Portland State is playing in a nationally televised game for the first time since Kansas knocked them out of last seasonâ€™s NCAA tournament as part of ESPNâ€™s Bracket Busters. The complete schedule can be viewed here. They take on the Boise State Broncos (17-8) of the Western Athletic Conference, a team who has looked very good at times (victory over 25-2 Utah State), and questionable at others (home losses to 9-17 San Francisco and 12-13 Idaho). They face a team with just as many questions going into this match-up. Although Portland State has been a very respectable 10-1 at home, but a disappointing 6-7 on the road with losses to Cal Poly and and Hampton.
BSU: Ike Okoye PSU: Jamie Jones
It may be a good sign for PSU that Jamie Jones finally appears to have recovered from the hand and foot injuries that made him ineffective for most of the Big Sky Conference schedule. With an established presence inside, the Vikings are a legitimate team to watch going forward. He will have to be assertive though, as Okoye is a shot blocker who will take advantage of any weakness around the tin. Okoye has had some big games, but only averages 9 points and 6 rebounds. He hasnâ€™t done much in the past three games, while Jones appears to be back to his old self.
BSU: Mark Sanchez PSU: Kyle Coston
Coston became assertive to a point not seen since the first five games of the season on Thursday night. Back to back 10 point games appear to have Kyle back to the form fans expected from him most of the year. Unfortunately, he matches up with Boise Stateâ€™s most talented player, senior Mark Sanchez (no, not USCâ€™s quarterback), a 235 pound bruiser who should be able to bully Coston around. I expect a lot more Tyrell Mara than Coston given his tough defense and ability to match up with bigger players. Sanchez is more talented than either of the guys PSU has to throw out there (25 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists against Idaho State), even though the score line could tip in their favor if they get hot from outside.
BSU: Paul Noonan PSU: Phil Nelson
Nelson was the highest rated recruit coming out of Oregon in the class of 2006. However, Noonan may have been the hottest prospect near the end of the process. He eventually committed to Boise State spurning offers from Portland State and Eastern Washington. The Beaverton native likely returns with hopes of impressing in front of a quasi home town crowd. The Viks will no doubt attempt to show Noonan that he made the wrong choice picking the Broncos. Ultimately, Nelson should get the best of Noonan given his superior athleticism and offensive ability.
BSU: Aaron Garner PSU: Andre Murray
Garner is certainly not the Broncos most talented offensive player. He is averaging just 6 points per game. Given this ineffectiveness, he surrendered minutes to Laâ€™Shard Anderson in the loss to Idaho. Andre Murray on the other hand has been one of the most consistent offensive players all year for the Vikings, averaging 11 points per game. As has been stated in previous blogs, the only thing standing between Andre and major production may be a need. When other players have assumed their share of the load, he has been in the single digits, but when they havenâ€™t heâ€™s had to pick up the slack (24 points @ Idaho State). Iâ€™d guess that Saturday should be one of his less productive games given the recent progress of frontcourt players.
BSU: Anthony Thomas PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez
Dominguez never ceases to amaze Viking fans, and regardless of his questionnable early game antics against Northern Colorado, he was able to redeem himself with a buzzer beater. He matches up with Anthony Thomas, a 6 foot point guard with the ability to score, pass and rebound. Dominguez faces the same question in this match-up that he has throughout his basketball career: Can he overcome his size disadvantage with his speed and outplay his opponent? In the majority of cases, he has stepped up and answered that question affirmatively, the possible exceptions taking place while he was suffering from a hand injury. Although Thomas brings a little more talent to the table than most Big Sky point guards, I still expect him to be outclassed by Dominguez.
Though Okoye is listed as the starting center in the breakdown, Kurt Cunningham has also filled that role this season. The 265 pound bruiser could definitely present some problems for the Vikings, and seems like a good man for the Broncos to have on the floor when Jamie Jones is out there. The issue for Boise State is the recent playing time for Julius Thomas. Thereâ€™s no way Cunningham can keep up with Thomas, and given the Vikingsâ€™ fast-paced offense, he could quickly become a liability. Given this fact, Okoye seems the likely choice for extended time. Other factors off the bench include Jamar Greene and Laâ€™Shard Anderson a pair of guards. The records, point production, eight man rotations for each team are fairly comparable, so expect a close game.
Prediction: PSU 76 BSU 71