Does anybody really need a reason to watch this game? It is the game of the year in the Big Sky Conference, and an absolute must-win for the Vikings if they have any aspiration for hosting the conference tournament. If you do, here are a few.
1) Daviin Davis matching up with Phil Nelson means the two most physically gifted players in the conference. You’re guaranteed at least one highlight reel dunk, if not from one of these two show stoppers, then from Andre Murray.
2) Kellen McCoy takes another shot at proving he deserves to be the Player of the Year in the Big Sky. However, he’ll have to prove that by out-dueling last year’s MVP, Portland State’s Jeremiah Dominguez.
3) This game is the likely preview of the conference title game. For those that think Montana has a shot at getting there, I advise taking into account that Wayne Tinkle is the coach. Unless they host, the Grizzlies aren’t going to the Big Dance.
4) The best two coaches in the Big Sky face off again. Randy Rahe and Ken Bone are still here for now, but are likely to be the head men at big-time programs within the next five years.
If you still don’t plan on watching this game, (it’s free on Big Sky TV) I really hope you’ve got a good party to go to.

WSU: Steve Panos PSU: Julius Thomas

Here’s a scary thought for Viking fans: the team goes into the toughest environment in the entire conference shorthanded, and two games behind. The shorthanded comment of course refers to the potential absence of Jamie Jones, who frankly appeared to have been physically diminished for about 2 months. Thomas has been better than Jones in recent days, so this isn’t the biggest loss (Jones only had 2 points and 1 rebound in the first game between the two). The problem is the lack of depth and physical presence to match up with Panos. Mara seeing significant time here would be no surprise, especially if Thomas gets into foul trouble. If Jones is healthy enough to go, he’ll probably see time, even though he doesn’t match up well with Panos. As far as advantages, one has physical tools while the other is more polished and bigger. Take your pick if you must.
Advantage: Push

Power Forward
WSU: Kyle Bullinger PSU: Kyle Coston

Kyle Bullinger had the game of his short career (22 points, 8 rebounds) the last time he matched up with the Vikings. It seemed like every shot he took in the second half went in, even from 28 feet away. Before he came to Portland, he scored 17 at home against Northern Colorado on 6 of 10 shooting. Guess what happened on February 5th? Try the exact same outcome. It’s a lucky thing the Wildcats play Eastern Washington first. Ultimately, I don’t think Bullinger is going to score 22 again, or pull down 8 rebounds. However, he should be plenty productive to overmatch Kyle Coston. The last time Kyle scored 11 in a game, he promptly came up empty in the next game. Like the Wildcats, the Vikings have a game before Saturday’s title fight. Nevertheless, there is no indication that Kyle is anywhere near returning to the form that had him in double-figures for 5 straight games earlier in the year. In fact, a very good argument could be made for Mara starting if Bullinger was not such a finesse player.
Advantage: Wildcats

Small Forward
WSU: Daviin Davis PSU: Phil Nelson

Yes, I know Hansen is the guy here on a normal night. However, if anybody wants to argue with Davis’ stats against PSU, they’re stupid. Davis is the most physically gifted bench player in the conference by far, and a Portland State killer. He is the one person that can shut down Phil Nelson on a night his shot is on. I acknowledge that Nelson is a better offensive player, but that is it. Davis has far more energy, rebounding ability, and defensive prowess. If Randy Rahe puts Hansen on the floor at any point, except to spell Davis, he should be fired on the spot.
Advantage: Wildcats

Shooting Guard
WSU: Damian Lillard PSU: Andre Murray

Andre Murray is a better shooter and defender than Lillard with more experience. Lillard’s one advantage is his ball-handling ability. He also displayed an uncanny knack for using the glass in the first match-up between the two teams in Portland. If Bullinger can’t produce the type of scoring effort he did in the first game, look for Lillard to be one of the guys the Wildcats depend on late in the game. I have to give the advantage to Murray here. The Viks will need him to score and defend given the lack of an inside presence. He can handle that assignment. Look for a big night from Andre in the must-win contest.
Advantage: Vikings

Point Guard
WSU: Kellen McCoy PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez

I’m going to take Dominguez. No doubt in my mind about that, even with McCoy as the front-runner for Big Sky MVP. Jeremiah completely outclassed McCoy when they played on January 8. For those of you that ask about the stats, look at the free throw numbers, then the number of fouls on JD and Waters. McCoy did his damage against Waters and at the end of the game when the Viks were forced to foul. Although McCoy is playing the way Dominguez was at this point last year, (25 points, 8 rebounds-he’s 5’6”, 5 assists at Northern Colorado) there’s no question who the “Real McCoy” is when we’re talking about the best point guard in the Big Sky. Dominguez is passing better now than he has at any other point since he arrived at PSU (11 assists to go along with 15 points against Northern Arizona).
Advantage: Vikings

Although Davis may come off the bench for the Wildcats, Hansen is going to fill the bench-type minutes, so I’ll factor him in here. Trevor Morris was effective in limited minutes, and has been pretty consistent with 4 or more points per game. This is about it for Weber. I understand the possible argument that Waters is like a starter for PSU as Davis is for Weber. However, this simply isn’t the case. He is the third guard on a team that plays two. This makes him the best bench player in the conference. Tyrell Mara has been solid for PSU in recent games, and they will need him to be solid inside if they have any chance in this one. I give PSU the advantage given the minutes breakdown, which considers Davis a starter.
Advantage: Push

So who gets the nod? I give it to Weber at home, because I feel that Nelson is essential to Viking success without an inside presence. He hasn’t proven that he can score against better defenders. The only PSU might win is if they can reverse the free throw trend and shoot about 10 more than Weber.
Prediction: PSU 70 WSU 71