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COLLEGE HOOPS: Vikings still taking shape, as UP game looms

Guard-oriented PSU focusing on defense, with transfer point guard Tim Douglas in leadership role


by: COURTESY OF PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - DaShaun Wiggins and the Portland State Vikings play host to Portland on Saturday, then have two more games before the start of Big Sky basketball in January.The jury is not only still out, but it also won't weigh in on the Portland State men's basketball team for at least another month or two.

Portland State is 4-2 going into Saturday's home game against the University of Portland, and fifth-year coach Tyler Geving says the Vikings have just begun to shape their identity.

"We're still trying to figure out everybody's role," Geving says. "We've had a lot of injuries and some guys who were out last year. There's a bunch of new faces."

The Vikings have some size, but they'll probably go as far as their guards take them.

"We've got good guard depth — we have confidence in all six of them," Geving says. "That's a good luxury to have. It can be different guys getting the job done on different nights, especially if we share the ball and buy into that."

The Vikings were 8-20 overall and 5-15 in the Big Sky last season. They averaged 68.9 points and gave up 72.8 per game. They shot 45.5 percent from the field, while opponents shot 48.4 percent.

"We've got a chance to be a better offensive team, although we're not there yet," Geving says. "But we were so bad defensively last season, that's the one thing we've really tried to emphasize in the offseason and early on this season. We've just got to become a better defensive team. We're been trying to take more pride in that, and let our defense create some offense for us."

Geving likes that the Viks have allowed only 41.8 field-goal shooting by their six opponents this season and have kept teams to 64.3 points per game. Even the defense in last week's 76-60 loss at Boise State passed inspection. "They were averaging about 100, and our goal was to keep them under 80," he says. "But we're not there yet, defensively, either."

Up front, the Vikings have three players who figure to be keys: 6-8 senior forward Aaron Moore, 6-10 junior center Brandon Cataldo and 6-7 forward Kyle Richardson.

"In our league, bigs are hard to come by, and you're seeing a lot more teams go to a smaller, four-guard lineup, but with these three guys we have some good length and size," Geving says. "We've got to get the ball inside to them as well as use our perimeter game."

Beyond the arc, the Vikings have Gary Winston, a 6-0 junior guard who led the Big Sky at 47.0 percent on 3s last season.

"A pure shooter," Geving says.

The backcourt leader is point guard Tim Douglas — a former UP Pilot. Douglas, DaShaun Wiggins and Andre Winston are averaging double figures in points in the preseason.

Douglas had to sit out last season because of his transfer from The Bluff to the Park Blocks. He is first on his new team in minutes (35.8 per game), points (14.8) and assists (3.8).

"He brings good leadership to our team," Geving says. "That's something we really lacked at point guard last year. He has everybody's respect on our team."

Geving says it's pretty simple what he needs the 5-10 Douglas, a junior, to do for the Vikings: "He's got to be a good defender on the other team's point guard, run our team, distribute the ball, really push us in transition, get us into our offensive sets, and be a scorer and shoot when he's open."

In other words, "we put a lot on his shoulders," Geving says. "But I think he can handle it. He's mature enough, and sitting out last year was good for him as far as getting used to our system goes."

Wiggins, a 6-2 junior transfer from Howard College in Big Spring, Texas, is averaging 13.5 points. Andre Winston, a 6-1 junior, is at 10.6.

Marcus Hall, a 6-4 senior, has started all six games and chipped in 6.0 points per outing, after missing most of 2012-13 with a calf injury.

And the other guard in the mix, 6-2 freshman Zach Gengler from Silverton High, has played 16.2 minutes per game, with two starts, and has 4.0 points per contest. "He's a capable scorer," Geving says.

After Saturday's game against Portland, the Vikings will take the court only two more times this calendar year. They'll play at home against Idaho on Dec. 14 and versus Evergreen on Dec. 23.

PSU's conference season starts on the road with games against Idaho State on Jan. 2 and Weber State on Jan. 4.

"Most years, it might not be good" to have such little game action in the weeks leading up to the start of Big Sky play, Geving says, "but it's going to be good for us this year, having the time to practice with all our new guys and guys back from injury. We've got to get some continuity, clean up some things, get guys some more reps."

Weber State was the clear league favorite in the coaches' preseason poll, with Montana, North Dakota, Northern Colorado and Montana State rounding out the top five. Portland State was picked to finish ninth out of 11 teams.

Based on results so far, "probably six or seven teams can make an argument for winning the league," Geving says. "You'd better win your home games, and then if you can steal one or two on the road, I think you'll find yourself in the upper half of the conference."

Saturday's game versus crosstown rival UP is a home game the Vikings and their fans would dearly love to win.

"The coaches probably want to win it even more than the players," Geving says. "They kicked our butt last year (81-60 at Chiles Center), and I don't think we did a very good job of getting our kids prepared.

"With Tim transferring, I'm sure (the Pilots) want to win it this time, and they're off to a good (5-3) start. They hung with (No. 1-ranked) Michigan State for 30 minutes or so and did a great job there (in an 82-67 loss). They've got a lot of veterans back, and their pretty confident in what they're running.

"Their size inside could create some match-up problems for us. We're a little more perimeter-oriented than they are — they like to have their bigs tough the ball, whereas everything for us tends to go through our guards. But they're also doing a better job in transition, trying to get some easy baskets before they get into their sets."