In recent years, the amount of quality programs coming out of the Pacific Northwest has skyrocketed. An example of this outstanding growth is located in Portland with the Vikings of Portland State. The Vikings capped an impressive 23 win season with a trip to the NCAA tournament a year ago. PSU is one of the many tournament teams that Gonzaga will be taking on this season but one of the few they will be facing on their home court. San Diego, St. Mary's, and Portland State will be the only three tournament teams playing at the McCarthey Athletic Center. The Zags will have some home court advantage at two neutral site games when they take on Memphis at Spokane Arena and Connecticut at Key Arena in Seattle. Portland State will be catching Gonzaga during a brutal part of their schedule. The Zags will take on PSU on December 23rd, just three days after playing UConn in Seattle. It will get no easier as the Bulldogs following two games will be against Utah and Tennessee.
Last Season's Results: As I mentioned, Portland State went NCAA tournament dancin' last season. They were virtually unbeatable at home, going 13-1. They played some very tough competition in their non-conference schedule, taking on UCLA, Washington St., and Washington among others. They cruised through the weak Big Sky conference with a 14-2 record that included a Big Sky tournament championship. Because of the weak RPI of the Big Sky conference, the Vikings were given a 16 seed in the NCAA tournament. Their initial match up was with soon-to-be champion Kansas Jayhawks. Portland State was defeated 85-61 by Bill Self's squad but just getting to the tournament meant that it was a great season for the Vikings. PSU was led last season by the outstanding guard play of Jeremiah Dominguez. The 5'6'' guard was named last season's Big Sky Player of the Year by averaging 14.2 points a game and leading the team in assists. Dominguez carried the Vikings last year and he will be expected to duplicate that performance this season as he returns for his Senior season.
New Faces: Portland State will get a shot of youth this season as they have five newcomers on their roster. Along with five new recruits, the Vikings will have three transfers suiting up this year. Phil Nelson should be a familiar name for Gonzaga fans. The 6'7'' forward out of Oregon initially played at the University of Washington before coming home to Oregon. Dominic Waters, originally at Hawaii and Jamie Jones, a Portland Pilot to start his career, will be suiting up for Ken Bone's squad. All three of these players sat out last season because of eligibility issues but should be able to contribute immediately for the Vikings. It is crucial that Dominguez is still at PSU because he will be counting on eight new faces to produce. The 2008 recruiting class is headlined by Wendell Wright. The 6'4'' guard out of California who initially committed to Loyola Marymount will be taking his services to Portland to help the Vikings get back to the NCAA tournament. Wright had Gonzaga and UNLV after him for some time and definitely has some high-major talent. Paul Guede is another name to watch for the Vikings. Originally from London, England, Guede is a junior college transfer from Tallahassee Community College. He should be able to impact the PSU lineup immediately as long as he heals well from a foot injury he suffered earlier this year. Jason Conrad, a 6'11'' power forward will bring some much needed size to the Viking lineup. Conrad averaged a double-double in high school but is very slender. The maturation process may take a little longer for him because of his size. Rounding out the 2008 class for PSU is point guard Glen Dean and center Donatas Visockis.
Players to Watch: There is no doubt that the player to watch for Portland State is Jeremiah Dominguez. The shifty little point guard led the team in points, assists, and steals last season. This team will sport an entirely different look than last year and their starting lineup will be totally overhauled. Dominguez will have to guide this team during the transition. Helping carry some of the load will be Andre Murray. Like Dominguez, Murray is a senior guard who will be counted on for plenty of production. He averaged nine points a game last season and will have to elevate his game if the Vikings want to reach the tournament again. The other players to watch has to be the transfers. Jones, Waters, and Nelson will be expected to contribute and all three may find themselves in the starting lineup at some point this season. Waters, like Guede is battling a foot injury, but is expected to battle Murray for playing time. Nelson should start immediately as should Jamie Jones. The Vikings lost seven players from a season ago but luckily for Bone's squad, he has a lot of experienced players to fill in for the departed players. It's going to be interesting to watch the entire team and how they mesh. With that many new faces, it's bound to take some time for them to get on the same page.
TKR's Concern-O-Meter: This game screams trap game at me. If Gonzaga was playing away from their home gym I would be genuinely concerned. It's hard to predict this game because Portland State has so many new faces. There is no lack of skill for Ken Bone's team but it remains to be seen if the chemistry is strong enough to carry them through the season. If they mesh quickly, this game could be a struggle for Gonzaga. The game is over Christmas break so the students will not be there which means the McCarthey Athletic Center will be lacking a good deal of enthusiasm. Portland State shouldn't be rattled by the crowd noise so it is up to Jeremy Pargo and the guys to get up on them early and knock them out. Gonzaga should and probably will win this game but their are so many question marks that it is hard to definitively say what kind of game it is going to be.
What We are Watching for: Sadly the students will be home for Christmas break so we won't be able to witness one of the better match ups at home for Gonzaga. There are plenty of things to watch for in this game however. A lot of this game will rest upon how the Zags performed three days earlier in the Battle in Seattle. If the Bulldogs are able to come out with a win against UConn, I would be worried that this game could sneak up on them. It will take a solid effort for Gonzaga to defeat Portland State. There should be some fun match ups to watch in this game, especially in the back court. Dominguez, Murray, and Waters will provide tough match ups for Pargo, Bouldin, Gray, and Meech. Don't be surprised if Meech plays a lot in this game because of the sheer speed of Dominguez. The majority of Portland State's scoring will come from the back court so it is imperative that our guards match their effort. Josh Heytvelt and Austin Daye should have an absolute field day. If the Vikings stay healthy, Phil Nelson and Jamie Waters will make up their starting front court. Other than those two players, their is not much depth or experience in the PSU post. It should be a great game for both Austin and Josh and Will Foster will also see some quality minutes.