CSU men’s basketball looks for signature road win against San Diego State

Emmett McCarthy

Colorado State men’s basketball (21-4, 8-4 MW) needs a signature road win. Saturday might be the Rams best chance as they take on the San Diego State Aztecs (19-6, 9-3) in a Mountain West rematch. CSU won the previous meeting 79-73, and SDSU would like to even things up.

Both teams are still in the race for the MW regular season title. The game tips off Saturday at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.

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Here are the keys for the Rams:

Score, score, score

Sounds obvious, right? The Aztecs are great at taking away what the Rams do best: score the basketball. CSU leads the conference in scoring (73 points per game) while SDSU ranks third in nation in scoring defenses.

The Aztecs allow just 53.1 points per game, and are 17-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 60 points. On the rare occasions that opponents have scored 60 or more points, SDSU is just 2-4. One of those games was the last meeting between the teams when the Rams poured in 79 points.

SDSU plays at a slow pace, but not quite as slow as a team like Wyoming. CSU will have their opportunities and they must convert. The Rams are 1-3 is when scoring fewer than 60 points. If they struggle to score, they are not going to have much success on the road against Steve Fisher’s team.

Control the glass

SDSU utilizes many of the same rebounding principles that CSU head coach Larry Eustachy emphasizes. The Rams, who rank 40th in the nation with 37.7 rebounds per game, have been able to dominate most opponents on the glass. They will not have that luxury against the Aztecs.

Steve Fisher’s team boasts the best rebounding margin in the conference at plus-7.1. In their last meeting with the Rams, the Aztecs pulled down 12 offensive boards. Teams don’t normally post those types of numbers against CSU, but with SDSU’s size it was not surprising.

Both teams have two players amongst the conference’s top-20 rebounders and find themselves in the top-3 of the MW for most statistical rebounding categories. Winston Shepard and J.J. O’Brien combine to average 10.5 rebounds per game. J.J. Avila and Stanton Kidd combines to average 12.9 rebounds per game.

Add SDSU’s Skylar Spencer and CSU’s Tiel Daniels to the mix, and viewers will be in for a particularly physical matchup in the front courts. Winning the battle on the boards should tilt things in either team’s favor. Out-rebounding the Aztecs on their own court could be the difference for the Rams.

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Get Clavell going

Gian Clavell has made a strong case for conference Sixth Man of the Year, and must build on his already impressive season against SDSU.

The Puerto Rican-born guard averages 9.5 points per game and is more than just another reserve. He plays 24.7 minutes per game despite coming off of the bench, and consistently finds himself on the floor during crunch time. Clavell hit the game-winning free throws in CSU’s win over UC-Santa Barbara in the Great Alaska Shootout Championship, and then did so again in a win over UNLV.

The Rams need his offense. Clavell takes an average of seven shots per game but in three of four CSU losses, he has taken fewer than five. In the 12 games he has scored in double digits, CSU is undefeated. His scoring might not always be efficient, but it is still needed, as is his energy and fearlessness.

CSU needs to hit shots against SDSU, and Clavell can do that. He is shooting 32 percent on 3-point attempts but that is not at all indicative of his shooting prowess or ability to space the floor. When the ball leaves his hands, it looks like its going in every time. The junior college transfer can heat up in a hurry, which could be the difference against a strong Aztecs’ defense.

Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22.