Idaho State comes into the Big Sky semi-finals on the heels of a two point victory over Montana. They are the real unknown of the four remaining teams. They are young, and should be in the upper-echelon of the Big Sky for the next few years.
For the Vikings, there is a different story. After a 23 point win at home against the Bengals, and a 10 point win on the road, there is little reason to doubt Portland Stateâ€™s chances to advance to advance to the Big Sky Championship game. If there is one unknown, it is how the Viking players will react to the Rose Garden. The only other game there this year, the Vikings only beat Division III Lewis & Clark by 1 point. Needless to say the current Viking team has come a long way. They give up the friendly confines of the Stott Center for the added seating capacity and big game atmosphere of the Rose Garden. One would hope the great season Ken Boneâ€™s squad has had would bring more than a thousand fans to championship games.
ISU: Lucas Steijn PSU: Scott Morrison
This match-up is not fair. Out of the 3 options the Bengals have here, none can guard Scott Morrison, none can rebound with Morrison and none can score against Morrison. In the first game, Morrison had a very solid all-around game while holding Steijn to just 3 points and 3 rebounds. The second match-up saw Morrison have a little less success offensively, while giving the Bengal centers 2 points and 4 rebounds. Even JR Moore had success. I donâ€™t see much changing. As I said before their last game, ISU doesnâ€™t really have any post presence, so PSU may be able to put a little more pressure on the wing players.
ISU: Logan Kinghorn PSU: Kyle Coston
Kinghorn was outplayed by his backup, Chron Tatum in the second game against the Vikings. If Kinghorn starts slowly this time, look for the Bengals to go to Tatum early. They canâ€™t hold anything back, as this is likely the last game of their season. Kyle Coston had a so-so game the last time he played against the Bengals, with 8 points and 2 rebounds. Considering how ineffective the other options for the Vikings were at the 4, he had a solid game. PSU doesnâ€™t necessarily need a great effort from this position to win the game, but a little extra cushion couldnâ€™t hurt.
ISU: Amorrow Morgan PSU: Deonte Huff
Morgan has had decent success against Huff, going for 11 points in both contests. However, he hasnâ€™t been able to equal Huffâ€™s success (20 points and 6 rebounds the last game between the two.) As I pointed out the last game between the two, Morgan is only a sophomore, so he could one day become the player Huff is. However, he is not ready to beat out the Big Sky first-teamer at this point in his career.
ISU: Donnie Carson/Austin Kilpatrick PSU: Andre Murray
Kilpatrick won the last battle between the two with 14 points to Murrayâ€™s 6. However, Murray went only 2-10 from the field. Assuming he can hit an average percentage of his shots, Andre should be able to keep pace. He outrebounded Kilpatrick 5-1 in the first match-up, something he probably wonâ€™t have to do in this match-up for the Vikings to have success. Can Kilpatrick seize the initiative and provide the much-needeed scoring punch aside Stucki and Morgan? If not, this game wonâ€™t be close. Recently, Carson has been receiving a lot of playing time. Against Montana he turned that into 10 points and 5 rebounds. If he can pitch in and contribute the same amount tonight, that will help keep the game close, and perhaps Stucki can pull something out of the bag late, who knows?
ISU: Matt Stucki PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez
Stucki may be the one player who gives Dominguez serious problems defensively. Dominguez has been great all year, but the 6â€™6â€ Stucki is a full foot taller than Dominguez. Here, I gave the advantage to Stucki in the Stott Center game based on their outputs in the first game. Dominguez was able to hit right on his averages, but Stucki was great, going for 26 points. However, Dominguez had a very solid all-around game in the second match-up that superceded Stucki. As this season progressed, one could tell Jeremiah went out every night to send a message. He was rewarded for his outstanding play with the Big Sky Player of the Year award. He is clearly the factor that made last yearâ€™s mediocre squad into this yearâ€™s Big Sky champions.
The Vikings have the advantage here. The Bengals have three bench players who average 5 or more points per game, but none who is a real threat to go for a bunch of points. At home, the Viking bench players just tend to do better. Alex Tiefenthaler had 16 points the first time around against ISU, but failed to score a single point in the second contest. JR Moore stepped up with 6 points and 9 big rebounds in the second contest. With Julius Thomas healthy, Moore may not even see time. Hard to believe that even JR was dominant in the post against the Bengals.
Well… now comes the time for a prediction. The Bengals won only two conference games away from home: Northern Colorado and Montana. I predicted 76-60 at the Stott Center, and the game came out 81-58. This time, Iâ€™m expecting the Vikings to score a few less points in the unfamiliar atmosphere at the Rose Garden. However, I think they should still have plenty to get by the Bengals for a championship match-up with Northern Arizona or Weber State.
Prediction: PSU 73-60