Scouting Report: Colorado State

Scouting Report: Colorado State

A familiar almost-but-not-quite theme has re-entered an Air Force men's basketball season. The Falcons certainly know how to play the top teams in the Mountain West Conference on even terms, whether at home or away. The next step is to close the sale. "Business time" arrives Wednesday night in Fort Collins, Colo.


Air Force gave UNLV everything it could handle in Las Vegas this past Saturday. The Falcons exploited the Rebels' lack of patience at the offensive end of the floor, holding the home team to just 62 points in regulation time. Victory was entirely attainable for coach Dave Pilipovich's pupils, but once again, in a recurring pattern from previous seasons, Air Force simply couldn't cross the threshold. The Falcons have to shrug off that heartbreaker and climb the mountain in the Mountain West. An in-state showdown with Colorado State gives the Falcons a chance to rebound.

What will make this game fascinating is that the Rams also lost in overtime on Saturday, just hours before Air Force fell in extra time to UNLV. Colorado State gave San Diego State a great run, but CSU was felled by some ridiculous shooting (translated as "bad shots going in the hoop") from Aztec guard Chase Tapley. It's very likely that Colorado State will be motivated for this game, fueled by a sense of urgency which transcends the natural fires of an in-state rivalry. The Rams need this game for their NCAA tournament prospects; Air Force can play the spoiler role, much as it tried to do a few days ago in Las Vegas, only with more success.

COLORADO STATE AT-A-GLANCE

This program has never been particularly noted for its basketball prowess. The Rams made back-to-back NCAA tournaments twice in their history, first in 1965 and 1966 under two separate coaches (one of them being future Houston Cougar legend Guy Lewis), and then in 1989 and 1990 under Boyd Grant. Colorado State has made four NCAA appearances since 1969. Grant led the school to two of them. The other two appearances came in 2003 under Dale Layer and last year, under Tim Miles. The community in Fort Collins, Co., rallied around Miles, whose penchant for halftime tweets and sunshine-drenched motivational methods infused a positive attitude into the 2012 Rams. Miles, though, wasn't willing to stay in town. He was lured to a power conference, taking the Nebraska job this past offseason after Doc Sadler was fired. Miles's departure opened the door for a new chapter – and a familiar face in the college coaching ranks – to emerge at CSU.

You might know the larger story of Larry Eustachy. He led Iowa State to the 2000 Elite Eight as a No. 2 seed. In 2001, ISU once again nabbed a second seed, but the Cyclones were stunned in Boise by 15th-seeded Hampton in the first round. Eustachy did not recover from that loss. He lapsed into heavy drinking, and in January of 2003, he went to a party on the University of Missouri campus after Iowa State lost to UM. In a drunken state, he kissed young co-eds at the party. The pictures surfaced a few months later, and when they did, Eustachy resigned under pressure. He resurfaced at Southern Mississippi, an off-the-radar school with little basketball stature or prestige. Eustachy toiled for eight long years at USM, but he finally got the Golden Eagles into the NCAA tournament in 2012. Feeling that he had paid his dues and knowing that he had achieved something of note, Eustachy sprung for the Colorado State job when Miles left. So far this season, CSU – with the starting core returning from last season – has maintained what it established 12 months ago under Miles. This team is a better-than-even-money bet to return to the NCAAs, albeit by a slight margin. The Rams should get into the Big Dance as long as they win their home games against the elite teams in the Mountain West and avoid multiple losses to Fresno State and Nevada, at the bottom of the league.

COLORADO STATE STAT PACK – STATISTICAL HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS

Rebounds per game: 40.1. National rank: 3.

Rebounding percentage: 63.8. National rank: 1.

Three-point field goal shooting percentage: 34. National rank: 162.

Points allowed per possession: 0.94. National rank: 112.

Turnovers per game: 10.8. National rank: 15.

Blocked shots per game: 2.8. National rank: 249.

Starting Lineup

Forward – Colton Iverson –
Senior, 6-10, 261 2012-13: 14.9 points per game, 9.1 rebounds per game

Iverson never really found a comfortable place on the floor as a member of the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Iverson was not agile enough, especially in terms of footwork, to handle dynamic big men in the Big Ten Conference. Iverson is very brawny and powerful, but he lacks polished low-post moves or a consistent mid-range face-up jumper that could serve as a weapon. The lack of a complete toolbox of skills left him overmatched in the Big Ten, but after transferring to Colorado State, it's clear that in half a season, the senior has found a better fit. It's not that the Mountain West is a bad league – this is shaping up to be one of the best Mountain West basketball seasons in the conference's brief existence – but that the Big Ten is so deep and challenging. That's why Iverson is in a better spot this season.

What also has to be said with respect to Iverson's success with CSU is that the Mountain West has not been a home for imposing, elite centers. UNLV, New Mexico, and San Diego State have all buttered their bread with dynamic wing players and high-energy tweener forwards with lethal quickness who could play in the post and as face-up players. Think of Kawhi Leonard of San Diego State. Think of Darington Hobson at New Mexico. Think of UNLV's current mix of twos, threes, and fours. Paul Bunyan-like big men have generally not fit into this league. Iverson still can't get free for his own shot if he's more than six or seven feet from the tin, but if he establishes position deep in the post, he's going to get a good look at the basket, given that he's going to be guarded by a less powerful and muscular defender. Iverson doesn't have to be as quick on his feet because the caliber of big man in the Mountain West just can't match a Big Ten pivot. This is why Iverson is the leading scorer on the Rams, a team that relied on its backcourt for big shots last year.

Forward – Pierce Hornung – Senior, 6-6, 202; 2012-13: 9.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.1 assists per game

Why is Colorado State such an excellent rebounding team? Iverson's power is combined with Hornung's tenacity and fearlessness on the backboard. Hornung did not have help from Iverson last season, but he was still a terror on the glass, snapping down 8.7 rebounds per contest. This might be more of a football term – one reserved for pass rushers who just don't quit – but Hornung really does have a "nonstop motor." He is always in motion, always angling for the ball, always trying to sniff out the direction of a rebound and how he can get to the ball first. If Hollywood could make a silly movie called "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," it could make a much more realistic and informative documentary called "Pierce Hornung: Basketball Hunter." Hornung hunts basketballs, and he does this so well that he might have a future as an NBA reserve precisely because he is an elite rebounder. That skill goes a long way in this sport.

Forward – Greg Smith – Senior, 6-6, 221; 2012-13: 11.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg

Smith is overshadowed by his frontcourt teammates, the hulking, lumberjack-like figure of Iverson and the hound named Hornung. He also garners less publicity than the Rams' two guards, Dorian Green and Wes Eikmeier, who are asked to take big shots late in games. Yet, for all the ways in which Smith is a comparatively obscure player on the Colorado State roster, he averages almost 12 and 6 (points and rebounds) per game. That's why the Rams are a quality team in a nutshell. Do note that the Iverson-Hornung-Smith triumvirate averages a total of exactly 25 rebounds per game (Hornung's 10.4 plus Iverson's 9.1 plus Smith's 5.5).

Guard – Wes Eikmeier – Senior, 6-3, 168; 2012-13: 11.5 ppg, 2.2 apg

Eikmeier is not terrifically quick and has trouble creating his own shot, but when he makes a catch coming off a screen and has space, he is a decent square-up shooter. He's not as consistent as he could be, but any CSU opponent has to be mindful of the need to take away Eikmeier's shooting hand. He is a shooting guard, but Eikmeier is not a high-volume three-point shooter, having taken fewer than 70 triples so far this season.

Guard – Dorian Green – Senior, 6-2, 192; 2012-13: 12 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.6 apg

Green hits only 34.4 percent of his threes (Eikmeier is at 37.7), but he nailed so many big shots for the Rams last season. He would often stick threes from the top of the key after bringing the ball up. If this game is close in the final minutes, Air Force has to crowd Green, taking away the three-point shot and forcing him to put the ball on the deck. Hornung and Iverson are not agile scorers – they're worker bees, but not classic scorers. Making Green give up the ball is a sound move.

Bench

Eustachy has five seniors in his starting five. He therefore sees little need to go deep into his bench. He uses just two reserves in what is a seven-player rotation: guards Daniel Bejarano and Jonathan Octeus. Bejarano averages seven points and 6.3 rebounds per game, affirming Colorado State's ability to get rebounds from every position on the floor. Both Bejarano and Octeus are 6-4 guards, giving the Rams a big lineup when they substitute.

Keys to the Game

1) Footwork, positioning, instincts – anything to keep Iverson and Hornung off the offensive glass.
Colorado State beats you by rebounding the ball. Air Force has to protect its own backboard, period. The concept is simple; doing the deed will be hard. If the Rams don't get second-chance points, Air Force has a great chance.

2) Learn from the UNLV experience and attack defenses more. Air Force didn't score a point in the final 2:32 of regulation time against Vegas, shooting three-pointers twice in the final 80 seconds of a tied game (62-all). The Falcons need to use better judgment, handling time-and-score situations with more intelligence and confidence. If Air Force can rebound well and stay in this game until the end, the Falcons must be able to execute with the precision that was lacking this past Saturday in the state of Nevada.

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