Colorado State only has one road victory on the season and look to add to that with a trip to Reno to take on the University of Nevada. Nevada has been a surprise team so far in the Mountain West, jumping out to first place during the first couple weeks of conference play before dropping two of the last three games. Both teams have had surprising seasons so far, but for different reasons.
Colorado State has been somewhat disappointing so far in conference play. After a record breaking 2013 campaign, expectations were high for the new look Rams. Unfortunately, cold-shooting and defensive struggles have prevented the Rams from taking the step into the upper echelon of the conference. Their effective field goal percentage of 48.3 ranks 247th in the country and ninth in the Mountain West. Defense, a trademark of Eustachy teams has also been a problem, as Colorado State ranks 135th in the country.
Nevada on the other hand has been outperforming expectations. Initially picked to finish ninth in the conference, they currently sit at third with a two game home stretch this week. It all begins and ends with Deonte Burton who ranks 12th in the country in scoring at 21.7 points per game. Burton is an extremely athletic player who can score at will through a myriad of ways. His leadership will go a long way in Nevada's success the rest of conference play.
The matchup between Deonte Burton/Colorado State's guards and JJ Avila/Nevada's front court makes for an interesting game between two programs needing a win to get back on track. After their hot start to conference play, Nevada has struggled the past three games on both ends of the court. Colorado State has beaten lower tier teams, but have yet to pull out a victory against a tough opponent, especially on the road. Let's look at what the two teams need to do to get the victory.
Nevada's Keys to Victory
Protect the paint
The Rams may not shoot well, but they are capable of getting to the basket and drawing fouls. They rank 14th in the country in free throw attempts and convert 72% of the time. Between the guards slashing ability and the inside game of JJ Avila, the Rams create formidable problems for opponents. If Nevada can prevent the Rams from getting points in the paint, they will put more pressure on a poor shooting team to make shots.
Hassle JJ Avila
JJ Avila has been an important addition to the Rams team. Without his production, the Rams may be not even be above .500. His multitude of inside moves make him nearly impossible to stop. When he is bothered, it bodes poorly for the Rams. If the Wolfpack can stop JJ Avila, they can largely stop the Rams.
Colorado State's Keys to Victory
Limit Deonte Burton
It is very rare for a team to eliminate Deonte Burton from a game, but it is possible to mitigate his ability. Only once this season has he been held to less than 14 points, a loss against Boise State. If the Rams can limit Burton's production, it will put more pressure on the role players to perform. So far this season, the Rams have had difficulty defending high-caliber guards. Expect a healthy rotation of Jon Octeus and Daniel Bejarano on Burton to help pester him throughout the game.
It is no secret the Rams are a poor shooting team. It is the reason they have dropped every close game so far in conference play. Playing good team defense can only last so long when you shoot 35% as a team. It leaves the Rams one dimensional and vulnerable to teams that can play tough interior defense. They need to shoot better tonight to allow JJ Avila space in the paint.
Prediction: Nevada 69 Colorado State 64
Colorado State has yet to show they can defend a top tier guard and struggle on the road. If Colorado State does not get off to a hot start, the points can pile up quickly against them; and they are not the type of team to shoot their way out of a hole.