The Colorado State men’s basketball team is currently projected by ESPN as one of two Mountain West teams to make the NCAA tournament, but they could easily drop out of everyone’s brackets with a loss at home Tuesday against New Mexico (14-9, 6-5 MW). The game tips off at 9 p.m. and can be seen on ESPNU and WatchESPN.
The Lobos handed the Rams their first loss of the season back in January, and CSU cannot afford to be swept by another MW opponent after losing both match-ups with Wyoming this season. Here are some keys for Larry Eustachy’s team when they host UNM.
Put star player in good spots
J.J. Avila leads CSU in scoring (15.6 points per game) but was held to six points on 3-for-10 shooting the last time these teams met. It was his lowest scoring output of the season, and was the only time in 23 games that he has failed to crack double digits.
The senior from McAllen, Texas has played in eight games since then. In those games, he has failed to shoot at least 50 percent from the floor twice, and it is no coincidence that CSU lost both those contests.
Avila has posted double-doubles in consecutive games. When he is on, so is the rest of the offense. His versatility in the post and as a passer really opens things up for the offense, but it starts with his scoring.
If the Rams don’t get an efficient performance from their star its going to be hard to them to score against New Mexico. But it is not all on Avila – his teammates need to get him the ball in good places to score.
Get Stanton Kidd involved early
Another one of the Rams’ star seniors will be hoping for a better showing this time around. Stanton Kidd sprained his ankle early in their last meeting and sat out for the rest of that game after playing just four minutes.
Kidd is the the Rams’ second-leading scorer at 12 points per game. He has the size to play on the perimeter or in the post, which gives CSU more options against the Lobos’ versatile defense. His range as a shooter also means UNM has one more outside threat to worry about.
The transfer from North Carolina Central is fourth in the conference in 3-point shooting at 46.5 percent. He enters the game coming off of a strong showing against UNLV in which he led the team with 19 points while also grabbing six rebounds.
Avoid settling for outside shots
UNM dares opponents to take the 3-pointer, but does so without giving up wide-open looks. Opponents have attempted more 3-pointers against the Lobos (511) than any other MW team. However, those opponents have converted just 29 percent of those shots.
When CSU lost to UNM back on January 3rd in Albuquerque, the Rams fell right into the trap or repeatedly launching what seemed like open outside shots. The result was CSU going 6-for-25 from behind the arc.
Those looks are going to be there for a reason – UNM wants you to shoot them. CSU cannot take the bait.
The Rams have lived (and died) by the 3-pointer at times this year. Their 495 3-point attempts is tied for most in the conference with Boise State. But, that does not mean they just jack up quick shots. The team gets good looks by playing inside-out, and that will be a must against the Lobos who do not have particularly tough interior defenders.
CSU’s big men attack the basket well, and their offensive spark-plug John Gillon gets to the rim and draws fouls as well as anyone in the conference. If 3-pointers are not falling, the Rams cannot hesitate to go inside.
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @emccarthy22.