Rebounding has been the name of the game this year for the Colorado State Rams.
For basically this entire season, CSU has led the nation in rebounding margin and were No. 1 and 2 in offensive and defensive rebounding efficiency respectively. First-year head coach Larry Eustachy has forced senior starters to adapt their games and play his way, and it’s worked.
Greg Smith now searches for an opponent to box out before going after the basketball, and the addition of 6-foot-10 center Colton Iverson has given the Rams true size in the middle of the paint.
Of course, Pierce Hornung‘s pure tenacity leads to tip-ins and floor burns, while it rubs of on the rest of his teammates. Eustachy has even called rebounding the Rams’ best offense, as Hornung and Iverson earn put-back dunks and layups by out-working the opposing bigs.
In many games this year, Colorado State dominated their opponents by double digits on the boards, being out-rebounded only three times.
The Tigers fight ferociously for loose basketballs and actually grab one more rebound per game than do the Rams (41.4-40.4), while their +9.6 rebounding margin is third-best in the country behind CSU (+12.1) and Quinnipiac University (10.4).
Senior 6-foot-9 forward Alex Oriakhi is the team’s leader at 8.6 per, and his clashes with Iverson will be key to the outcome of the contest. Beyond Oriakhi, it’s obvious everyone on the squad puts effort into rebounding the rock, with all five starters average at least 3.4 RPG.
It means Colorado State has to be disciplined, and they need to be physical while making sure not to become overwhelmed by the big stage. It will certainly be a battle on the boards of epic proportions, and whichever team works harder will likely win.
But rebounding is only one facet to this matchup of two great teams; guard play will be crucial as well.
For the Rams, point guard Dorian Green has been the on-court leader for four seasons, missing only one start throughout that entire time. Green’s gritty, and he’s fighting through an ankle injury that left him limited in the team’s Mountain West Conference Tournament loss to the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.
CSU needs him to play and well Thursday. He’s the man that sets up the offense, and the man that verbally leads teammates on the floor and drops dimes for open buckets. Green is one of the Rams’ best outside shooters as well, and they’ll likely need a few 3-point makes from him to beat Missouri. He didn’t have enough lift against UNLV to get the ball in the bucket, resulting in five points scored, down from his 12.8 per.
On the Tigers, Phil Pressey is the point guard that can kill a team on his own. Pressey fills up the entire stat line as one of the most versatile and talented guards in the country. His 7.1 assists and 1.8 steals per contest lead Mizzou, while his 11.6 points per are third-best.
If Pressey gets hot and Green can’t guard him due to limited movement, CSU will likely have to go to sophomore transfer Jon Octeus, who’s been able to us his quickness to deny other stellar scorers from getting the ball.
For Missouri, six players average double-digit scoring, with 6-foot-8 senior forward Laurence Bowers leading the way at 14.4 per. Hornung will have his hands full with Bowers on both ends, and as is the case many nights, CSU’s heart and soul will be at a size disadvantage. But, that won’t stop him from giving his all to what could be his last college game.
In fact, having five senior starters may give Colorado State an edge for two reasons: none of them want this to be their final game, and they have the advantage in the experience factor. All of the Rams will be fighting for their basketball lives, not wanting this emotionally uplifting season to end.
All those hard times that came before this season and all the work it’s taken to get to this point gives CSU valuable lessons learned that they’ll have to reflect upon in order to win Thursday evening.
Don’t sleep on the Rams, they could do real damage in this tournament due to coaching, experience and team-first play.
No. 8 Colorado State and No. 9 Missouri tip-off Thursday night at 7:20 pm Mountain in Lexington, KY. The game will be televised on TBS.