The Colorado State Rams enter the Mountain West tournament as the third seed after finishing conference play with a record of 13-5. The third seed pits the Rams up against the sixth seeded Fresno State Bulldogs in the quarterfinals of tourney play. The Bulldogs and the Rams have seen each other twice this season, with the Rams winning both games. If the Rams win against the Bulldogs, they will face either San Diego State, the second seed, or the winner of the UNLV vs. Nevada game. Finally, should the Rams make it to the championship game, they should expect to see the regular season champion Boise State or the fourth seeded Wyoming Cowboys. So now that Colorado State knows who to expect to play, just how do they win the championship?
Play a full 40 minutes
The Rams can score points and play lock down defense, that we know. However, the team struggles doing so for a full 40 minutes on a day in, day out basis. There have been multiple games this season when the Rams have been ahead by more than 10 points and have failed to close out the game strong. The most notable game is the loss to Boise State on the road, where the Rams dropped a 12 point second half lead. That can't happen if they expect to win in Las Vegas. With no easy game in the tournament, Colorado State cannot afford to lose focus of the task at hand.
Let the star shine
J.J. Avila is Colorado State's best player, hands down. No disrespect towards Daniel Bejarano or Stanton Kidd, who earned second team all-conference and honorable mention all-conference, respectively, but the Rams can only go as far as Avila can carry them. Avila, who received first team all-conference honors, has shown his ability to take control of games when he needs to. If he can become more consistent on his free throws, Avila has the potential to score 25 points in each game of the tournament.
Keep on firing from three
The Rams like to shoot from long range, and are pretty successful when they find their stroke from long range. This is what Bejarano, Kidd, Joe De Ciman, sixth man of the year John Gillon and guard Gian Clavell add to the team. They all have the ability to get hot from long range. Sometimes you watch them shoot and ask why, but then the ball somehow finds its way into the cylinder. That needs to continue in the tournament if the Rams want to be successful.
Don't force the three
If the three point ball isn't working, that's when Colorado State needs to change up their game plan. Too many times do they continue shooting the ball when the shot isn't falling. If this is the case, the best option for the Rams is to feed Avila down low and try to get him a one on one matchup. If that doesn't work, spread the floor and try to allow Gillon to use his speed and drive to the lane, and try to get fouled in the process. Changing up the offense when the three point shot isn't falling will be key to surviving in the tournament.
The Mountain West tournament is up for grabs this year, and just about the whole conference has their eyes on cutting down the nets in Las Vegas. For the Rams, a conference tournament win would guarantee them a spot in the NCAA tournament. If they fail to win the conference tournament, they are a bubble team who hopes they have enough quality wins to earn a birth. A good showing in the conference tournament is a must, and if they can make a run for the championship, it will only help them earn a spot in the big dance.
Colorado State's first game of the tournament is at 9:30 p.m. MST on Thursday, March 12th. Every game from the quarterfinals on will be covered by CBS Sports Network, with the championship being aired on CBS.