Jefferson Mason/Neal Kingman PSU: Deonte Huff
A promising player in his own right, Mason has averaged 9 points and 5 rebounds per contest this year. His height advantage should allow him some easy buckets at times in this one. However, I think it is very unlikely that he will out-produce Huff unless he can get him into foul trouble early. Mason should be able to utilize his size to keep Huff away from some of the put-backs that he normally gets, but I do not see him stopping Huff from driving and getting to the line. If the Bears are going to be competitive in this contest, they will need to minimize the damage that Huff can do because the Vikings have too many offensive weapons for them to deal with. Kingman had been the starter recently before missing the San Diego State game due to influenza. He has a very similar skill set to that of Mason with a little added bulk. He had a season high in the road loss at NAU, but seems to have lost confidence since then.
UNC: Sean Taibi/Robert Palacios PSU: Andre Murray
If Taibi cannot play in this one, then the Bears will likely start Robert Palacios, a teammate of Jabril Banks at Indian Hills CC. Another option here is Devon Beitzel, a freshman who shared player of the week honors with NAU’s Kyle Landry, after he came off the bench for 15 points against San Diego State. The combination of these players will go up against Andre Murray, a player who has also been inconsistent and had trouble staying away from fouls against Idaho State. The Vikings do not necessarily need Murray to have a big scoring night to beat the Bears, but it would definitely help. If he cannot provide the punch Ken Bone is looking for, Dupree Lucas will be waiting for another opportunity to prove that the coaches made a mistake when they benched him in favor of Murray. I give a slight advantage to UNC, especially if Taibi is available. He is a deadly long range shooter who can score in bunches.
UNC: Thanasi Panagiotakopoulos PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez
Panagiotakopoulos has been in double figures three times this year. It appears that his ability to score is similar to that of Mickey Polis in that he has trouble when his three point shots are not falling. Dominguez shoots a lot of threes himself, but he also has the ability to drive and score against the bigger players. Like the Vikings, the Bears have a short backup point guard who has the ability to score. His name is Will Figures. He had a strong showing in the beginning of the season but has cooled off recently. It would really help the Bears if he could get back on track in this one.
The Bears have the potential for a very strong bench with players like Mason and Figures. They do not have a lot of overall depth so they will depend on those guys to spell their starters. If they cannot handle that task, it might be a long night. For the Vikings the bench is loaded. It has endless depth and guys who could start for many teams. The issue with the bench, as it is with the rest of the team is consistency. If Tiefenthaler, Lucas, Polis, Hammond and Thomas can each score a few points, that would decrease the burden felt by Dominguez and Huff to shoot so often.
I think the Vikings are primed to make a run for the Big Sky title. Everyone except Tyrell Mara is healthy enough to play, and some of the guys who were expected to contribute early on are finally coming into their own. The three game home stretch is a critical set for the Vikings, who will need to win all three to compete for home court in the Big Sky tournament. It is definitely a doable task, but the Vikings will need strong play from their leaders and something from the bench to get it done. The first game against Northern Colorado is probably the easiest task, but the most important, as the team will look to start off their home stand the right way.
Prediction: PSU 72-63