Having read the Mid-Majority since Season 6, I've been envious of all the mid-major options available to residents in some parts of Hoops Nation. In cities like New York and Philadelphia, Kyle and 800 Games Project writers have too many mid-major games in town and not enough time to see them all. If you live in Portland like me, you can watch Portland and Portland State. The next closest options for Other 24 teams are Seattle (about a three-hour drive depending on how terrible Seattle traffic is that day) and opponents visiting Oregon State (Corvallis) or Oregon (Eugene). Both of these are about a couple hours to the south. Spokane and the mids visiting ESPN darling/Red Line exception Gonzaga? Eastern Washington, in Cheney? Those will take you a day of driving.
Because mid-majors are so rare in these parts I'm always eager to compare the schedules to see which PSU games don't conflict with Portland games. It happened that today was one of those days. PSU's women's and men's teams were both playing at home today so I was eager to spend a day watching basketball.
PSU should have some things going for it. The campus is at the edge of downtown Portland, right off the freeway and with light rail, streetcar, and numerous bus lines serving it. The university is the largest in the state by enrollment (not what you'd guess if you saw how much coverage Mr. Whelliston's old school gets in the sports page). There's not a lot else going on in the winter. Unfortunately, PSU basketball faces the same difficulties so familiar to many programs below the Red Line. There's lots of students, but it's a commuter school, so getting the students into the gym is a problem. Then there's the small matter of playing at the same time as the Portland Trail Blazers (who apparently will be playing after all).
It doesn't help that the men's basketball program was cut in 1981 and only came back in the 1996-97 season when PSU moved to Division I and the Big Sky Conference. Those missing years could have been spent building the program, which did feature 1977-78 NCAA scoring leader Freeman Williams. After the return of basketball the Vikings did win NCAA berths in 2008 and 2009 but there was not a lot of winning in the years before that and it's been downhill - way downhill - since: For the 2010-11 season the Vikings were banned from the postseason by the NCAA for poor academic performance. As Kyle has said, it always ends in a loss, but usually the loss comes at the end of the season, not before it even starts. It should be noted that last year the men's basketball team did achieve a perfect APR score.
I headed downtown in the early afternoon, planning to spend some time between the men's and women's games to walk around downtown. One difference between Portland and Portland State is their home courts. Even if you've never watched the Pilots, the Chiles Center is a big, white dome, so you can probably guess that's where the game will be. PSU's Stott Center, on the other hand, blends in with the rest of the academic-looking buildings around it, so it takes some subtle hints to make sure fans don't miss it.
The arena seats about 1500, with two sets of retractable stands on the sides. It can get loud when it's full, although many times there's (more than a) few empty seats.
A game against a non-D1 isn't usually going to be a close one, and tonight, against NAIA Division II Walla Walla College was no exception. I was looking forward to seeing PSU for the first time this year, though. The pattern is one fans will have seen before, either against a non-D1 or a team from above the Red Line. After trading baskets the first four minutes, the score was tied at 11. PSU pulled away from there with the help of strong guard play. Junior Michael Harthun was hitting threes, and senior Charles Odum was driving to the basket and hitting jumpers at will. Walla Walla, as so often happens to underdogs, helped defeat itself with a string of empty possessions marked by blown layups and bad passes. It all added up to a 50-22 halftime score.
To start the second half, the Vikings went inside more, with Nate Lozeau scoring a few easy baskets. He had 12 points in just the second half, but when Chehales Tapscott dunked to make the lead 40 points with 15 minutes to go, coach Tyler Geving promptly used a timeout, pulled all five starters, and sent in five reserves. Not surprisingly the first string spent the remainder of the night on the bench, watching the second string try and show the coaches something. I'm sure the Viking staff will find other areas of improvement, but honestly the most glaring weakness was that they were 0-4 on alley-oop #omgdunx opportunities.
What made the second half unique was how fast it went. The only stoppages in the first 10 minutes were timeouts called by Walla Walla and PSU. The under-16 media timeout didn't come until the 10:38 mark. The under 12 was at 9:43. The teams just kept going up and down, sometimes making, sometimes missing, sometimes turning it over, but rarely committing a foul or violation. Reading the play-by-play, I saw only four fouls total in the second half. Going by my watch the game was completed in just 86 minutes. I've never seen a D1 men's game go that quickly, but as they say, when you go to a game you might see something you've never seen before.
Overall I enjoyed my day at Portland State. I saw two games for the price of one, and because the men's game had the unusual start time of 5:35 and got done so quickly, I headed over to see the Christma--uh, holiday--uh, large decorated tree in Pioneer Courthouse Square before getting dinner and heading home.
at PORTLAND STATE 102, WALLA WALLA 47 12/03/2011
PORTLAND STATE 5-2 (0-0) -- W. Niles 1-5 2-2 4; L. McMullan 5-8 2-3 14; M. Harvey 1-7 0-0 2; J. Smith 7-10 0-0 15; N. Lozeau 8-10 2-2 18; C. Odum 8-14 1-1 17; K. Ephrem 3-4 0-0 6; C. Tapscott 3-6 2-2 8; B. Cataldo 4-5 1-2 9; M. Harthun 2-7 0-0 6; G. Winston 2-2 0-1 6; J. King 0-3 1-2 1. Totals 43-76 9-13 102.
Three-point goals: - , POST 7-23 (M. Harthun 2-5; L. McMullan 2-4; C. Odum 0-4; C. Tapscott 0-1; J. Smith 1-3; M. Harvey 0-4; G. Winston 2-2); Rebounds: , POST 49 (N. Lozeau 9); Assists: , POST 23 (L. McMullan 4); Total Fouls -- , POST 5; Fouled Out: -; POST-None.