CSU men’s basketball looks to weather the storm against Nevada

Austin White

Like the snow that fell overnight Thursday, struggles and outside news keep stacking up for the Colorado State men’s basketball team.

The storm begins with the Rams currently riding a five-game losing streak and being winless at home in conference play. Throw in some freezing rain in the form of the Rams’ top two scorers in Prentiss Nixon and J.D. Paige both being hurt and cover that layer of ice with the thick snow of head coach Larry Eustachy being evaluated for a second time by CSU officials.

Ad

Sounds like the perfect storm.

Ball goes over defender towards basket
Sophomore guard Raquan Mitchell takes a shot over the defenders during the second half of action against the UNLV Rebels on Jan. 20 at Moby Arena. The Rams fell to the Rebels 79-74. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)

Amid all the cold conditions, the Rams have to welcome in the defending Mountain West champion and current conference-leading Nevada Wolfpack. CSU (10-14, 3-8 Mountain West) currently sits six games behind the Wolfpack in ninth place with only seven games remaining on the schedule.

In the absence of the Rams’ junior guard duo, Nixon and Paige, CSU has turned their focus to their dominating big men in Nico Carvacho and Deion James. The plan is simple: feed the ball down low or drive to the basket and get fouled or make a layup.

Execution of this plan worked well for 30 minutes in the Rams’ last matchup against the Wyoming Cowboys Wednesday night. Poor play in the last five minutes of both halves led to blown leads and ultimately a 91-86 loss in double overtime to the rivals from up north.

The losses cannot be attributed to the play of Carvacho and James though, as the two have led the Rams in points in the past two games with the starting guards on the bench. Carvacho also had a double-double in both games and led the Rams in boards in both.

Turnovers plagued the Rams on the road against the New Mexico Lobos as they committed 23 of them to hand the Lobos over 20 fast-break points. As for Wyoming, the fatigue factor comes to mind when late leads like the ones possessed by the Rams were blown. Redshirt sophomore guards Raquan Mitchell and Anthony Bonner have been thrust into the starting lineup for the first time in their careers at CSU.

Nevada (19-4, 8-1 MW) will certainly not make things any easier for the gasping Rams. Coming to Fort Collins is potential conference Player of the Year Caleb Martin who averages 19.6 points per game at the forward position. As a team, the Wolfpack are second in conference in scoring with 83.4 points per game and they are deadly from deep, shooting 41.1 percent from the beyond the arc.

The defense of CSU has been plagued by great shooting all year, most notably seen by the come back from the Air Force Falcons earlier this year at Moby Arena. The cadets hits several 3-pointers late, along with some offensive rebounds to eventually get their first win over the Rams since 2011.

A hot-shooting team like Nevada will certainly test a CSU group who has struggled to force opponents into misses. And even when the Wolfpack miss shots, they have the ability to grind out games as they have attempted the third most free throws in the Mountain West.

The leader down low is Jordan Caroline who averages 8.9 boards per game, good enough for fourth in the Mountain West right behind Carvacho in third with 9.7. Caroline, who Nevada lists as a guard despite being 6 feet 7 inches, averages 17.2 points per game, mostly from layups or making 72.7 percent of his free throws.

Ad

Caleb Martin’s brother, Cody Martin, cannot be forgotten either with his 6.3 rebounds and 13.9 points per game. Either way, the defense of the Rams will need to improve from the 72.1 points they give up per game if they want to stop the triple-threat offense of Nevada.

And the Rams have to not only deal with the Martin Brothers, but are also under close scrutiny from the university. Athletic director Joe Parker announced Wednesday that he is investigating Eustachy’s conduct with the team following a report first announced by former Collegian sports director Justin Michael.

The process involves interviewing the players and several people associated with the program and is the second investigation Eustachy has been under during his tenure at CSU.

With the best team in conference coming to town, the storm that the men’s basketball season has become looks to be only growing stronger as the game tips off from Moby Arena at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3.

Collegian sports reporter Austin White can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ajwrules44