Props to Colorado State for being 5-2 after scheduling some tough games. I mean, it's not like they scheduled a neutral site game against a top-5 ranked team, or a road game against an SEC team, but it's not an easy schedule.
In the first game of the season, the Rams visited Northern Iowa and did what then-top-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels could not. In the weeks since, Colorado State challenged itself with the Corpus Christi Coastal Challenge, a preseason tournament in which they beat Abilene Christian (in OT) and Portland before losing a double overtime thriller against the undefeated UTEP Miners in the tournament championship.
On their home court last night, Colorado State lost again to Long Beach State, a team much better than their 4-4 record. Side note: Long Beach State must have the hardest schedule in the country. They've already played Brigham Young (we'll see them next), Seton Hall, Virginia, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma State a second time, and San Diego State. No disrespect to Colorado State, but this game must have felt like an overdue breather for the 49ers.
But alas, no matter if they are 0-7 or 7-0, the Rams will always show up to challenge the Buffs. This game should be a close contest just as it is every year and Colorado should win if they execute three keys to the game:
1. Force tough shots on the perimeter
With three great shooters in Gian Clavell, Antwan Scott and Joe De Ciman at their disposal, Colorado State has attempted 28 three-pointers per game this season, 8 more per game than the three-happy Buffs. In their loss to UTEP, the Rams launched 41 (!) threes in 50 minutes of action. If Diego Gonzalez attempted that many three-pointers, we’d only have a handful of points and pockets full of disappointment to show for it.
Though evidently improved this season, Colorado’s perimeter defense has long been a source of defensive woes and the Rams’ prolific shooters will happily test it. If Colorado proves capable of pressuring those shots, the Rams may very well shoot themselves out of the game.
2. Control the boards
Going back to that UTEP game, in no way should Colorado State have even been in contention. Led by former Oregon Duck Dominic Artis, the Miners shot the lights out the whole game and forced tough shots and turnovers aplenty on the other side. Despite shooting 32% from the field, the Rams stayed in the game by utterly dominating the boards. When the final whistle blew, the green and gold had won the rebound battle 69 to 35 (nice). Of all their bountiful missed shots, Tiel Daniels and Emmanuel Omogbo combined for 18 offensive rebounds. That last stat is even more impressive when you see that Josh Scott has 21 offensive rebounds all season.
Admittedly, the UTEP game is quite the outlier, but it goes to show that CSU can win almost solely by dominating the glass. To win this battle, Wesley Gordon, Josh Scott and Tory Miller will be called upon to box out Daniels and Omogbo at all times, a task those three are well suited for. Also, the Buffs should be watching out for Clavell because despite his size, he's quite the gifted rebounder. Come game time, Colorado should win this battle, just as they did in last season's matchup.
3. Contain Gian Clavell
Colorado State doesn’t sink or swim with Clavell’s shooting, but the 6'4" guard is far and away their best offensive threat. Clavell is a fear-inducing gunner is there ever was one, but he’s not limited to spotting up in the corner -- no, this guy’s more well-rounded than a snowman. Against the vaunted defenses of Loyola Marymount and Abilene Christian, Clavell showed that if a defender is too tight, he will blow past his man and slash through the heart of the defense. Once he’s penetrated the aorta, Clavell is a willing passer and can create easy shots for his teammates.
Matching up with Clavell will likely be the combination of Josh Fortune and Xavier Talton. If Clavell is contained, the Rams will look to the sharp shooting tandem of De Ciman and Scott to generate offense, but neither of whom are particularly dynamic, thus easier to defend. Even if Fortune and Talton have been inconsistent defensively, I still like Colorado’s chances to at least keep Clavell in check.
The game will be at the Moby Arena in Ft. Collins and broadcasted by ROOT Sports. Tip-off is at noon on Sunday.