Thursday, March 19, 2009

Early Morning Pontificating From Boise

Boise State Univeristy

Earlier this evening the Vanguard arrived here in Boise. And after chowing down on dinner downtown and making a quick stop by Fred Meyer to pick up some last-second essentials, everything is winding down and most of the "Tournament Team" members are resting up for tomorrow's practice sessions.

However, while it is approaching midnight, I find myself in a coffee-induced state of perkiness. Joined in Boise by sports editor Skyler Archibald, beat reporter Tom Sedun and photographer Rodrigo Melgarejo, I already believe this trip to the NCAA Tournament is different for Portland State. At least it feels that way.

As the only member of this quartet that traveled to Omaha to cover the Vikings' initial foray into the depths of March Madness, I have a bit of perspective. Excitement fueled the tournament appearance last season. The team was thrilled to have "Portland State" inscribed across an official NCAA Tournament sign outside its locker room and appeared content just to share the floor with Kansas.

That overwhelming sense of excitement seems to be tempered this time around. Like Ken Bone and his team, I have experienced March Madness up close before, and this trip is defined more by a feeling of legitimacy and respect for the program developing in Portland's South Park Blocks rather than over-the-top excitement. And that starts with the athletic administration and flows directly down to the players.

Speaking of the players, Jeremiah Dominguez, Phil Nelson, Andre Murray and Co. will step on the floor at Taco Bell Arena slightly after 4 p.m. Pacific Time for a rather brief shootaround that better resembles a football walk-through than an actual practice.

In Omaha, the vast majority of the players were tense and reserved during in a similar mini practice session. Forward Kyle Coston was one of the few players that broke out of his shell, unleashing a handful of tantalizing dunks to entertain the scanty number of spectators that where on hand. But outside of Coston, the flashes of a team that had dominated its conference and deserved to have a chip on its shoulder were limited.
When the Vikings faced off against Kansas the following morning it was evident the uncomfortableness strolled on the court with them. With that said, we will know much more about how Portland State is feeling this year, and, as a result, what the Vikings' chances are of upsetting a solid Xavier squad.

If my faculties are functioning properly, I have a hunch Bone will have his players better prepared, both mentally and physically, and the Vikings will stroll onto the court a much more confident bunch than they did last year. It feels more like business--not pleasure--this time around.

But we will have a better idea if that is truly the case tomorrow. Check back throughout the day, but certainly frequent the blog and Web site in the late evening for the lowdown on practice, a pulse on the team's mood and an in-depth examination of Xavier.

--Nathan Hellman

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