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Preview: Colorado State vs. Denver

January 11, 2012

Here’s what to look for tonight in what looks to be the best match-up between Front Range teams this season.

For Denver
The Pioneers enter the game at 13-3 (3-1) and have scored very good wins over St. Mary’s, Southern Miss., Utah State, and Wyoming.

Joe Scott has the Pioneers playing very efficiently on offense. While they play at a slow pace relative to the rest of the college basketball world, they are playing faster than in previous years. They are much more willing to shoot early in the shot clock. And shoot they can. As a team, the Pioneers are 11th in the nation in 2pt FG%, 17th in 3pt%, and 2nd in FT%. They can be turned over and they are not a great offensive rebounding machine.

They are much stronger defensively than people give them credit for. While not tall at the center position, they are tall at the guards and wing positions which makes them an effective team at defending the 3-point line. They are also good at forcing turnovers, mostly because of their discipline and their length.

They have a solid group of seniors in Brian Stafford, Rob Lewis, Justin Coughlin and Travis Hallam. Stafford averages 14 points a game and he can hurt you from the perimeter or on post-ups.

The Pioneers have built a strong core of younger players, led by leading scorer Chris Udofia who is a very athletic and mobile big man. Udofia averages over 14 a game and while he can hurt you from the perimeter, he is much better t finishing around the rim. Other players to watch include Chase Hallam, a tough guy who can score a variety of ways. And Scott has a couple of really good freshman in Brett Olson and Royce O’Neale who both play about 25 minutes and score between 5-10 per game.

For CSU

The Rams enter the game having won 5 in a row since Pierce Hornung returned from injury. Their record stands at 10-4 and this is their final game prior to beginning Mountain West Conference play on Saturday.

CSU is also a very good offensive team. They are the 5th best 3-point shooting team in college basketball (44.5%) and the 11th best from the Free Throw line (76.4%). They are very effective at getting to the free throw line which is a huge positive when you shoot free throws so well.

Its defensively where CSU struggles. They foul. They foul. And then they foul some more. They are below average when it comes to forcing turnovers as well.

The Rams are led by the dynamic guard duo of Wes Eikmeier (16.9ppg) and Dorian Green (13.4ppg). Both are great shooters. Since the return of Pierce Hornung, Will Bell has started to come on, scoring 12 in each of his last 4 games. Hornung is filling up the stat sheet, averaging about 8 and 8. And Greg Smith is scoring at a 10.9 ppg clip and coming off one of his best games of the year.

What to look for

CSU has a lot of experience and success defending against Princeton style offenses. Watch how they switch screens on the perimeter to take away the three-ball and watch how they disrupt the flow of players cutting through the lane to take away back door opportunities. There is no doubt that DU can shoot. But they don’t shoot as well when their rhythm is thrown off. But all of this has to be done while keeping the foul count to a minimum.

DU’s sends more players to the offensive glass than they have previously. That’s because they’re a little more athletic. CSU will have to do a good job of limiting second chance opportunities for the Pioneers and do an especially good job of keeping Udofia and O’Neale off the offensive glass.

And finally, CSU will have to be disruptive enough on defense to create some easy transition baskets. Last year they started slow at Magness but kick-started themselves with a couple of steals and breakaway layups by Pierce Hornung and Dwight Smith. And they got a couple of three’s in transition by Wes Eikmeier in the second half that put the game away.

Offensively, CSU will have to play fast but be patient enough to take good shots. There can be very few empty possession caused by turnovers. Getting the ball inside will be paramount to making the offense go, whether it be by drawing fouls or creating space on the perimeter. And while they are not a great offensive rebounding team this season, the Rams will have to get a few putbacks out of Pierce Hornung and Will Bell.

For the Rams, Trevor Williams and Dwight Smith are out. They wont miss Trevor much because his skills are not a good fit for defensing against the Princeton. They will miss Dwight Smith who is a disruptive defender both inside and out and is an effective offensive player in the open court and when breaking down zones.

Prediction

CSU by 5. Current Vegas line is CSU -3.

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