CSU prepares for crucial road trip against Arkansas, Oregon

Eddie Herz

Prentiss celebrating
Prentiss Nixon (11) and Nico Carvacho (32) celebrate after a basket during the second half of the Rams’ 72-63 win over Colorado. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

The Colorado State men’s basketball team will begin its final road trip of non-conference play on Tuesday with the first of two difficult road games.

Fresh off a significant 72-63 victory over in-state rival CU, the Rams (4-4) will face two Power Five opponents in the span of four days. CSU’s upcoming road trip will begin with a Tuesday night matchup against Arkansas, kicking off a home-and-home series between the Rams and Razorbacks. Following the Arkansas contest, CSU will head to Eugene, Oregon to conclude its road trip against the Oregon Ducks.

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Arkansas and Oregon are each coming off successful seasons in which both programs won at least one game in the NCAA Tournament.

The Razorbacks returned their second and third leading scorers from last year’s March Madness run in Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford. In addition, Arkansas welcomed back fifth leading scorer Anton Beard.

After losing its top player, Dusty Hannahs, and leading rebounder, Moses Kingsley, the returning trio of seniors previously mentioned are now Arkansas’ go-to players.

Barford, Macon and Beard have paved the way for the Razorbacks from a scoring standpoint, contributing 54.4 percent of Arkansas’ scoring per game. Each of the three seniors is averaging at least 12.3 points per game.

Freshman forward Daniel Gafford has made an immediate impact for the Razorbacks as well. Gafford is averaging 11.7 points per game and is leading Arkansas in rebounds, with an average of 5.7 per game. Gafford was a four-star recruit prior to the season and cracked ESPN’s Top 100 incoming freshmen list at 47th overall.

The Razorbacks began the season 4-0 before dropping two of their last three games to fall to 5-2 overall. Arkansas suffered a 91-65 defeat to 6-1 Houston on the road in its last game.

The Razorbacks and Rams have never faced each other. While beating Arkansas would provide CSU with its largest resume-building win of the season so far, the Razorbacks enter as heavy favorites in front of their home crowd. Currently, Arkansas is a 16.5-point favorite over the Rams.

Junior guard Prentiss Nixon rises over a CU defender on a jump shot. The Rams defeated the Buffaloes 72-63 on Dec. 2. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

Three days after playing Arkansas, CSU will head to the pacific northwest to face Oregon on Friday night. Similar to Arkansas, the Ducks began the season by winning four straight before scuffling as of late.

Boise State defeated Oregon on its home court last Friday to snap the Ducks’ 46-game home winning streak. The loss also handed Oregon its second straight loss and third in its last four games. The Ducks now sit at 5-3 overall.

Oregon lost an immense amount of key pieces from its deep NCAA Tournament run last season, during which the Ducks lost to North Carolina in the Final Four.

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The Ducks’ four leading scorers from the 2016-17 season (Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Chris Boucher, and Jordan Bell) are now all on NBA rosters. The four players accounted for 67.6 percent of Oregon’s scoring last season. Boucher and Bell were the Ducks’ leading rebounders, as well.

Dylan Ennis, who averaged 10.9 points per game last season, also graduated after last season. The most significant contributor from last season that returned to Eugene is Payton Pritchard, who averaged 7.4 points per game last season.

Prichard is now the leader of Oregon’s inexperienced squad. The sophomore guard is leading the team in both minutes played (32.6 per game) and scoring (16.4 per game). Prichard has gotten a lot of help from a player very familiar to CSU, New Mexico transfer Elijah Brown.

Brown averages 12.9 points per game for the Ducks and has scored at least 14 in each of his last three games. Brown is just one of three transfers that has seen success on Oregon so far this season. The other two are Georgetown transfer Paul White and Illinois State transfer Mikyle McIntosh. White and McIntosh have consistently contributed in their first years of eligibility with the Ducks. White is averaging 11.7 points per game followed by McIntosh at 8.4.

This road trip will give the Rams their best chance all season to pick up a few high-quality wins and gain some respect from the rest of the country.

The Arkansas game will tip off at 6 p.m. MT on Tuesday and can be seen on SEC Network. The Rams and Ducks will begin at 8 p.m. MT on Friday night and will be televised on Pac-12 Network.

Collegian sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.