Zahlmann: The Rams can upset powerhouse Nevada behind 3 keys

Luke Zahlmann

On Wednesday night, Colorado State is set to host No. 6 Nevada for the first and only time this year, setting up one of the biggest games in Moby Arena in recent memory.

In the two team’s first matchup in Reno, the Rams and Wolfpack played two halves with widely differing results. In the first half, the Rams kept the margin within single digits, playing the Wolfpack close. Come the second half, the results reversed swiftly.

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The hosting Wolfpack went on to score 58 of their 100 points in the second half, the highest single-half tally against Niko Medved’s squad this year.

With their final chance to add a second loss to the resume of Nevada coming up, here are the keys to the upset.

1. Carvacho plays a game for the ages

In his third year on the floor, fourth overall, Nico Carvacho has made stellar efforts commonplace.

One of only two players to start all 22 games thus far, Carvacho has also averaged 30.5 minutes, the highest of his career. In his time, the big man has accumulated 15.4 points and a nation-leading 12.7 rebounds per game.

“(In the) third year, you get more comfortable,” Carvacho said. “More plays get run for you. You work hard (for) years, working weight room and everything and it just all comes together.”

When it has all come together, Carvacho has carried the Rams. 

Forward Nico Carvacho shoots the ball during the exhibition game on Saturday, Nov. 3. (Natalie Dyer | Collegian)

Against Sam Houston State, Carvacho rallied the team to a six-point win behind his 20-point, 19-rebound effort. The same was true when he compiled 27 points and nine boards in the team’s first win over Air Force.

For the team to overcome the powerhouse Wolfpack, he’ll have to add to those totals.

A catalyst exists for any upset game. Though the Rams’ defense has played dominant spurts, they’re unlikely to carry the team. Instead, an unforeseen explosion for Carvacho will have to suffice.

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The game will have to include single-game career highs.

Prior to the game, the highest single-game scoring effort in Carvacho’s time as a Ram is 28 points, a feat he accomplished in a loss against the University of Nevada-Las Vegas this year. His rebound high was also this year, a 22-board effort against Long Beach State.

Eclipsing those totals along the line of a 30-point, 25-rebound effort, though unfounded for the big man this year, is likely needed for a win.

With Nevada’s largest threats falling far short of Carvacho’s 6-foot-11-inch frame, the possibility exists.

Making sure a member of Nevada’s leaders don’t follow the same path is also pivotal. 

2. Limit the Wolfpack’s ‘Big Three’

Wolfpack leaders Jordan Caroline and twins Caleb and Cody Martin had not yet arrived during the last time a Rams’ team was able to beat Nevada.

All three were transfers after starting their careers elsewhere.

Now, as part of Eric Musselman’s golden class in Reno, the three have averaged 48.7 points per game. In comparison, the team has only allowed a total of 65.9 points per game, the top mark in the conference. That’s a 17.2-point margin for error, without accounting for the offensive explosions from one or more of the trio on any given night.

Leading the crowd is Caleb Martin, who averages 19 points per game and has tallied single game high efforts of 33, 30 and 29 points this season. Put into context, not a single Ram has scored more than 28 points in a game this year.

Caroline, the team’s second-leading star, has tallied games of 26 and a pair of 25-point efforts en route to averaging 18.4.

Stopping the two from having big games, much the way they did when they combined for 45 points in their previous win over the Rams will be paramount.

In Nevada’s lone loss, a road bout with New Mexico, the two combined for 25, with Cody Martin only pitching in nine to bring the trio’s total to 34.

The Lobos provided the blueprint. Executing it, along with a home-court advantage that rivals ‘The Pit,’ is one of the lone ways Medved’s squad can pull through.

3. Get the crowd into the game and keep them there

A renowned factor of several upsets in Rams’ history is ‘Moby Madness’ finding its form.

With last year’s coaching scandals and poor play, Moby Arena’s home-court advantage has shrunk, a third-worst in the conference 2,493 attendance average to show for it.

Ram Ruckus and the sellout CSU student section crowd were as loud as can be. Fans stormed the court after the thrilling win over SDSU in 2017. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

The last two times the Moby faithful rushed the court—after Wyoming and San Diego State upsets in 2017— attendance numbered more than 7,800. 

For the Rams to garner a win against the Wolfpack, the numbers will need to look similar, with the fans readying themselves for a vocal explosion at each momentum swing.

Many things need to go right for CSU. But yes, as Lloyd Christmas said, there is a chance.

Collegian Sports Director Luke Zahlmann can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.