A year after a near miss in the Top of the World Classic, Portland State makes the trip up to Anchorage hoping to rewrite the story of their Alaskan adventure. The first round matches up the Vikings with Northern Illinois. The Huskies are a fairly inexperienced team, led by freshman Mike DiNunno and sophomore Darion Anderson. They are coached by the former head man at Colorado, Ricardo Patton. The Huskies have had a tough start to the season, winning only 2 games against a fairly weak schedule. However, the Viks will not want to take them lightly, as they have a number of guards with the potential to be explosive, as was the case with Fullerton. Thus far, the Huskies have preferred a smaller lineup, but may be forced into a more conventional one to match up with Nelson and Coston.
PSU: Jamie Jones NIU: Sean Kowal
The 6â€™11â€ Kowal, who migrated from Colorado with Patton, has the size and skill to become a very effective player in the MAC. Only a sophomore, Kowal is already averaging 10.5 points per game, and should be able to increase on that against the smaller Jones barring any foul trouble. The Viks can only hope that Jones can have anywhere near the effect he had on Sundayâ€™s game when he scored 21 points including the winning basket in 26 very strong minutes. Though it has become difficult to put anything beyond Jonesâ€™ capabilities, this challenge may force him to find ways to be productive outside the points column. It would behoove the Huskies to be assertive with this mismatch, as their talented guards may not be as productive as they have thus far.
PSU: Kyle Coston NIU: Tyler Storm
Advantage: Highly-rated recruit Tyler Storm could get the start at the 4 for the Huskies. He and Coston should be good marks for each other, as they possess similar size and skill sets. Kyle will try to continue his progress after a solid game on Sunday during which he hit some meaningful shots down the stretch. The winner of this match up will depend on who can get it going from behind the arc in an unfamiliar arena. Coston should be more productive based on the number of minutes he usually merits.
PSU: Phil Nelson NIU: Najul Ervin
Ervin may also play the 4 as the leading rebounder for the Huskies, but winds up here based on size. He will contribute primarily from the inside, unlike Nelson, and may attempt to throw around his muscle with the leaner Viking defenders. Nelsonâ€™s defense looked significantly better than in the first two games, but will have to come a lot further if he wants to play more regular minutes. If he canâ€™t handle Ervin inside, Wendell Wright should be able to handle the job, but offensive numbers will suffer if that happens. With the loss of Paul Guede, the Viks lack the versatility of a player who can produce on both ends of the floor, which made him key in crunch time against Portland. Based on his recent cold streak, look for Nelson to find some rhythm up in Alaska, and play a bigger role in the Viking offense.
PSU: Andre Murray NIU: Darion Anderson
Andre had a significant role in the Viksâ€™ come-from-behind victory on Sunday. He hit some very big shots, and came up with a block on Akognon that may have saved the game. Whether or not he continues to play the go-to role on the outside in Alaska depends on the status of Jeremiah Dominguez. If the hand improves significantly, the offense may swing back to the comfort zone. However, if he struggles again, Ken Bone definitely has the confidence that Murray can do what the Vikings need to win. Anderson is a do-everything guard for the Huskies who is averaging 16 points and 5 rebounds per contest. If he can find his stroke from the outside, he has the potential to score 30. Assuming that Dominguez can produce, there is no reason to believe that Murray will duplicate his 16 points from Sunday.
PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez NIU: Mike DiNunno
True freshman Mike DiNunno has started his collegiate career gunning. He has averaged 21 points for a team that has needed production. A hard-nosed battle with Dominguez, Waters, or a combination of the two may dampen the enthusiasm. After a combined 3-15 effort, the Viking back court stars will look to regroup. The fact that the team was able to win with only 7 points from a duo that produced 42 against Rice speaks to the wealth of talent Ken Bone has right now in the Park Blocks. One would have to bet that Dominguez will get it back on track after the bad game, provided his hand injury begins to improve. The combination at the point for the Viks should be able to overcome the talented freshman for the Huskies.
The Huskies bring a very young bench to Wednesdayâ€™s game as well. Backup center Ante Dzepina has been solid for the Huskies thus far, and guards Bryan Hall and Jeremy Landers have logged heavy minutes. Again, the Vikings have an advantage due to the depth they have all around. The loss of Guede will hurt, but the continued progress of Wendell Wright should fill in nicely for the time-being. Tyrell Mara produced some very big numbers in Alaska last year, and the Vikings will hope that he can conjure up something similar this time around.
The Huskies are a solid team, but at least a year away from competing for the MAC title. If they can keep it close against a Viking team with superior experience, Patton should be pleased. Viks roll in this one if they can limit the easy opportunities for Kowal on the inside. Either way, they should move on to face Hampton.
PSU: 76 NIU: 68