SDSU preview: Rams will need to fix defensive woes

Tuesday night’s matchup with San Diego State is a chance for the Colorado State Rams to hit the reset button.

Coming off of back-to-back losses, including an embarrassing performance at Wyoming on Saturday, the Rams (9-15, 4-6) have an opportunity to get back on track against the Aztecs, before hitting the road for a winnable game at San Jose State and then returning home for Ag Day against the Cowboys.

Considering the Rams are 72 hours removed from one of their worst games of the season, if not the worst, CSU should be plenty hungry to prove themselves in front of an ESPN audience. But more importantly, as the only game against SDSU on the schedule, a win over the Aztecs could have serious implications on the standings down the line.

As it currently stands, CSU would be the No. 9 seed in the Mountain West Tournament, meaning a win in the play-in round would result in a game against Nevada in the second round. It would likely take a victory over the Wolf Pack to end up winning the conference tournament anyways, but in an ideal world, the Rams would not have to face UNR until the championship game.

With roughly one month remaining in the regular season and five teams currently separated by less than two games in the league standings, there is still plenty of time for CSU to improve its position, especially if the Rams are able to rattle off a couple of wins in a row. However, if CSU is going to get back to winning, improving on the defensive end will be paramount.

Over the last two games, CSU has given up 36 points to Justin James (Wyoming), 40 points to Jordan Caroline (Nevada) and 25 points to Caleb Martin (Nevada). Tuesday night, it would not be surprising at all to see the Aztecs look to get Jalen McDaniels (17.1 PPG) in an early rhythm, similarly to how CSU’s last two opponents did with their stars.

In two games against CSU last season, McDaniels averaged 15 points per game and the 6-foot-10 forward recorded a season-high 19 points in a victory over the Rams at Moby Arena on Jan. 02, 2018. During his sophomore campaign, McDaniels has already scored 20 or more points in eight games though, so containing the future NBA hoopster will be definitely be key.

The other crucial component for CSU will be to not allow the Aztecs to get open looks from around the perimeter. In the loss to Wyoming, the Cowboys were able to make the first seven 3-point attempts of the game and it was a similar story against Nevada as the Wolf Pock drained the first five shots from deep. As a team, SDSU shoots 37 percent from 3-point range, so the Aztecs do not exactly light up the floor, but they can definitely shoot the rock if given uncontested opportunities.

Finally, for CSU to win on Tuesday, controlling the paint will be important as well. The Rams have yet to lose a conference game in which they win the battle for the boards and there will be added motivation for Nico Carvacho, who needs just three rebounds to become the program’s all-time leader.

CSU and SDSU will tip off at 9:00 p.m. MT on ESPN2.