Portland State may wish it hadnâ€™t had such a long break in between games. Although it has probably helped them adjust to their new classes, they may have lost any momentum created by the thrashing they gave Idaho State. This could be important heading into one of the biggest conference road games theyâ€™ll play all season, on Sunday at Northern Colorado. If the Viks can win, it will allow them to create some space between themselves and one of the other title contenders. However, if they lose, they will be even in the standings.
The Bears have been tough at home this season, especially as of late. With a chance to feature in the game of the week, that should really be the case. The Vikings would be wise not to take them lightly.
UNC: Jabril Banks PSU: Jamie Jones
Banks poses an interesting match-up for Jones. They seem like perfect marks for one another, but the level of competition may be determined by whether or not Jones is fully recovered from a right wrist injury which has hampered him in recent weeks. As has been mentioned often in recent weeks, the Vikings really need Jones to score inside to keep their offense from becoming one-dimensional. The other reason they will need Jones is to counterbalance Banks, who is one of the top big men in the Big Sky Conference. Banks is coming off a big double-double last night in which he scored 23 points and brought down 10 boards.
UNC: Mike Proctor PSU: Kyle Coston
Although Coston has had a tough run shooting in recent games, he was able to score 11 with the help of a 5 for 5 night at the free throw line against Idaho State. As long as he stays in the lineup, he should excel against the true freshman Proctor who hasnâ€™t really produced much. Other options for the Bears include Kingman and Taylor Montgomery.
UNC: Neal Kingman PSU: Phil Nelson
Against Idaho State, Phil Nelson looked like he was ready to become the player we all hoped he could be coming into the season. He also looked like Rip Hamilton. I donâ€™t know if it was the mask that helped him become fearless inside, but if so, he should keep it on. He combined one of his best offensive games with a solid effort against one of the top wings in the Big Sky. Neal Kingman is likely to get the unenviable task of guarding Nelson to begin the game. As is the trend these days for forwards, Kingman can step outside and knock down the 3 ball. He had a great game against Portland in which he went 5 of 6 from long range and scored 18 points. However, given the way talent is distributed among the Bears, donâ€™t be surprised to see them go with a 3 guard lineup. If this is the case, Nelson will probably get another chance at proving his mettle at the 4, something he had trouble with late in the Weber State game.
UNC: Devon Beitzel PSU: Andre Murray
Beitzel can be an incredibly dangerous player at times, (as referenced by dropping 32 points on NAU) and nonexistent at others (Just 2 points against EWU). However, with 3 talented guards, UNC has had no problem picking up for him whether with Figures or John Pena. Even if heâ€™s feeling good, Beitzel will have to modify his game to deal with Andre Murrayâ€™s ability to block shots. Itâ€™s not often that guards have to deal with that sort of hindrance, but ignoring it wonâ€™t make it go away. Just ask Josh Akognon. If Ken Bone and the other Viking coaches looked at the stats, they might tell the team to get Murray the ball a lot more. He is shooting at over 49% and has improved his outside shot considerably in the past season. The only possible down side to this strategy would be the lost rebounding ability from the 2 spot. Given his success, I think he needs to take more shots regardless of what may happen.
UNC: Will Figures PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez
Figures is a very solid point guard who should match-up very well with Dominguez. He has scored at least 20 points in 4 of his last 5, so he wonâ€™t be taken lightly. Given his production, (12.4 ppg, 2.5 apg) he has to be considered a possibility for all-conference. However, his biggest asset may be his quickness which makes this Sunday a bit of a question mark. Jeremiah Dominguezâ€™ quickness may be rivaled only by Kellen McCoy. However, Dominguez was able to shut down McCoy on the offensive end (limited to just one field goal). If the Vikings need him to score, Dominguez has been able to do that too, as in the Portland game when he put the entire team on his back and carried them to victory. There is no reason to doubt that Dominguez will continue to be just what the Vikings need because that is what he has done since the first time he suited up.
John Pena is a really solid player, but he isnâ€™t quite on par with Dominic Waters. That said, UNC definitely has superior depth which would have given them the advantage prior to the loss of Jefferson Mason, who the Bears relied on for balance. Other contributors off the bench include Chris Kaba and Taylor Montgomery. Given the current makeups of the teamsâ€™ benches, I think production should be fairly even.
Given the importance and venue as well as each teamâ€™s offensive schemes I expect a close, exciting game. Ultimately, PSU should win. However, they will need to establish some sort of inside game with Jones and/or Thomas as well as a solid effort from Phil Nelson.
Prediction: PSU 76 UNC 73