The Colorado State men’s basketball team has more to worry about than an in-state rivalry on the line when it takes on Air Force. The Rams are also fighting to keep NCAA tournament hopes alive.
The Rams won the last meeting between the teams 92-87 in a heated game that saw a mini-scuffle, numerous technical fouls and an ejection. The Falcons are looking to avoid the season sweep, and end their rival’s post-season aspirations in the process.
The game tips off Saturday at 4 p.m. in Moby Arena, and will be broadcast on ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain.
Here are some keys to the games for CSU:
Air Force is not on CSU’s talent level, but might play up to it. In-state rivalries can bring out the best in teams and the Falcons will definitely be out for revenge after the Rams bested them in Colorado Springs.
In the last meeting between the teams, the Rams were having their way with the Falcons quite easily at first. But the tides turned when a little scrap broke out in the second half that saw multiple players from each team get slapped with technical fouls. Amongst those players was Matt Mooney, who was ejected for punching J.J. Avila in the back.
The Rams were leading 52-36 when that little incident occurred. It appeared to inspire the Falcons, who went on a run to cut the deficit to as little as three points.
CSU has to stay on an even keel, as head coach Larry Eustachy likes to say, and just play its game. The Rams are Mountain West contenders for a reason, while the Falcons are not. Do not let the rivalry or any extracurriculars distract from the game.
Chase shooters off of the arc
The 3-point shot is the game’s great equalizer, and Air Force likes to launch them. The Falcons have made 198 shots from behind the arc this year and their 7.9 made 3-pointers per game ranks second in the conference. Air Force has cashed in 38 percent of it’s 3-pointers, which ranks third in the MW.
CSU should know the 3-ball is coming too – the Falcons rained in 16 during their last meeting. It was an essential part of their comeback, and will be a key to winning in Moby. The Rams have to be wary of players like Max Yon, Zach Kocur and Marek Olesinki, and chase them off the arc if possible.
Move the ball around
CSU still boasts the top scoring offense in the MW (73.1 points per game) but it is not without its deficiencies. Everything looks great when the ball is moving and shots are falling, but the Rams also go through stretches here and there where everything just stagnates and it results in players going one-on-one late in the shot clock.
The Rams are a great passing team when they want to be. The offense flows freely and players trust each other. They need to keep the ball moving to avoid those rough periods. It’s nitpicking to say the conference’s highest scoring offense can improve, but at times, there seems to be room for improvement.
CSU ranks 41st in the nation and second in the MW with 14.9 assists per game. Everyone on the team is a willing passer, including the bigs. Avila leads the team in assists, and Tiel Daniels is a great passer out of the post. At the guard position, John Gillon has impressive vision, and Daniel Bejarano knows how to find his teammates as well.
None of that matters though, unless the Rams stay within the principles of their motion offense. CSU has enough talent to get away with some isolations, but its better off when players move around, set screens and swing the ball.
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @emccarthy22.