When Colorado State (14-1, 1-1 MW) and Wyoming (13-2, 2-0 MW) face off Wednesday night, there will be more than the typical Border War bragging rights on the line. Both the Rams and the Cowboys are prime contenders for the Mountain West title this year and the first of two matchups between the two teams could go a long way in determining which team is at the top of the heap come March.
Here are three keys to victory for CSU in the first edition of the Border War in 2015.
1. Stretch the Wyoming defense
The Cowboys, and their inside duo of Larry Nance Jr. and Derek Cooke Jr. present a bevy of challenges for teams trying to score inside. Nance measures at 6-foot-8 while Cooke comes in a 6-foot-9, but the two have combined for 29 blocks this season and lead the No. 3 scoring defense in the country. However, despite being one of the best scoring defenses in the nation, the Cowboys are among the worst when it comes to guarding the 3-point line. The Cowboys rank 237th in the nation and 8th in the Mountain West in opponent 3-point field goal percentage. On the flip side, CSU’s offense ranks in the top-80 in both 3-point field goal percentage and 3-pointers made per game.
Colorado State must be able to hit outside shots if they want a chance to win because against the Cowboys defense, points in the paint are at a premium. If forwards J.J. Avila and Stanton Kidd can step outside and hit some jumpers, it will be an added bonus as CSU will be able to keep Nance and Cooke from simply roaming inside the paint.
2. Crash the offensive glass
The Rams and Cowboys are two of the top four teams in the Mountain West in rebounding, with the Rams pulling down 35.8 boards per game while the Cowboys average just over 30. But the Cowboys are the top-ranked team in the league in defensive rebounding, only allowing their opponents an average of 26.9 rebounds per game. Against a team like Wyoming, which ranks to second-to-last in the country in offensive pace, it will be key for Larry Eustachy’s team to hit the offensive boards hard and come away with second chance points. CSU doesn’t have to worry about being beat in transition and one of the biggest reasons for Wyoming’s defensive success is their ability to limit opponents to one shot, something CSU must overcome if they hope to defend their home court.
3. Limit the big plays
What sounds like a football reference actually fits quite well with this scenario. Although the Cowboys are one of the lowest scoring teams per game in the country, that doesn’t mean they don’t have talented offensive players. Along with Nance, uber-athletic guard Josh Adams has developed into a potent scoring weapon on the perimeter. But the areas CSU must limit on the defensive side of the ball are the 3-pointers late in the shot clock, transition baskets and dunks, which the Cowboys have become known for. Nance, Adams and Jason McManamen all have been featured on SportsCenter’s Top 10 in their time at Wyoming and the locals in Laramie have begun to refer to the town as “Dunk City.” In what should be a raucous Moby Arena, nothing will kill the momentum of a pro-CSU crowd more than a posterizing Wyoming slam. It will be nearly impossible to keep the Cowboys off of the rim, but eliminating those type of plays will go a long ways in helping the Rams to their second Mountain West victory.
Collegian Sports Editor Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.