Prior to Sunday afternoonâ€™s game in Greeley, I would have been hard pressed to think of a PSU game I had witnessed that I would think of as boring. No longer. The defensive struggle with Northern Colorado was enough to make me pound another Macâ€™s thankful that the awful display of basketball had come to an end. The one bright spot for the Vikings was another solid game from Andre Murray. That is, if you believe that the bad shooting was just that and not great Viking defense. All that said, the Vikings came back to Portland with a 14 point victory. While it doesnâ€™t instill confidence in the fans, it gets the job done from the standpoint of the coaching staff.
Eastern Washington has been hard to predict this season. They began 6-2, including a win at the Chiles Center. However, a 23 point loss at Northern Arizona seems to have brought them back down to earth. A Wednesday night home match-up with the Griz gives them an opportunity to get back on the good side of .500 before they walk in to the Stott Center as heavy underdogs on Saturday night.
EWU: Brandon Moore PSU: Jamie Jones
Moore has served the role for the Eagles that the Vikings wish Donatas Visockis had for them. He has provided them with interior offense and strong rebounding, which have been very important to a team trying to hang on for contention in the Big Sky. His size and strength give the Eagles a decided advantage inside. Jamie Jones has become less effective as the season has gone on, averaging under 8 points per game during Big Sky play. If the Vikings expect to have any chance at winning a post season game, theyâ€™re going to need him to reverse his downward spiral. Given the paucity of shots he takes each game, itâ€™s going to be tough.
EWU: Mark Dunn PSU: Kyle Coston
A little cautious in his return from a bout with the Stott Center floor, Coston was ineffective at UNC. If he can find his stroke before Saturdayâ€™s game, it would pay big dividends for the rebounding efforts of the Vikings. Costonâ€™s defender is big-bodied Mark Dunn, primarily a danger when heâ€™s close to the basket. However, if Coston canâ€™t find his stroke, donâ€™t be surprised if EWU dominates this position from a statistical standpoint.
EWU: Andy Genao PSU: Phil Nelson
Andy Genaoâ€™s cousin is Major League shortstop Julio Lugo. Thatâ€™s about the only interesting information about Genao aside from his size (6â€™3â€ 205). Heâ€™s a strong rebounder for his size. Think Andre Murray. Genao will try one of the true small forwards in the Big Sky on Saturday. Philâ€™s problem all season has been a lack of consistency. However, his ability to keep his confidence after a tough run has allowed him to recover after a bad stretch. If Nelson is assertive in this game, he should have no trouble scoring 20+ points in his return to the Stott Center.
EWU: Milan Stanojevic PSU: Andre Murray
Stanojevic, the senior gunner from Serbia, has the potential to put up big numbers in this contest. Then again, heâ€™s matching up with Andre Murray who has been sensational on the defensive end in the last two games. He complimented that defensive performance with 15 much-needed points in Sundayâ€™s win at Northern Colorado. Viking success in the near future (trip to Montana next week) may depend on him continuing his recent play.
EWU: Benny Valentine PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez
Saturday night should be another fun one for Viking fans as another of the top point guards in the Big Sky Conference stops by the Stott Center. Although neither one dominated, itâ€™s fair to say Dominguez out-dueled Kellen McCoy. Fans were robbed of the next match-up when Matt Stucki ended up playing point forward. However, given the size discrepancy, it made some sense. This time, fans should get a good show. Two diminutive point guards blessed with unmatched quickness and knack to score will take the floor (as long as Dominguez doesnâ€™t break any more rules). Texas Tech transfer Benny Valentine has been the Eaglesâ€™ most consistent performer this year, scoring in double figures in all but two games. He has already dropped 30 points twice in Big Sky play, making him one of, if not the frontrunner for Big Sky Player of the Year. One of the few players worthy of disputing that claim is the incumbent, Jeremiah Dominguez. Although JDâ€™s production has dipped of late, he has proven time and again that he can pick it up if the team needs him. Based on the respective teamsâ€™ records and point guard production, I expect Valentine to out-produce Dominguez in a Viking victory.
Coming off the bench, the Eagles have Adris â€œ2 Hard 2 Guardâ€ DeLeon, a player who has the potential to be just as dangerous as Dominic Waters (42 points against UNC last season). Other Eagle contributors off the bench include Chris Busch and Trey Gross. The Viking bench is a known commodity with the potential for Dominic Waters to go off on any given night. However, the Viks got a nice effort out of Tyrell Mara on Sunday.
Donâ€™t expect things to turn around overnight for the Eagles. Though they have some nice pieces like Valentine, Moore, Stanojevic and DeLeon, they are all veterans. If some of the younger guys can start producing Eagle fans will have a lot more to look forward to than they do right now. Saturday night shouldnâ€™t be too tough for the Viks if they arenâ€™t looking ahead to the Montana trip.
Prediction: PSU 73 EWU 62