I haven’t been doing much sports reporting of late, but I did put together a Big Sky Conference preview for the Portland State Vikings that ran in Monday’s Oregonian. Like I said in the story, there are plenty of reasons for optimism if you’re a Viking fan: a talented front line, a deep roster and strong chemistry. On the flip side, the Vikings have yet to show anything that could be construed as defense. If you look at any of the metrics that rank teams defensively, check the basic stats or simply watch opposing players glide to the basket, the Vikings defensive deficit is pretty obvious. Coach Tyler Geving knows it, the players know it, and you can bet Big Sky opponents know it.
Last year, with a roster depleted by NCAA sanctions and injuries the Vikings could at least try to explain away their finishing among the nation’s worst defenses. This season, with the possible exception of players taking time to gel, there is no excuse. Everyone is healthy. Everyone is athletic.
Senior Charles Odum attributed the defensive problems to a lack of intensity.
“I think in some of the preseason games we didn’t have a lot of defensive energy at the beginning of the game which is why we ended up having had to fight back a lot of the time, he said. “We’re a good team but we need to bring the right energy from the tip, that’s one of the big lessons that we learned in the preseason.”
Intensity, like defense, has been one of the glaring areas of need the last few years. Last year, with the postseason off the table, the lack of enthusiasm was more understandable. This year I think the team believes it has a chance, so why it would lack for energy is somewhat puzzling. The PSU teams I have covered that have been successful have all had role model/leaders who demanded that energy and set the hard working tone from their teammates (Seamus Boxley in 2005, Deonte Huff in 2008 & Julius Thomas in 2009). Odum and Chehales Tapscott have that potential; they just need to take that next step.
The Big Sky is as reliably mediocre as it can be. Weber State and junior guard Damian Lillard are the clear class of the league, but after them the league is a crapshoot. Two coaches have already left their underperforming teams and more could be gone by the end of the year. Montana is good but has been inconsistent. Northern Colorado could improve. Eastern Washington has talent. But you’d need a helluva crystal ball to predict how the Big Sky Tournament seedings will shake up.
Fans looking for reassurance that Weber isn’t a lock for a tourney bid need look no further than 2005 when the Vikings dominated the regular season (19-9, 11-3) and looked sure to get an NCAA bid. What happened? They overlooked an undermanned Weber State team and suffering one of the more embarrassing defeats at the Memorial Coliseum in the Big Sky semifinals. In the Big Sky, it only takes a couple of big wins at the right time to go dancing in March.
This team looks to have the talent to make some noise, the question is: can they figure out all the details in time? Stay tuned …