Only six games in, it has already been an up-and-down season for the CSU men’s basketball team, as the Rams sit at 3-3, with a mix of impressive and underwhelming games.
A large factor of the inconsistency has been a rash of injuries that has hampered the Rams, as CSU hasn’t been able to use the starting lineup from the season opener for a full game since the second game of the season.
The Rams know that they can’t use the injuries as an excuse, even as they host Nevada, a NCAA Tournament team from last season, tonight at 7 p.m. in Moby Arena.
“It is not uncommon, for whatever reason, for teams that are rebuilding to have injuries like this, and it concerns me because we don’t have quite enough depth to deal with them,” said head coach Tim Miles. “Still, it is my job to find a way to get us to win despite the injuries.”
“It is kind of like playing chess without some pieces.”
Senior point guard Willis Gardner was finally able to return in the Rams loss to San Francisco on Saturday, but he was just active for 13 minutes and held scoreless after missing three games with a sprained ankle. The Rams other senior guard Marcus Walker missed one game and was hobbled for the past four games after being struck by a car, leaving the Rams shorthanded at guard, forcing freshman Jesse Carr to pick up the slack.
Gardner’s return should have finally given the Rams some added depth, but his return coincided with junior guard Harvey Perry having to sit out the University of South Florida game with an injured Achilles’ tendon. For tonight’s game both Gardner and Perry will be questionable, said Miles.
The Wolf Pack (2-3) are coming off a two narrow losses of their own, 67-59 to Pacific and 63-61 to Portland, and, like the Rams, Nevada is a young team with plenty of time to grow.
The young Nevada starting lineup features two freshman, two sophomores and just one senior, yet the Pack are to be taken seriously, as they are expected to win the Western Athletic Conference and feature Preseason Player of the Year in guard Armon Johnson.
The Rams know that Nevada will be looking to get over their slow start against CSU, whom they probably see as beatable.
“They are a team that is still searching to figure out how to win, but they are talented and I am sure we will see their best effort,” said Miles. “They have been struggling, but they probably have been looking at us as a team that allows them to get back on track.”
In the Rams three wins they have won by double-digits, but their three losses have been by a combined 10 points. The Rams know they have to find a way to pull these games out, as last season they lost five games by three points or less (and another in overtime).
“It is something that you can learn to be better at,” said guard Marcus Walker. “Coach always tells us that we need to be able to find a way to win, and these close games will help us in games to come, (especially) in conference games.”
Walker feels that the Rams have had the game plans necessary to get victories, but that they have to remember to do the little things if they want to win, but he also feels that having the home crowd will also be worth some points.
“The crowd, that is a big key,” he said. “You’ve got to play in every situation, but just hearing them cheer for you gets you to play harder.”
Men’s basketball beat writer Matthew Pucak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.