When asked before the season what the most important game of the year was, Colorado State men’s basketball head coach Larry Eustachy simply answered, “The next one.”
And while coaches and players will tell you that the next game is always the biggest, that sentiment might actually hold true ahead of Wednesday night’s nationally televised match-up with Mountain West foe UNLV. Even though they lost four of their best players to graduation (Anthony Marshall), the NBA (Anthony Bennett) and transfers (Mike Moser and Katin Reinhardt), the Rebels (15-7, 6-3 MW) present one of the most dangerous opponents the Rams will face this season.
To say it’s been an up and down year for the Rebels would be an understatement. Despite losing the aforementioned players, UNLV was picked to finish second behind New Mexico in this year’s preseason polls.
And then came the exhibition loss to Division II Dixie State. And then a narrow 5-point win over Division II Adams State. A few weeks later, this same Rebels team took then-No.2 Arizona down to the wire before eventually falling 63-58. After that, UNLV reeled of seven consecutive wins only to lose two in a row at home to Air Force and Nevada. But since then, the Rebels have won six of seven, including a 76-73 win on the road at New Mexico. Attribute it to youth, inexperience and possibly a little lack of discipline, but the Rebels have been wildly inconsistent and incredibly entertaining all at the same time.
Sounds a little familiar, huh?
You’ve heard this story before—a young team trying to find its identity after losing most of its key players from the year before. It sounds quite a bit like the Colorado State team that barely escaped Division II Regis, then got beaten down by No. 14 Gonzaga only to take No. 21 Colorado down to the wire. And while the Rams (12-10, 3-6 MW) have been within 10 points in nine of their 10 losses, they’ve fallen on hard times recently, losing three in a row to the top three teams in the conference — Nevada, New Mexico and San Diego State — by an average of just six points per game.
“We’ve been just a few plays away in all those games,” junior guard Jon Octeus said. “San Diego State is the No. 5 team in the nation, they’re a great team, but I don’t think we’re that far behind.”
And while their record may not show it, it’s hard to argue with Octeus when the Rams have played the Aztecs within 10 points in both of their meetings this season. Despite playing without star guard Daniel Bejarano for most of the game due to a sideline altercation with Eustachy, the Rams battled back from a 19-point deficit and took the Aztecs down to the wire yet again. And while no player or coach takes solace in a moral victory, Eustachy was again impressed by the effort and fight of his team.
“I think that game was a sign of the great character of this team,” Eustachy said. “We’ve got a lot of talented guys sitting out (due to NCAA transfer rules), but I think with the guys we have playing, this game was another step in the right direction.”
Wednesday’s game tips off at 7 p.m. at Moby Arena and will be broadcast nationally on ESPN3.com as well as over the airwaves on ESPN 105.5 FM.
Collegian Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.
What: CSU vs. UNLV
When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Moby Arena
Watch it: ESPN3.com, ESPN 105.5 FM