A home game against a 10-11 team sounds like it should be an easy win for the 18-3 Colorado State men’s basketball team which sits near the top of the Mountain West.
But Fresno State is an exception.
The Rams host the Bulldogs at 4 p.m. Saturday in a pivotal conference matchup. After CSU notched its biggest win of the season against San Diego State, it stumbled in a road loss to Boise State and now must right the ship.
No one team has been able to establish dominance in the Mountain West. The door is still open for the Rams, and it comes down to defending home court.
“Good teams are tough at home,” CSU head coach Larry Eustachy said. “There are a lot of teams in our league that have great records at home, so there is a lot of parity.”
Fresno State is a perfect example. The Bulldogs started the season a miserable 1-6 with losses to Marist and Northern Arizona, and stumbled into conference play with a 5-8 record.
But head coach Rodney Terry’s team got its act together just in time. FSU is now sitting at 5-3 in the Mountain West, including a win over conference-leader San Diego State.
“The RPI’s don’t indicate it because of the lack of early success, but there’s seven or eight teams (in the conference) that can beat anybody on any given night,” Eustachy said.
Although it presents more challenges on a weekly basis, CSU senior forward Stanton Kidd said that he appreciates the competitiveness across the MW.
“That’s the good thing about this league – anybody can lose on any given night. There’s no Kentucky running through this league,” Kidd said.
Fresno State’s early season struggles can be attributed mostly to the absence of junior guard Cezar Guerrero, who was ruled academically ineligible for the fall semester.
Since Guerrero’s return, the Bulldogs have gone 2-2 with the losses coming in a triple-overtime thriller to Wyoming and a road game at San Diego State. There’s no shame in those losses, but their recent MW wins against Nevada and San Jose State do not prove much either.
One thing is for sure though; Guerrero has given the Bulldogs an additional double-digit scorer. He has averaged 10.8 points per game since his return.
That added production is crucial for a Fresno State team that has played their stars heavy minutes all year, such as leading scorer Marvelle Harris (37 minutes per game) and second leading scorer Paul Watson (34 minutes per game). It is a stark contrast to the Rams, who have amassed an 18-3 record largely due to their depth.
“We’re about 10-deep,” Eustachy said. “I think that will help before its all over.”
Kidd said that depth gives the Rams an advantage in most games, not only against a top-heavy Fresno State team.
“We’ve got reinforcements on the bench. Guys can come in and do the same thing. Fred (Richardson) has proven that. John (Gillon) has proven that. Gian (Clavell), Carlton (Hurst), Marcus (Holt) – having those guys down the stretch is really helping us out.”
Having 10 rotation players helped the Rams early in the season when minor injuries hampered Kidd and others, and it will be crucial as the team tries to finish conference play strong. Fresno State is the next obstacle in the way. The Bulldogs are a quietly dangerous team, and a loss at home to them on Saturday would be a damaging blow to CSU’s postseason aspirations.
“Every game is important. We’re playing not just to win the conference, we’re playing to get an NCAA tournament bid,” Kidd said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @emccarthy22.