The Vikings are finally in the big dance, and instead of excitement, fans may feel like they are looking down the barrel of a gun. As a 16 seed, going up against 30-3 Kansas, I wouldnâ€™t blame them. Many expected to be at least the 15, with some estimates as high as a 14 against a school like Xavier. However, as bubbles burst and conference champions fell in tournaments, it became likely that the Green would not be lucky this time around. So, here we are, waiting for the blade to drop, and yet Iâ€™m still ecstatic, and I know Iâ€™m not alone. Even the NIT would have sufficed for many, but the fact that the basketball team was able to take care of its business seems to be a metaphor for PSUâ€™s progress as a whole, and its future. Oregon being Oregon, PSU will be trumped by the Ducksâ€™ luck slipping in to the tourney.
Why did the Vikings drop to a number 16? Interest of fairness, attendance/money. UMBC, who is statistically a worse team , got what would have been the Viksâ€™ 15 seed. Their game is in Raleigh against 2 seed Georgetown. The hope is that UMBC will be able to get their entire allotment to the game if it is that close. Georgetown will have no trouble with that, but the proximity should also give them a pseudo home court advantage. PSU would probably only be able to get about 15 fans to a game in Raleigh, and would create much less sentimentality than they will in Omaha. In Omaha, the Viks will be the fan favorites outside the KU allotment, even though the game is close to Kansas.
The fact that they got this far amazes me. I had a lot of doubt about the season after the meltdowns against San Jose State at home and Eastern Washington on the road. The beginning of the season was marred by awful finishes to a majority of the games, and a lack of cohesion. The second half dominance began with Deonte Huff carrying the team as the only consistent presence, both physically and offensively. Next came Jeremiah Dominguezâ€™ decision to become completely unstoppable and send a message to the Big Sky. Julius Thomas went down with a broken rib, and Scott Morrison seized the opportunity to reassert himself as the center of the team. Tyrell Maraâ€™s injury led to the eventual evolution of Kyle Coston into a starting role, and Andre Murray was able to fill in the hole left by Dupree Lucasâ€™ mysterious step back. So, justly the Viks deserve the 16. The committee is supposed to seed based on recent personnel and results, but consistency is also important, and the Viks certainly werenâ€™t that.
KU, the number 1 seed, is the natural favorite to win the region and get to the Final 4. Every year the #1 has continued to be an automatic ticket to the second round. However, they face the toughest opponent of any of the 1 seeds, and will have to deal with a fairly difficult region. If you are a Jayhawk fan, donâ€™t be fooled into thinking that the effort that beat Northern Arizona by 41 and Eastern Washington by 38 at home will produce the same result against this Viking team.
The Vikings drew a very difficult match-up, but one that is more favorable than Duke or Wisconsin due to Kansasâ€™ balanced size and aggressive style of play. At 3 out of 5 positions, the Viking starters should be able to hold their own, and their depth may finally prove vital, as Kansas will force physicality and athleticism. At the same time, some of the normal position players will be forced to play against players who are much larger and talented than they have become accustomed to in the Big Sky.
In an effort to make room for people playing out of position, I will revert to the form the previews took at the beginning of the year; position by position.
PSU: Scott Morrison KU: Darnell Jackson
Julius Thomas Sasha Kaun
Scott will start here, and should see his normal number of minutes if Kansas plays one of these three and he doesnâ€™t get in foul trouble. The starter here will be either Jackson, Kaun, or Darrell Arthur. If Arthur starts, or lines up at center a lot, Julius Thomas or Alex Tiefenthaler will likely see time against him. Jackson is only 6â€™8â€, but at a chiseled 250, he is extremely powerful inside. The most similar player Morrison has gone up against was Akronâ€™s center, Jeremiah Wood. However, Jackson is more talented offensively. Morrison has really struggled when forced away from the basket. In this game, that will almost certainly happen, and if he canâ€™t adjust, another player may be the best option, even though it will create a huge rebound gap. If Scott gets in foul trouble with Jackson in, Thomas is the obvious replacement. However, if itâ€™s Kaun, Moore may see some time. He wonâ€™t be able to run the court with Kaun, but should be able to bang with him in the post for a few good minutes.
PSU: Kyle Coston KU: Darrell Arthur
A player who is physically ready to play power forward in the NBA, Darrell Arthur was the star of a team of stars this year. He averaged 13 points and 6 rebounds, which will only be impressive when people look at the number of players from this team on NBA rosters in 5 years. He turned down the opportunity to be the guy at Baylor for the media, history, and opportunity at Kansas, and there is a chance that this year he will be rewarded.
Physically, the only player built to match up with Arthur is Tiefenthaler. They are both 6â€™9â€ 225, and play physical basketball. The difference is that Tief resorts to an outside game on the offensive end, whereas Arthur stays down low and dominates in the post. However, Tiefenthaler has seen a sharp decline in minutes with Kyle Costonâ€™s steady improvement. As the likely starter, Coston will have to really have to shoot the lights out from the 3 point line, because there is no way he can handle Arthur in the post. He is definitely capable, and the Viks will hope he can and keep the game from becoming a laugher. Is Tyrell Mara really healthy? All indications say no. He was unstoppable at times in Alaska, and a strong defender his freshman year. Since then, he has been out with an injury, and dropped to a reserve role. If he is available at 100%, he would be a very useful asset. If not, he can become a defensive liability, and has gone cold offensively. If he isnâ€™t forced to play center, Julius Thomas could also be very useful here. He plays a very similar game to that of Arthur on the boards and defensively. Though he isnâ€™t an offensive threat, he might be able to keep Arthur further away from the hoop. Realistically, nobody is going to stop Arthur. The solace the Viks can take is that they could outscore him at the power forward if their shooters can get hot.
PSU: Deonte Huff KU: Brandon Rush
Why is Brandon Rush still in college? Well, an injury definitely contributed to it, but the potential future lottery pick wants the same things Arthur wants, the big stage, and the opportunity to compete for a national championship. If he and his teammates can stay grounded and shoot free throws well, they shouldnâ€™t really be challenged until the Sweet 16.
Every Viking fan knows Deonte Huff. For those who are Kansas fans, or underdog supporters, this is the guy to watch for excitement. If he was 2 inches taller, and had a pretty shooting stroke, he would be a mirror of Rush. He brings the house down with his dunking ability, creates tons of fouls with his uncanny ability to get to the hoop, and can hit shots from the outside as well. Defensively, he doesnâ€™t really match up, so Kansas will look to get Rush the ball to exploit Huff. The two players could easily score the same number, or one could outscore the other by 20. It really depends on whose shots are falling from distance. Although Iâ€™d love to say this was a push, I have to give the advantage to Kansas based on defensive ability and the size difference. However, it could just as easily go the other way. Justynn Hammond is an unknown at this point. To get an idea of his story, there should be links from the Oregonian website. If he is available, Hammond could fare well here. His defense is superior to that of Huff, and his long arms and superior shooting stroke give him a fighting chance. If not, Tyrell Mara or Dupree Lucas may play here, but neither really matches up well physically.
PSU: Andre Murray KU: Sherron Collins
Dupree Lucas Rodrick Stewart
It is rare when a 6â€™2â€ shooting guard has a height advantage after high school. Especially when he is going up against a highly rated recruit who has the ability to rebound with the big men. However, that is the situation for Andre Murray in this match-up. It should be interesting to watch, because his playing style wonâ€™t necessarily be changed as a result. He will almost certainly continue to shoot whenever he is open on the offensive end, but he may be a little more aggressive if he has a chance to get by Collins. Dupree Lucas will also have to deal with Collins, and a combination of other guards. His defense a necessity, Lucas may see the kind of minutes he became accustomed to with consistent play last year. Brian Curtis may also see playing time for his defense, here or at the point. I honestly feel that the Vikings have a chance to hold their own here, It depends entirely on the rotation Bill Self chooses. If Collins, Robinson, and Chalmers all play extended time off the ball, the Vikings have no chance, but if Collins and Murray/Lucas is the primary match-up, I feel the efforts could counterbalance each other.
PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez KU: Mario Chalmers
Mickey Polis Russell Robinson
Mario Chalmers dropped 30 points against DJ Augustin on Sunday. Chalmers and Russell Robinson are the best point guard tandem in the country, a 1 and 1a combo like Jordan Farmar and Darren Collison were for UCLA. Is there anything to be positive about? Maybe.
The Vikings have Big Sky Player of the Year Jeremiah Dominguez. The 5â€™6â€ phenomenon completely tore through the entire Big Sky the second half of the season, and when he makes outside shots, he is literally unstoppable. No matter his size, he gets to the hoop. Perhaps a good comparison is Earl Boykins. He can drop a shot from anywhere, but he is inside all the time anyway. When he is at his best, he is a terror on the defensive end as well. He can strip the ball with the best, and his unparalleled quickness ensures heâ€™s the first one to the hoop. If Dominguez gets in foul trouble, the game is over. Mickey Polis was on fire from the outside at Washington, and itâ€™s as if he has become ash. In all fairness, Dominguez hasnâ€™t given Polis much opportunity to prove himself since then, but the Viks will need all the help they can get, and outside shooting will be essential if the game is going to stay close.
Other players for Kansas who could make a difference: center Cole Aldrich, and guards Conner Teahan and Tyrel Reed.
I think the Viks will play one good half. However, that means the Jayhawks are up by 20 at half, and the Green keep pace with their backups, or that itâ€™s close at the half, and KU pulls away at the end. Either way, this game will be exciting to follow, and hopefully an experience Viking fans will remember as the beginning of something great.
Prediction: Kansas 85-68