As Colorado State and UNLV face off Saturday afternoon at Moby Arena, former UNLV Rebel Yell sports editor Danny Webster and I break down why each team will win.
The Pope’s take:
Following its loss to Wyoming Wednesday night, the Colorado State basketball team faces a defining moment in the 2014-15 season when it faces UNLV Saturday night at Moby Arena. Should the Rams win, they’ll stay at least in fourth place in the Mountain West and retain a semblance of hope in regard to winning the Mountain West title.
Also resting on Saturday’s game are CSU’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament. With a win, the Rams will move one step closer to securing an automatic bid. But with a loss, CSU will likely only be able to make it into the tournament by winning the Mountain West tournament, which it hasn’t done since 2003. A loss to the Rebels, who have an RPI of 101 and a loss to Nevada (whom CSU beat 98-42 earlier this year), would give CSU a bad home loss in the eyes of the NCAA Selection Committee, something they absolutely can’t afford.
The good news for CSU is that UNLV is very, very beatable on the road. Their only road win in six tries this year came against the aforementioned Wolf Pack last Wednesday. So how exactly does CSU beat the Rebels Saturday? Let’s break it down.
- Play angry
Head coach Larry Eustachy has built a team full of transfers who came to Colorado State with a chip on their shoulder, whether that’s because of a lack of playing time, dismissal from their previous school or any other host of reasons. But in their success this year, CSU seems to have lost that fire. After last year’s 16-16 campaign, CSU jumped out to a 14-0 start this year, not because of its talent, but because players like J.J. Avila, Daniel Bejarano and Stanton Kidd willed this team to victory. They will need to do exactly that against UNLV. The Rebels are hands down the most talented team in the league, but are also the most immature and inexperienced. After Wyoming completed the season sweep of the Rams Wednesday, expected an angry CSU team to take the floor looking to get back on track.
- Limit mistakes
UNLV averages 12 turnovers per game in its frenetic, fast-paced offense and can be incredibly careless with the ball at times. The Rebels play in an “organized chaos” offense and love to get up and down the floor with the host of athletes they have. But it is imperative for CSU to avoid an up-and-down game, mostly because it doesn’t have the athletes to do it against a team like UNLV. The reason CSU’s offense is so successful is because of the control the Rams play with. In each of the team’s four losses this year, they have more turnovers than assists and have forced the issue when shots weren’t falling. While they will need shots to fall, CSU’s main concern will be taking care of the rock and making sure to limit the Rebs in transition.
- Start fast, and keep on the gas
As well as struggling with turnovers in their losses, the Rams have also struggled with slow starts, with the exception of the loss to Boise State. Saturday will be an “Orange Out” at Moby Arena, with a very good crowd expected. Though CSU fans can be fickle at times, when Moby Arena is rocking, it is one of the most difficult places to play in the league. And the best way to get a crowd into a game is a hot start, like the ones CSU had against Nevada and San Diego State. But just starting fast won’t be enough against the Rebels. Should they get up early, the Rams must keep their foot on the gas from start to finish and close UNLV out as quickly as possible. If they can get out to an early lead and keep on the throttle, CSU should be able to easily beat what’s been a mediocre UNLV team.
The Pope has spoken.
Collegian Sports Editor Keegan Pope can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.
It’s a long shot, no doubt.
It’s easier to say UNLV will go into Moby Arena Saturday and beat the Rams.
Fortunately for the Rebels, they’ve played well during this three-game winning streak they’re on, and have won in a multitude of ways, including luck, defense and some mysterious offense.
UNLV will need to win a perfect game in a hectic environment to still stay in the middle of this clustered Mountain West Conference. But it can be done, and this is how.
- Work the ball inside.
One of UNLV’s biggest weaknesses is running an offense. No, seriously. Watch them on Saturday. There’s no ball movement, no passing into the post. It’s an offense where the ball is passed around the 3-point line, and hope for the best. Chris Wood and Goodluck Okonoboh aren’t proficient post players, but they’re going to need to be in order for the Rebels to have a shot. They need to get some form of pick-and-roll going and allow guys like Rashad Vaughn and Pat McCaw easy lanes to the rim. But it’s easier said than done. And if this young UNLV team is forced to shoot jumpers the entire night, it will be an easy win for Colorado State.
- Someone else not named Rashad Vaughn needs to have a big night.
For the majority of this season, it’s been the Rashad Vaughn Show at UNLV. He’s the Rebels’ leading scorer and, in actuality, the only Rebels player that can create his own shot. It’s hard enough for him to create a shot playing isolation basketball for 40 minutes (*cough* coaching *cough*). Someone else for the Rebels will need to have a big evening offensively. Whether it be Wood, who is a walking double-double when he puts in the effort, or someone like McCaw, who has become a very reliable 3-point marksman for Dave Rice. Someone is going to have to take the pressure off of Vaughn and be counted upon for a big night. This will be determined early on in the game. If 15 minutes have passed and Wood still has something like 4 points and 2 rebounds, it won’t be him. Fun prop bet for you CSU guys: Over/under 5 minutes Chris Wood gets benched.
- Cody Doolin needs to play like a point guard.
Doolin came to UNLV, and he immediately became the point guard Rice needed. So far, the experiment has been more painful to watch than good. It’s hard to be a quality point guard if there’s no plays to be ran, but Doolin needs to take charge as the floor general and have a huge impact on this game. Maybe this coincides with Point No. 2, but Doolin won’t make a big impact in the scoring column. He needs to assert himself with his direction and leadership, because at times, UNLV doesn’t have it. Going against a talented Colorado State backcourt, Doolin needs to be the senior leader UNLV needs. If he breaks down, then it’s a slowly painful domino effect that can’t be stopped.
UNLV Rebel Yell Managing Editor Danny Webster can be reached on Twitter @DannyWebster21.