Sorry to all the fans expecting previews for recent games. I was enjoying the holidays with my family and had very little time at the computer. However, I’ll be back on board for the rest of the season. After flipping the calendar over into the new year, the Vikings are sitting pretty with a game over all the other teams in the Big Sky, as well as the confidence that comes with winning the tough games. That said, 3 of the wins have come against teams that the Vikings should have blown out, and were only able to grind out. Although the 2008-09 Wildcat squad may not be the toughest squad that has ever stepped out onto the court, there is no doubt that they will play tough and force the Vikings to beat them. They have had some sub par performances like the thrashings they took at the hands of BYU and Utah State, they will have the seasoning that comes from playing the big teams which should benefit them long term.

Match-Ups
Center
WSU: Steve Panos PSU: Jamie Jones

Although Panos saw most of his time playing a hybrid big man with Valeika in the lineup, he has flourished as the full-time center, averaging 11 points per game. Although his production has dipped a bit in recent weeks, there is no reason to believe that he won’t be able to right the ship. On the other side, Jamie Jones will be happy to return to the comfort of playing at home against a similarly-sized opponent. Jamie has had a tough time when forced to match-up with larger opponents, and has scored 4 or fewer points on four occasions. Ultimately, Jones should be the more productive of the two if he can stay out of foul trouble and avoid being too physical with Panos.
Advantage: Vikings

Power Forward
WSU: Kyle Bullinger PSU: Kyle Coston

Bullinger and Coston both play the role of the “other guy” on the court. The hope is that they don’t screw it up for the other players on the team. However, each is capable of having a big night if their outside jumper is on. For Bullinger, that happened in the Wildcats last game (scored 17 in the win over Northern Colorado). Randy Rahe and Wildcat fans will have to hope he can reproduce that effort in order to fill the likely gap at small forward left by Hansen. If not, Davis will get the call. After starting the season strong, what has happened to Kyle Coston. The Horde’s favorite player has disappeared on the offensive end after a stretch early in the season when he scored in double-figures in 5 straight contests. Whatever has happened, perhaps some home cooking will help Kyle rebound, as the Viks will need him during the Big Sky schedule.
Advantage: Push

Small Forward
WSU: Nick Hansen PSU: Phil Nelson

Hansen will be a new face to the Vikings who presents an interesting match-up. He has seen a major drop off in production in recent games, but has at times shown the potential to contribute offensively. He may have trouble shooting over the 6’7” Nelson, who has shown defensive improvement over the course of the season. Nelson has also become much more consistent offensively in recent games (8 games in a row with 10 or more points), even when his outside shot hasn’t been falling. Perhaps this is the beginning of his evolution into the star that Viking fans expect him to become. Nelson should definitely handle Hansen, the question is what will happen when Davis is inserted into the lineup.
Advantage: Vikings

Shooting Guard
WSU: Damian Lillard PSU: Andre Murray

Although listed at shooting guard for match-up purposes, I’m sure Lillard considers himself a point guard. He has that in common with Dominic Waters. Ball handling duties will likely be shared between Lillard and McCoy. For the PSU fans not familiar with Lillard, he was referred to as “the steal of the year” by Scouts Inc. when he committed to Weber State despite many other offers. Based on Ken Bone’s comments after the win at Northern Arizona, it will be interesting to see if he inserts Dominic Waters into the starting lineup or sticks with “Draeno.” Either way, the Viks will have a guy coming off the bench capable of scoring 20 or more points, which is a great luxury they didn’t have last year. Although Lillard is very talented, he lacks the experience that either candidate for the Vikings possesses, and thus they will get the nod.
Advantage: Vikings

Point Guard
WSU: Kellen McCoy PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez

This should be one of the most fun match-ups to watch this season. These two gritty point men led their respective teams in the most recent contest between the two, and there is no reason to believe this one should be any different. Although listed at 5’6” they find ways to score both inside and outside while providing intensity on the defensive end. Even though he’s one of the top players in the Big Sky, McCoy gets the short end of the stick here as I’m picking Dominguez. Watch out though. If he has a good shooting night, he has the potential to give Jeremiah a run for his money.
Advantage: Vikings

Bench
Morris, Mahoney, and Davis are definitely a solid group coming off the bench. The question is how they are going to compare with the Dom Waters & Company. Davis was insanely good against the Vikings last year (averaged over 21 points per game), and the Wildcats have to hope he’ll be able to duplicate that kind of effort if they have any chance of keeping up with Waters on Thursday. Although Waters has been great, and Julius Thomas has continued his development, Ken Bone is searching for something more from the rest of the bench. Tyrell Mara and Wendell Wright have both produced very little, even in extended minutes. Both teams have the guy capable of starting, then the rest. We’ll have to watch on Thursday night to see who excels in their opportunities.
Advantage: Push

Prediction: PSU 76 WSU 69