When the CSU basketball team takes the court for its third round game in the NCAA tournament against Louisville, it will be faced with a raucous Rupp Arena filled with Louisville fans and the anticipation of going up against the number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
And that’s not even the hard part.
The Rams will face a Cardinals team that pressures the ball at a prodigious rate. Even when they were up by 30 points against North Carolina A&T Thursday night, the Cardinals still ran a full court press that garnered an NCAA tournament record 20 steals.
“For us, we try to get as many deflections as we can, slow down the movement of passing,” Louisville senior guard Peyton Siva said. “That’s really been our key for this year, and we just continue to keep our pressure up.”
Siva and fellow guard Russ Smith lead Louisville on both ends of the court. Smith scores an average of 18.2 points per game while averaging 2.2 steals per game. Siva averages 2.3 steals per game while leading the Cardinals with 5.9 assists per game.
In order to be successful Saturday night, the Rams will need to try to contain the athletic duo.
“They’re two really good players,” CSU senior guard Dorian Green said. “We’re up for the challenge, and, you know, this is what we came to do, this is what we love to do and so it’s going to be fun to compete against those two.”
The Cardinals will try to build upon the success they had in their second round game on Saturday night, particularly on the defensive end, an area of focus for the team all year, but the experience of CSU’s guards will make that a much more difficult task.
The Rams boast an experienced starting lineup that features five seniors. When they’re on the floor, Dorian Green or Wes Eikmeier brings the ball up the floor, if either one of them is on the bench, sophomore guard Jon Octeus will run at the point guard position.
Green, Eikmeier and Octeus each average under two turnovers per game, which lead to the Rams averaging just 11 turnovers per game on the year.
Louisville has forced an average of 18.9 turnovers per game from its opponents this year, 11 of which come off steals, so something has to give on Saturday.
“If Colorado State dominates the glass and there’s not a disparity in turnovers, they win this game,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “They have better perimeter shooting, they have better back court people, so we’ve gotta win certain things tomorrow or their style’s gonna win.”
Louisville comes into the game Saturday night rolling off the momentum of 11 straight wins.
The last time the Cardinals lost, it took Notre Dame five overtimes to pull out a 104-101 victory on Feb. 9. If the Rams hope to spoil Louisville’s run at the Final Four, it will take a similar type of effort to deal with the pressure the Cardinals will exert.
“We’re not a good passing team, so it’s not a good match-up for us that way,” CSU coach Larry Eustachy said. “We’re going to have to play above ourselves in that area as far as taking care of the ball and play making to get it done.”
So the hopes of CSU basketball on Saturday will ride on the shoulders of three guards who have been keys to the season for the Rams in their run at winning an NCAA tournament game for the first time in 24 years and they have embraced the challenge that Louisville will give them on Saturday.
“I think we would finally start getting some respect (with a win Saturday),” Octeus said. “I think that is important for this program, especially going forward. I am just a sophomore and we have a whole bunch of younger guys here that are a part of the program and we want to make some noise.”
Assistant Sports Editor Andrew Schaller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.