Preview & Prediction: By Fairway Jay
Colorado State and Nevada tip-off tonight at Moby Arena in Fort Collins. Nevada (2-3) comes off a closely contested and last-second heartbreaking loss at Portland Saturday after missing a lay-up to tie the game at the buzzer. The Wolf Pack’s early season shooting struggles are a concern as four Nevada starters are shooting under 42% from the field and the perimeter players are really struggling from the arch with all shooting below 29%. The Wolf Pack are being paced by a local star, freshman forward Luke Babbitt, who leads Nevada in scoring and rebounding with over 15 ppg and 8 rpg. Nevada is starting two freshmen and two sophomores and coach Mark Fox says the team is still trying to build a defense it can count on, which figures to be an early season issue as the young core develops some chemistry and tries to overcome a lack of overall size and rebounding. The starting perimeter players are solid for Nevada with last years WAC Freshman of the Year Armon Johnson joining Brandon Fields in the backcourt. However, both are adjusting and learning to play without last year’s stars Marcelus Kemp and JaVale McGee. Fields is also trying to work his way back into form and has yet to start a game after being suspended in October and missing over a month of practice and the first two games.
Colorado State (3-3) is a team on the rise and one to watch this season in the Mountain West Conference (MWC). I saw the Colorado State contest against Minnesota when the Rams suffered a last-second 72-71 loss, but came away very impressed with CSU. The Rams played that contest without their senior point guard Willis Gardner, who returned for limited action last Saturday at San Francisco. Senior star shooting guard Marcus Walker is back to full action after being hit by a car while crossing the street on campus the night before the Minnesota game. He was limited and not himself against the Gophers. Walker was the MWC Newcomer of the Year last season while finishing second in scoring. But the improvement for Colorado State this season will come in the front court, where a sophomore star is blossoming. Andy Ogide sat out last season after transferring from Mississippi, and he’s providing an instant impact for the Rams while averaging over 16ppg, 10rpg and over 63% FG shooting. Nevada has yielded career highs to power forwards in three consecutive contests, and Ogide should have another big game against the Wolf Pack. Versatile sophomore forward Andre McFarland has improved greatly while averaging 14ppg and hitting 58% from the 3-point line while center Dan Vandervieren, 6-10 big body transfer from Purdue, gives them additional size that should be tough for Nevada to handle.
The Rams are one of the most improved teams in the country, but still not playing at full health this season under solid second year coach Tim Miles. The Rams have suffered a pair of last second losses over the past ten days to Minnesota and San Francisco. However, looking at last nights narrow loss by San Francisco at USC and Minnesota’s solid early season play in remaining undefeated also tells us that Colorado State’s performances against those two improved teams was quite good considering CSU was not at full strength. Colorado State has more size and athleticism and the Rams are significantly better than they were last season when they went 7-25 and winless in the MWC. Colorado State had to count on a number of freshmen and walk-ons while also developing Walker and Gardner in the new system. The Rams have additional depth at guard this season and the team has actually played quite well in the early going despite some injury problems. Another transfer is 6-5 starting wing Narvey Perry, who missed the last game against San Francisco with an Achilles’ strain. Point guard Gardner has only played one full game in the opener while missing three others with an ankle injury. He returned for 13 minutes against San Francisco and was ineffective with his ankle still bothering him a bit, but his presence allows Walker to play off the ball, which is what he does best. Colorado State destroyed Montana in their opener with everyone healthy, and we’ll watch with interest as the Rams perimeter players work their way back to full heath. Both Gardner and Perry are questionable tonight, but Walker and Ogide will be top performers again. Check out this contest on the Mountain Network and we’ll call for the Rams to outpace the Wolf Pack and reverse the result for last years 74-66 loss in Reno.
Winner: Colorado State Margin 4-8 points
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About Fairway Jay
Previews & Predictions
Jay Ginsbach, also known as "Fairway Jay’"joins the CHN team and staff this season from Sportsmemo.com. He’ll provide his insight and expertise covering the college basketball scene with periodic thoughts from a Las Vegas perspective.