In the Mountain West Conference Tournament, no win comes easy.
Especially when you’re talking about going against the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels on their home floor inside the Thomas & Mack Center.
Head coach Larry Eustachy will have his men ready to play, and the Colorado Sate Rams understand what’s at stake.
For the Rams, a win tonight would mean playing the tournament’s championship game Saturday afternoon. CSU finished No. 2 in the conference to the New Mexico Lobos and there’s no doubt the green and gold would love a chance to win the conference tourney over UNM, if the Lobos can beat the San Diego State Aztecs Friday.
But they’ll have to go through UNLV first, a tough team no matter the venue.
The Rebels are the third-highest scoring team in the MW at 72.1 points per game, with both Anthony Bennett and Anthony Marshall averaging double-digit points. Bennett is one of the most talented freshmen in the country and the big man leads the team in both scoring (16.1) and rebounds (8.1). He’s at his best when he uses power moves in the paint, dunking or laying it up over opponents with strong footwork. Marshall is a superb shooting guard that can really light it up from downtown, something that’s haunted CSU all season long. In his two games against the Rams this season, he averaged 16 points and 5.5 boards.
Colorado State led the league in scoring, at 73.4 per, but they’ll almost certainly be without starting point guard and second-best scorer Dorian Green, who injured an ankle in the season finale.
“He practiced today, and was hobbled,” Eustachy told Renaud Notaro on his radio show Thursday. “If I had to guess I think he’s going to have a shot at it…It’ll be his decision this time. He really wanted to try it last game but I didn’t think it was safe.
“I think he’ll try it but I’m not sure how effective he’ll be,” Eustachy finished.
On Wednesday, Eustachy was counting the court general out, meaning even if he does play, it won’t be his full compliment of minutes. Jon Octeus will likely get the start at point for the second straight game, and another night of playing under control is needed from him. Octeus played all 40 minutes in the team’s win over the Fresno State Bulldogs and didn’t have a single turnover. Still, it was obvious the offense didn’t run with the same rhythm they’ve had all year and the team put up a mere 26 points in the first half. They got it together and edged out Fresno State, but another performance like that tonight will result in a loss.
The play of center Colton Iverson will be vastly important; if he can dominate down low, like so many times this year, it will boost CSU’s chances greatly. Iverson averages 14.6 points and 9.7 rebounds; the Rams will need all of that and likely more tonight.
Rebounding is essential, and will probably determine this seemingly close contest’s outcome. Colorado State is the best rebounding team in the nation, but UNLV is right behind, making physicality and determination – two themes of this season – key for the Rams.
“Whoever wins the rebounds, wins the game. We’ve got to be physical and give them one shot, and whoever does it best will win,” Eustachy also said on Notaro’s show.
That means Pierce Hornung and Greg Smith need to battle for boards, earning easy tip-ins on the offensive end and limiting the Rebels’ scoring opportunities. Smith and Wes Eikmeier will have to again carry the load of Green’s missing scoring as well, no easy task.
Simply stated, CSU needs top-notch performances from each of their senior starters with their leader unable to play at 100 percent, if at all.
Colorado State versus UNLV tips off at 9:30 PM Mountain and will be televised on CBS Sports Network.