#13 Portland State Vikings vs #4 Xavier Musketeers
On Friday afternoon in Boise, the 13th seeded Portland State Vikings take on the 4th seeded Xavier Musketeers at the Taco Bell Arena. Neither has been expected to advance past the second round. A win for Xavier could mean a chance at the Sweet 16 if the Wisconsin Badgers can find some way to upset the Florida State Seminoles. Portland State has a better shot at advancing further if FSU moves on given that they play much better in a fast-paced game. However, as neither of these outcomes is likely, the teams will focus on the task at hand, each other. Who are these teams, and what might we expect from them come Friday?
Letâ€™s begin with Portland State. After receiving a righteous beat-down from eventual national champion Kansas in the first round last season, the Vikings struggled to replace seniors Scott Morrison and Deonte Huff. The 10-3 start included a loss to Big West cellar-dwellers Cal Poly and close wins against Division III Lewis & Clark College and transitioning Division I Seattle University. That said, the one point loss at Washington and victory on Gonzaga helped offset the negative energy flowing from the previously mentioned near-disasters. Since then, the Vikings also had their issues with the Big Sky schedule. Although there are deceiving point spreads like the 14 point home loss to Weber State that was competitive until the last two minutes, the 5 losses seem to describe the inconsistency that plagued the team all season. It seems, however, that they have righted the ship at the critical point, winning the six heading into the tournament.
Xavier hasnâ€™t been playing its best basketball for a while now. The Musketeers went 20-2 to start the season, but have only played .500 basketball since. Sorry Xavier fans. Iâ€™m not buying the argument that beating Dayton by 17 required the same kind of sustained effort that it took to beat Memphis by 5. Granted, that wasnâ€™t the same Tiger team that thrashed everyone in Conference USA. What I am buying with this team is that all their losses aside from an ugly one to Charlotte came at the hands of solid opponents. If they can find a way to pressure the Vikingsâ€™ outside shooters, they should be able to take care of business and move on. Whether or not they can do that is the question many analysts are asking themselves at this point.
XU: Jason Love PSU: Jamie Jones
Love hasnâ€™t been the focal point of the Xavier offensive scheme at many points this season. However, this may be the time coach Sean Miller needs to get the big man involved. He is matched up with a fragile, finesse player in Jones to begin the game and should be able to use his bulk to get to the hole. Kenny Frease could also do some damage if given the opportunity against Jones. However, donâ€™t be surprised to see the Ken Bone go with Julius Thomas or a 1-3-1 zone if the Musketeers rattle off a bunch of points in the paint early on. Another defensive option for the Vikings here is Tyrell Mara. Although Thomas is still likely to be in the game, it adds a little bit more size and strength to match up with Love and/or Frease. If Miller really forces the issue, the Xavier centers may out-produce those of Portland State on the offensive end. However, I think weâ€™re more likely to see the biggest discrepancies in the rebounding numbers, because the Vikings are one of the worst defensive rebounding teams youâ€™ll ever see.
XU: Derrick Brown PSU: Kyle Coston
Brown has been touted as a future NBA player by Xavier fans and should get the opportunity to prove his mettle here as long as the Vikings play man defense. Coston is intense, but not the best on-ball defender. I wouldnâ€™t be surprised to see Brown have a huge night if the Vikings stick with man the entire game. Weâ€™re talking 25 points and 10 rebounds. Coston and Mara should be able to contribute about 10 points and 5 rebounds, but unfortunately thatâ€™s together, not apiece. If it isnâ€™t obvious from those numbers, Brown has a huge advantage, and should enjoy the national spotlight.
XU: B.J. Raymond PSU: Phil Nelson
Raymondâ€™s numbers have really improved markedly every season. In his senior year, he has averaged 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game, which are all at least 25 percent increases from last years numbers. The dependable senior matches up with Phil Nelson, an enigmatic talent. The future star has been the best player on the floor at times, and the worst at others. His defense has improved significantly since the beginning of the season, but he continually seems to struggle against players who put forth their best effort on both ends of the floor. If he plays up to his potential, this match-up should be the most exciting on the court. If not, at least weâ€™ll have fun watching Raymond do some damage. Weâ€™re likely to see some highlight-reel dunks from Nelson given the audience, even if he doesnâ€™t hit a high percentage from outside. I think both players will play up to the environment, and weâ€™ll see something special.
XU: C.J. Anderson PSU: Andre Murray
This match-up should also be a lot of fun to watch. Although Murray is significantly smaller in stature, he tends to play like a forward when necessary. Iâ€™m inclined to think it may be necessary in this one. For those of you who arenâ€™t familiar with â€œDraeno,â€ he came in from the College of the Canyons and immediately shook things up. He took advantage of Dupree Lucasâ€™ struggles last year and pushed his way into the starting lineup with a huge performance at Southern Utah. This season, he has taken over Deonte Huffâ€™s role of rebounding better than his size, playing tough on-ball defense, and making big shots when needed. Anderson could provide a test for Andre as he has the sort of height that could make him dangerous. However, I think weâ€™re more likely to see Murray on Raymond and Nelson on Anderson given the sizes and skill sets of the respective players. Regardless of what we see on Friday, these players arenâ€™t likely to get the most hype. Neither player has the types of skills that make him an obvious pick over the other.
XU: Dante Jackson PSU: Jeremiah Dominguez
As many analysts have noted, Xavier does not have a true point guard. Will that hurt them? Itâ€™s hard to tell. Dominguez is very skilled, and has the ability to go off for 20 or 30 points on any given night. He is also a great passer, and has very quick hands, which could give Jackson fits. If you havenâ€™t seen him play, youâ€™ll be amazed by how quick he releases the ball on his jump shots. Jacksonâ€™s obvious advantage over Dominguez is his size. If he can post up, he may be able to exploit Jeremiahâ€™s 5â€™6â€ frame. If this appears to be the game plan early, donâ€™t be surprised to see the Vikings quickly transition to the 1-3-1 zone with one of their long-armed forwards (Coston or Nelson) at the top of the key. If Dominguez canâ€™t handle the physicality, Dominic Waters will play the point. Ultimately, the quickness and scoring knack Dominguez has should be the one advantage the Vikings have over the X-men.
Xavier has a huge advantage here. Unlike the Big Sky Conference schedule, the Vikings will have to deal with significant depth that they just canâ€™t counter. Jamel McLean, Kenny Frease, Brad Redford, Terrell Holloway all contribute to the offensive effort with more than 4 points per game. For all the Xavier fans out there, that should come as no surprise, but itâ€™s a new experience for Viking fans who havenâ€™t seen a team as deep as the Musketeers since they faced off with Baylor at the end of 2008. The main threat off the bench for the Vikings is Dominic Waters. Other contributors for the Vikings include backup center Julius Thomas and power forward Tyrell Mara. True freshman Wendell Wright has played in a number of games this season, but isnâ€™t likely to see the floor in this one unless there is serious foul trouble or a large deficit one way or the other.
This is a hard game to call. If PSU plays well, itâ€™ll be close, regardless of how Xavier plays. If PSU plays like they did in the Big Sky Tournament, theyâ€™ll lose by 20. Iâ€™ll go with an optimistic prediction this time around. PSU has a shot at winning this game, but only if they shoot the ball like they did at home in the Bracket Buster game against Boise State and minimize the Musketeersâ€™ offensive rebounding opportunities.
Prediction: PSU 74 XU 72