UCLA's loss Saturday at Notre Dame all but eliminated any chance the Bruins have at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Certainly the Bruins still have the Pac-10 Conference schedule to come, but the season now has certainly taken on a "one-game-at-a-time" element. With there being some question as to the effort the Bruins will give from game to game, that approach is probably the safe one in terms of the sanity of Bruin fans, not to mention Coach Ben Howland.
CSU comes into Tuesday's contest with a record of 8-3. Their record is a bit deceptive as the Rams have played a very light schedule. Arguably their toughest game to date has been a respectable road loss to Oregon. The Rams are, in many ways, a mirror image of the Bruins. CSU had high expectations coming into the season but those have been curtailed by injury and unexpected losses (Indiana State and Northern Colorado). The Rams have freshmen in key roles and upperclassmen who are nothing more than role players. The difference between the Rams and Bruins really comes down to the kind of talent and athletes on the respective rosters. If both teams play to their potential then UCLA should win going away. However, that kind of play, especially for the Bruins, is a big "if."
The Rams are led by true freshman point guard Dorian Green (6'2" 170 lbs.). Green leads the team in scoring at 14.9 PPG and assists at 2.8 APG. Green is fairly athletic but plays out of control more often than not. He doesn't have many assists this year (28) and has more turnovers (33) than any of his teammates. He is shooting only 36% from the field and 37% from behind the arc. He will take the bulk of the shots for the Rams and will get to the line (61 attempts), where he is hitting on 82% of his free throw attempts. The key to slowing down the Rams and Green is to force him to shoot from the perimeter.
The Rams will typically play a three-guard line-up (another similarity to the Bruins), and the other two spots in the starting line-up are generally up for grabs. Seniors Arin Dunn (6'1" 185 lbs.), Harvey Perry (5'5" 205 lbs.) and junior Adam Nigon (6'3" 175 lbs.) have all started, but none have stood out for Coach Tim Miles. Nigon has started the previous ten games so he's a good bet as a starter. He averages 8.9 PPG but almost all of his scoring comes from beyond the arc where he's attempted 43 of his 67 total shots for the year. Like Green he has more turnovers than assists. Perry has started the four games he's played in and would probably start here but he's been suspended by Miles. Dunn will play but he's only averaged 12.7 MPG this season. That's more than likely because he's been a poor shooter from the field at 32%.
The Ram frontcourt looks better than the backcourt because of the emergence of juniors Andy Ogide (6'9" 245 lbs.) and Travis Franklin (6'7" 215 lbs.). Ogide averages 12.4 PPG and 6.1 RPG, while Franklin averages 11.1 PPG and 6.2 RPG. Neither is an outside threat as they've attempted a combined two three-point shots. They both get to the free-throw line, though, with Ogide shooting 74% from the free throw line and Franklin coming in at 60%. They also both shoot better than 53% from the field. Their Achilles' Heel, and it is a considerable one, is that they are both woeful passers. They have more than 40 combined turnovers on the year, and that's against some very mediocre competition. Franklin is playing better as the year has progressed, scoring a career-high 22 and pulling down 10 boards in the victory over Colorado.
Miles will realistically play as many as 10 players, but the two others that get significant minutes are junior forward Andre McFarland (6'6" 225 lbs.) and freshman Pierce Hornung (6'5" 200 lbs). McFarland is, along with Nigon, the Rams' primary outside threat. 41 of his 59 overall field goal attempts have come from behind the three-point line. He does average 9.9 PPG, but with his girth, one would expect McFarland to do more than sit outside and shoot. He's a poor rebounder for his size and is soft on defense. Hornung, who is almost strictly an inside player despite his thin frame, doesn't score much, but does average 5.6 RPG in less than 20 MPG.
The Rams will mix their defenses, and while they play more man, they should be in a zone more often than not against the Bruins, and not only because the Bruins don't shoot well from the outside. Reeves Nelson could go off for a double-double against the Ram frontline if they played mostly man. The CSU bigs just aren't great post defenders, and don't match up well against the young Bruin. Ogide has the size but not the quickness. But when they play a zone the Rams have holes in it, particularly in the short corner. If Nikola Dragovic is going to come out of his shooting slump then this is the game to do it. As it's been pointed out, one of the major sub-plots of the season is to see how much longer Ben Howland's leash is on Dragovic. If Dragovic doesn't come out of the slump in this game, will that finally mean more time for Brendan Lane and Tyler Honeycutt?
As I stated previously, the Rams are a poor man's version of the Bruins, with the Bruins having more talent and depth. So the Bruins should be able to wear down the Rams.
There were some high points in the loss to Notre Dame, the biggest of which was the Bruins showing fight throughout the contest, especially when it would have been easier to pack it in after several deflating sequences. That perhaps bodes a bit better for the rest of the season, as the Bruins might now be expected to put forth effort in every game…provided they do so against CSU.
The team looks more tightly knit in the last two weeks, despite the losses, and that should help against CSU. The Bruins will come home from Notre Dame angry with the loss and wanting to take it out on someone…that's the hope anyway.
Colorado State 62