The Bobcats beat the Vikings 61-54 the last time they were in Portland. That was January 8. The Vikings went into that game already having won more games than last year’s team. They seemed ready for conference play. However, the Vikings are proving that Big Sky games are a challenge.
The first Big Sky game for Portland State was against Montana State during the snow week here in Portland. The Vikings played tough, but their second half was as cold as the weather outside. Hopefully, the Vikings can withstand the Bobcats in Bozeman’s winter-wonderland.
In order for Vikings fans to understand the challenge that lies ahead, one needs to take a look at the season stats for Big Sky games that have been played so far this year.
The Bobcats have senior guard Jason Erickson. Erickson was Montana State’s first returning All-America since Joe McKethen in 1995. Erickson was the only player in Big Sky Conference history to earn league MVP honors the season after being named Freshman of the Year, and currently, he is Player of the Week for his university. Erickson leads the Big Sky in three areas: scoring, with an average 16.6 points per game, free throw percentage, at 88 percent, and steals, with 2.7 per game. Erickson is also ranked 11th in assists with 2.95 per game. This star player averages 28 minutes per game, so you can bet he will dominate the Vikings on his home court.
Another Bobcat to watch out for is senior forward Calvin Ento who is ranked fourth in the Big Sky in both defensive rebounding (5.9) and field goal percentage (53 percent).
Freshman forward Nick Dissly and junior center Matt Towsley rank 21st and 22nd in the Big Sky for scoring, averaging 9 points per game. Towsley also ranks fifth in the Big Sky for field goal percentage at 53 percent. Sophomore guard Frank Brown led his team with 83 assists last season, and he is currently ranked second in the Big Sky for assists with an average 4.6 per game.
Viking Big Sky leaders have not drastically changed over the last few weeks. Junior forward Seamus Boxley is still ranked first in the Big Sky in rebounding (9.6) and seventh in scoring (13.9). Junior guard Blake Walker is now ranked fourth in Big Sky scoring (15.9), down from being the leader (17.4) in the first weeks of conference play.
Junior forward Antone Jarrell is currently 12th in field goal percentage (46 percent). Junior guard Sheu Oduniyi is ranked seventh in free throw percentage (79 percent), and junior guard Will Funn is ranked fourth in assists (3.95) and second in steals (1.95).
Both Montana State and Portland State have some top Big Sky players. However, let’s make a closer team versus team comparison. MSU is currently 3-4 in Big Sky Conference games, while PSU is only 2-5. In Big Sky scoring offense, the Bobcats are ranked fifth and the Vikings are eighth. Being in last place, the Vikings need to continue to play strong and smart defense. PSU is in second place and MSU is right behind in third place for Big Sky defensive scoring. This could make for an intensely aggressive game from both teams.
As for rebounding, MSU is currently fifth in the Big Sky for defensive rebounding (34.8 per game) and sixth in offensive rebounding averaging (32.8 per game). PSU is ranked second in Big Sky for defensive rebounding averaging 31.5 per game, and they are third in offensive rebounding at 36.3 per game.
Another interesting factor in Saturday’s game will be the rate of turnovers. The Vikings average 17.5 turnovers per game and have a negative 2.90 margin. Montana State averages 15.8 turnovers per game but is positive 3.20 marginally. That is a fairly wide margin!
The Vikings take on the Bobcats this Saturday in Bozeman, Montana at 6:05 pm.