WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Matt Stephens, who covers Colorado State men’s basketball for the Fort Collins Coloradan, about Saturday’s game with the University of Wyoming at 2 p.m. at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.
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Are the Rams where you thought they would be in the conference standings based on what it lost from last season’s NCAA Tournament team and had coming back?
To be completely honest with you, I didn’t have CSU making the NCAA tournament this year, but the Rams were fourth on my preseason ballot behind New Mexico, Boise State and San Diego State. Sitting in eighth with a game to go is a bit of a surprise, but not so much because of what CSU failed to do this season.
Nevada and Fresno State have found a way to struggled through nonconference, but pick up some quality wins in Mountain West play, which has dropped the Rams, Wyoming and Utah State down a couple of pegs in the standings. It’s wild to think that Nevada, which will finish with an overall record below .500, could earn the No. 3 seed in the Mountain West tournament next week if it and Air Force wins Saturday.
Junior guard Daniel Bejarano won the league’s sixth man award last season, and has seemingly made a smooth transition into being a starter and leader. Is that accurate or has there been some bumps along the road?
I’d say it’s accurate. He’s really turned up his game since Mountain West play started and you can count on him to score close to 20 points per night and lead the Rams in rebounding. His blowup with coach Larry Eustachy at San Diego State was an obvious hiccup and his offense struggled at Air Force, but other than those instances, he’s earned my vote for first-team all-conference.
After a tie game at halftime a few weeks ago with Wyoming, Colorado State blew the game open with some red-hot shooting. Have the Rams done that a lot this season, or did that surprise you?
Definitely surprised me. CSU is an offensively challenged team. That’s not a slap in the face to the team I cover; coaches will be happy to admit it, too. Bejarano ranks in the top 10 when it comes to 3-point field goals attempted in a season, but definitely doesn’t rank as high in makes or percentage. This team loves to shoot, but makes are far less common.
When CSU can get going in transition, that’s when its offense thrives the most. You also have to look at offensive rebound numbers in the previous meeting between CSU and Wyoming — the Pokes had two. I don’t care how poor of a shooting team you’re playing against, if you only grab two offensive rebounds, that either means you’re shooting about 90 percent from the field or you’re outmatched inside. Without Larry Nance Jr. Wyoming had no rebounding presence.
What do you think the Rams can do in the MW Tournament next week?
All of the possible first-round match ups are relatively favorable for CSU. If CSU beats Wyoming, the Rams earn, at least, the No. 7 seed and will play Air Force. A CSU win and Fresno State loss sets up the Rams against San Jose State. Finally, if Wyoming wins Saturday, CSU plays Utah State.
The Aggies swept the season series with CSU, but the game at Moby Arena was definitely an extremely off shooting night for the Rams. One way or another, I think CSU wins a minimum of one game in the tournament.
In a perfect world (which is still possible), CSU earns the No. 6 seed in the tournament, and Nevada takes the No. 3, placing the Rams on a favorable course for the semifinals and I get to stick around Las Vegas for a few extra days.
What do you think the Rams will try and do Saturday at Wyoming, and how do you see the game unfolding?
I think it will be very similar to the game a couple of weeks ago in Fort Collins. CSU has to take advantage inside and turn up the defensive pressure. Wyoming has too many options around the perimeter who can heat up at any moment and the Rams have to compensate by not allowing second-chance points. Just look at CSU’s game against San Jose State on Wednesday: The Spartans made 12 3-pointers, but 24 total field goals. By dominating inside, it didn’t matter how hot SJSU shot from long range.
It’s never easy to win at the A-A, but from what I’ve seen of both teams since Nance went down, I think CSU gets the edge here and wins by single digits.