Given the relative ease with which the Vikings dispatched the Grizzlies in December, I’d love to believe that their Thursday night game will be identical. Unfortunately, that isn’t likely to be the case. The Grizzlies are 9-1 at home, the only loss coming early in the season at the hands of Santa Clara. Sitting third in the Big Sky, the Griz are hoping a bad weekend in Montana for the Vikings will translate into their getting right back in the race for home court during the Big Sky Tournament. However, that may be a tough task given that their opponent has won its last three games by an average of 21 points.

Match-Ups
Center
UM: Brian Qvale PSU: Jamie Jones

Sophomore Brian Qvale hasn’t developed into much of an offensive presence yet for the Grizzlies. Given the relative lack of production from the Viking big men in recent games, one might not expect that to be a problem. However, in the earlier match-up Julius Thomas had a double-double to go along with starter Jamie Jones’ 7 points. If nothing changes between Qvale and his freshman backup Derek Selvig, don’t be surprised to see another large gap in production.
Advantage: Vikings

Power Forward
UM: Jordan Hasquet PSU: Kyle Coston

Doesn’t it seem like Hasquet has been playing forever? The 4-year starter has seen a drop in production with the emergence of guard Anthony Johnson, but continues to play an important role in the Grizzly offensive schemes. Although he didn’t have his best game in the December match-up with the Vikings, he still produced plenty to eclipse the offensive output of Coston and Mara. Wayne Tinkle & Company better hope for one of Hasquet’s better games if they’re going to keep it closer than the 27 point spread seen in December. Tyrell Mara has reemerged on the offensive end and may warrant some more playing time. He’s averaging 10 points over his last three contests including a 12 point, 5 rebound, 4 assist effort in Saturday night’s win over Eastern Washington.
Advantage: Grizzlies

Small Forward
UM: Jack McGillis PSU: Phil Nelson

The 10 points that Jack McGillis scored in the December game may be a bit misleading given that 8 of those points came at the free throw line. One can only imagine what the point spread would have looked like if the Griz weren’t hitting their free throws I have to say I’ll never get tired of looking at that box score given the difficulty the Vikings have had against the Grizzlies on the football field. Phil Nelson has scored 20 or more points in two of three and looked really solid in the second half against Eastern Washington. When he’s playing like that the Vikings don’t need much other offense.
Advantage: Vikings

Shooting Guard
UM: Ryan Staudacher PSU: Andre Murray

Don’t expect Staudacher to be held scoreless this time around. The only other team to hold him scoreless this season was Duke. His 3 point stroke has been much better at home, so I’d expect 5-15 points. However, he produces very little in other categories. He matches up with a man who fills up the stat sheet and has the potential to score in bunches. A more interesting match-up will likely take place when one of the Taylors comes into the game.
Advantage: Vikings

Point Guard
UM: Anthony Johnson PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez

Johnson, whose wife Shaunte transferred with him from Yakima Valley CC to play at Montana, is exactly what the Grizzlies have needed. The veteran floor general has led the Griz into third place in the Big Sky with big offensive numbers and the sort of leadership they weren’t getting in the past two years. His height advantage over Dominguez should allow him to shoot whenever he wants. The question is if he can make up for his teammates’ lack of offense. It seems like a tired refrain to say Jeremiah Dominguez does what the team needs him to do. However, it bears repeating whenever he has a low-scoring night because people seem surprised when he doesn’t score 15 or more points. JD knows that he’s the one the team counts on to hit shots late if the game is close. Given that knowledge, he doesn’t feel obligated to take a majority of the shots early on unless he’s open. That’s why Jones and Nelson often get involved early. If the Viks need him to make shots down the stretch in this one, he’ll be there.
Advantage: Push

Bench
Recent returnee Ceylon Elgin-Taylor should provide the Griz a boost off the bench. Prior to Sunday’s game with Northern Colorado, he hadn’t played since December 6. The other major contributor off the bench is senior forward Kyle Sharp, who provides 5 points and 4 rebounds per game. As noted above, Tyrell Mara has been the bright spot off the bench recently for the Viks. Julius Thomas will be out to prove that his 14 point 10 rebound effort from the first game between the two wasn’t a fluke.
Advantage: Push

Overall, I think the Viks just have too much offense for the Griz to compete with– even without an inside scorer. Although they have been good at home, they seem to lack the intangible quality that allows a team to win the tough games. Without that, I don’t see them competing for the Big Sky title. That said, I think PSU will have to be ready for a dogfight. The Grizzlies aren’t demoralized yet, and will be ready to defend the home floor.
Prediction: PSU 71 UM 66