Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Men’s Basketball Preview: Big Sky Championship Edition

What: Portland State (22-9, 12-5 BSC) vs. Montana State (14-16, 7-10)
Where: Dee Events Center, Ogden, Utah
When: 7:30 p.m., Tonight
On the air: 800 AM KPDQ (audio, Tom Hewitt play-by-play), ESPN2 (Comcast channel 36)

Stars: Montana State has had an inconsistent year thus far, but when the Bobcats have played well it has been based heavily on the inside presence of senior All Big Sky center Divaldo Mbunga.

Mbunga, the Zach Randolph lookalike, is a force on the glass and on defense. In their win over Weber State he had 11 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks and 1 steal.

The Montana State backcourt tandem of Marquis Navarre and Will Bynum form a strong duo of players capable of running the offense and scoring. Combined, they average 15 points per game but have been effective in hounding opposing ball handlers with their quickness.

In addition to those three stars, Junior Branden Johnson was the player of the game for Montana State in their semifinal victory. The southpaw shooter hit four of his six threes en route to a team high 16 points.

Portland State will need a strong game from at least two of their perimeter players. In their semifinal victory over Idaho State, it was junior Dominic Waters who sparked the team in the first half and senior guard Andre Murray who brought the team to life in a stagnant second half.

A key matchup should be Johnson and Portland State junior forward Kyle Coston. Both players like to roam outside the three point line and three’s by either will help either team establish the spacing and tempo that both of these teams will want to play at.

Just a taste: An unlikely pairing, the two squads will meet for the third time this season, but this time a Big Sky Championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament will be on the line.

Montana State has bulldozed through two of the top three seeds in the conference, all on the road, and will have an opportunity to knock off the Vikings and earn the school’s third ever trip to the Big Dance.

Portland State is making their second consecutive trip to the championship game and will have to give a more consistent effort should they earn a subsequent berth in the NCAA Tournament.

The Vikings have struggled with consistency within games this season and only played well during the first half of their 61-53 semifinal victory over the Bengals.

The two teams split their matchups this season, with Montana State eking out a narrow three point victory in Bozeman and Portland State picking up a six point win at the Stott Center.

With host Weber State dropping their semifinal yesterday and nearby Idaho State also stumbling, the Big Sky Championship will likely be played in front of just a few hundred fans as neither Montana State nor Portland State looked well supported in their semifinal.

This will be the second time this season that the Vikings have appeared in a ESPN game. Portland State defeated Boise Stat on Feb. 21 in the other game.

The two squads met last in the Big Sky Tournament in 2007, when Portland State defeated the Bobcats, 96-71 in a quarterfinal game played at the Stott Center.

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