CSU prepares for draft prospect Brandon McCoy, UNLV

Colin Barnard

Following its first loss to Air Force in six years, the Colorado State men’s basketball team will host UNLV Saturday at 3 p.m. in the Rams’ annual Orange Out game.

CSU (10-10, 3-4 Mountain West) has struggled at home in conference play this season where they have yet to gain a victory in three chances. UNLV (13-5, 2-3 MW) continued its conference struggles with a loss against New Mexico the last time out.

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James hook shot
Colorado State junior forward Deion James attempts to score against San Diego State defender Max Montana during the Rams 77-68 loss Tuesday night. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

Following a terrific start to the season in which they won 11 of their first 13 games, the Runnin’ Rebels have been inconsistent to begin conference play, losing three of five.

The Rebels showed their talent in the non-conference portion of the schedule as their only two losses came in overtime, one of which against current No. 14 Arizona. UNLV held a 13-point lead against the Wildcats in the second half before falling by three points in the overtime period. Their only other non-conference loss came at the hands of Northern Iowa in the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge.

After a five-game win streak to end non-conference play, the Rebels lost their first game in the MW to Boise State, who currently sits second in the conference standings. UNLV also lost to Utah State, a team CSU defeated on Jan. 10.

Led by forwards Brandon McCoy and Shakur Juiston, the Rebels lead the MW in scoring at 87.8 points per game, nearly six points higher than second-place Nevada, and rank eigth in the entire nation in the category. UNLV also leads the conference in field goal percentage (51.3 percent) and rebounding (40.9 per game).

A 7-foot, 250-pound behemoth from Chicago, Ill., McCoy has proven to be a top talent in the MW. He ranks fifth in the conference in scoring and second in rebounding with 18.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per contest. He also sits in the top 5 in field goal percentage and blocked shots.

Ranked as the No. 16 player in the 2017 recruiting class, McCoy turned down offers from Arizona, Michigan State and Oregon to join the Runnin’ Rebels.

Frontcourt mate Shakur Juiston has also been a force to be reckoned with in his first year with UNLV. After spending two years with Hutchinson Community College, Juiston is tops in the conference in rebounding, hauling in 10.1 per game. Along with guards Javon Mooring and Jordan Johnson, Juiston scores north of 14 points per game.

The Rams will almost certainly be without leading scorer Prentiss Nixon. The guard, who ranks just behind McCoy in scoring, injured his left ankle in the closing seconds of Wednesday’s loss to Air Force. Nixon attempted to draw a foul on a 3-point shot, causing him to land awkwardly on his left foot.

Already nursing a right knee injury he sustained against San Diego State, Nixon could miss extended time with the new ailment.

In Nixon’s absence, many Rams will be forced to step up, led by guard J.D. Paige. The redshirt junior averages 10.2 points per contest and will likely be the main ball handler should Nixon miss any time.

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Center Nico Carvacho will be handed the daunting task of slowing down McCoy. Carvacho, standing an inch shorter and weighing ten pounds less than his counterpart, ranks fourth in the conference in rebounding. He enters the game having recorded a double-double in three of the Rams’ last four games.

Carvacho has shown an increased tenacity on the glass in those games after failing to reach double digit rebounds in the previous 14 games. His ability to limit McCoy’s effectiveness on the boards will be monumental in CSU’s chances of knocking of UNLV.

Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. and can be watched on CBS Sports Network or heard on CSU Radio Network.

Collegian sports editor Colin Barnard can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_.