In light of this Saturday’s basketball game between the Colorado Buffaloes and Colorado State Rams in Fort Collins, the CU Independent’s Justin Guerriero chatted with the Rocky Mountain Collegian’s Colin Barnard to get some insider information regarding the Rams.
Justin Guerriero: Buffs fans will certainly remember last year’s spanking at the hands of the Rams at home in Boulder. Is this CSU squad capable of delivering another such victory?
Colin Barnard: Last year was a special year for CSU, and that started with their victory in Boulder. Coming into the game as 14-point underdogs, the victory set the tone for the rest of the season as CSU continued to defy odds on its way to the Mountain West championship game.
But this is an entirely different team. Last year’s leading scorers in Gian Clavell and Emmanuel Omogbo are gone and the Rams returned only five players who played on last year’s squad.
From a talent perspective, the Rams are capable of back-to-back victories. This team boasts capable scorers across the floor and always buy into Larry Eustachy’s defensive approach. Their lack of consistency, though, is something I am wary of.
Too many times this season, the Rams have gone cold from the field, allowing their opponents to string together runs that are difficult to come back from. That said, there are also times where the Rams do just opposite. Similar to many of the Rams’ games this season, I think this will be a game of runs which either team can win.
JG: If you had to pick a single strength and single weakness of this Rams team, what would they be?
CB: The Rams’ biggest weakness so far in 2017 has been jump shooting. Though plenty capable of knocking down the shots they take, guards Prentiss Nixon and J.D. Paige have struggled from the field, each shooting just over 36 percent.
There are some instances where the Rams settle for difficult shots instead of attacking the paint, part of what leads to some of the cold stretches throughout the game.
On the other side, the Rams have the ability to stifle opposing offenses. Three different Rams have already forced double-digit turnovers on the year, with froward Che Bob leading the way with 13 blocks and nine steals.
Nixon is renowned for for his willingness to take charges and Paige is a tremendous on-ball defender. Look for the Rams to remain competitive in this one because of their defensive tenacity.
JG: Colorado has struggled to rebound this season. How are the Rams around the boards on both offense and defense? Will they win the rebounding battle on Saturday?
CB: CSU is coming off a loss to the eighth-ranked rebounding team in the country in Missouri State. Despite the loss, the Rams did out-rebound the Bears and prove their ability to battle down low.
Bob and forward Nico Carvacho are the team’s leading rebounders, averaging 9.7 and 9.0 boards per game, respectively. Carvacho dominated the boards in the first two games, recording 16 in each of the contests.
Bob has picked up the slack lately by earning a double-double in each of the last four games. Should they avoid foul trouble, certainly a big if, I expect the Rams to win the rebounding battle.
JG: Who will be Colorado’s main point of stress on Saturday? In other words, tell me about the Rams’ offensive weapons?
CB: As I mentioned earlier, the Rams have plenty of players capable of taking over the game offensively. Nixon and Bob are the two most likely candidates, averaging 15.8 and 12.9 points per game through the first seven contests. Paige has also led the team in scoring this season and Deion James, last year’s Division II JUCO Player of the Year, looks more comfortable as the season has progressed.
One area I think the Rams should stress more is utilizing Carvacho on the block. He has been limited by foul trouble on some occasions, but I think he can be a difference maker in the post.
As far as bench players go, Lorenzo Jenkins looks like the best shooter on this squad in the early going. He has converted an absurd 66 percent (8-of-12) of his 3-point attempts and can provide instant offense off the bench.
Ultimately, I see the Rams’ offense running through Nixon and his efficiency. If his decision-making and jump-shooting is improved, the offense can be dangerous.
JG: What are the Rams capable of doing this season? What’s your diagnosis for why the team is 3-4 at the moment?
CB: Quite frankly, I do not see the Rams as a top-tier team in the Mountain West. However, that can certainly change given the tremendous amount of youth and inexperience on the team.
It’s early, but the Rams have looked lost at times on offense without Gian Clavell. They need a dominant scorer, something Nixon can develop into, in order to break the scoreless stretches that have plagued them.
From a competition standpoint, the Rams schedule to this point is more difficult than it appears on paper. Florida State, Winthrop and New Mexico State were all NCAA Tournament teams last year and have three consecutive Power Five opponents on the roster.
For that, I commend Eustachy and Co. I do see a scenario where this early-season competition allows the Rams to work through their growing pains and compete for a MW title, but I’m not banking on it.
JG: Final question. What’s your score prediction for Saturday?
CB: The road team has won this series four consecutive years and I see that continuing Saturday. While the Rams have struggled at times so far, I see the emotions of this rivalry keeping things competitive for most of the game before CU pulls away late.
Final score: Colorado 79, Colorado State 67
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo
Contact Rocky Mountain Collegian Sports Editor Colin Barnard at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ColinBarnard_