Mountain West Basketball: San Jose State vs. Colorado State–Preview, Odds, Prediction
Spartans, Rams close out 2022 with conference showdown
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What: San Jose State Spartans (10-4, 1-0) @ Colorado State Rams (8-6, 0-1)
When: Saturday, December 31st – 2:00 MT, 1:00 PT
Where: Moby Arena; Fort Collins, CO
How To Watch: Livestream on Mountain West Network
Odds: Colorado State -8 Over/Under 133
A familiar face will be roaming the sidelines in Moby Arena on Saturday afternoon. It’s just a different bench than he’s used to sitting on. Tim Miles, currently doing an incredible job building the San Jose State program from the bottom up, returns to the place he called home for 5 years over a decade ago. Miles had success in Fort Collins, taking Colorado State to the NCAA tournament before leaving for Nebraska. He is attempting to do the same with the Spartans, and he’s certainly heading in the right direction.
With an opening night overtime win against UNLV on Wednesday, SJSU hit a couple of benchmarks. It is the first time since they joined the MWC 10 years ago that they won their conference opener. It was also their 10th win of the season; that’s the most wins in a season for San Jose State since 2016-17. That’s right, we are not even into January yet and this is the most program wins in the last 6 seasons, a truly remarkable statistic. This most certainly is not your father’s San Jose State basketball team, and it’s probably not your brother’s either, provided he’s older than you.
You could see it in the non-conference that Miles has this group playing good team basketball – the players know their roles and they stick to them, they don’t try to do too much. That goes a long way at this level when hero ball can become a problem for some teams. The defense has improved as well from last year. It’s not an aggressive defense, and as a result they are not forcing a lot of turnovers, but they have also become a very good rebounding team. Miles will show some 1-3-1 at times to throw the opponent out of rhythm or to protect his guys from foul trouble. Colorado State does have a couple of shooters that might shoot the Spartans out of the zone, but they did struggle against a zone d versus USC a couple of games ago.
Offensively, SJSU is prone to an occasional scoring drought, and multiple times it has happened around the midway point of half number two. It cost them a win at Pacific before the holiday break, and nearly bit them in the butt again on Wednesday. Part of that may be tired legs (Omari Moore played 42 minutes vs. UNLV for example), but it’s something to keep an eye on. Moore has really blossomed into an all-around player. At times he may settle for one too many deep jumpers, he was 0-6 on Wednesday from 3, but he gets to the rim so easily when he wants to, and he had an outstanding seven assists against a rugged Rebels defense. Tibet Gorener and Robert Vaihola are providing invaluable minutes off the bench for the Spartans. Gorener is out there to catch and shoot and he has done it effectively, hitting 37% of his 3’s. Vaihola brings toughness and does the dirty work, he grabbed 13 boards against the Runnin’ Rebs. He also has converted an amazing 73% of his shots from the floor. That’s the definition of knowing your strengths and playing to them.
Colorado State will try to pump the brakes on a Spartans resurgence, and straighten themselves out in the process. They ran into an absolute buzzsaw in Albuquerque the other night and were pummeled by the red hot Lobos of New Mexico. There’s no shame in losing at The Pit of course, and while Rams leader Niko Medved would have liked to see the game be more competitive, he understands it’s one loss, whether it comes by 4 or by 34. The fact is, there are not many teams in the country that would have beaten New Mexico the way they shot the ball and fed off the energy from their crowd.
Moby Arena has been good to Medved and the Rams recently, as they went 8-1 in conference home games a year ago. Winning on the road in the Mountain West is going to be a difficult task no matter what two teams are on the court this season, and home teams started 5-0 on Wednesday night.
It would help the Rams if they could get some reinforcements in uniform Saturday afternoon. That seems unlikely from Josiah Strong unfortunately, but possible from one or both of Jalen Lake and Tavi Jackson. Without that trio against the Lobos, CSU was down to 8 scholarship players, and left the Rams using either inexperienced players, or guys out of position, and sometimes both. On the bright side, Patrick Cartier continued his impressive play of late, making 7-8 from the field for 16 points, and adding 4 boards. John Tonje had 16 as well, hitting three triples. Star point guard Isaiah Stevens was outplayed by the Lobos’ Jaelen House and will look to rebound against SJSU.
The Colorado State offense has been fairly efficient thus far, shooting 50% from the floor, 37% from downtown, assisting on two-thirds of their made baskets, and taking great care of the ball. They have been far less effective defensively, some of which can be attributed to the game of musical chairs Medved has had to play with his lineups. Eight different Rams have started games, while Miles has used the same starting lineup for all 14 games. Quite the difference.
This is an interesting matchup in the sense that there are a few areas in which these teams contrast each other. For example, SJSU has been exceptional on the glass, and really dominant on the defensive boards, while Colorado State is near the bottom of Division I teams in offensive rebounding. So don’t expect many second chance points for the Rams. On the flip side, CSU does not turn the ball over much at all, and the Spartans don’t force many turnovers either. The Rams may not get 2nd and 3rd looks on a given possession, but they will almost certainly get the initial shot up. One thing will have to give though. Colorado State is top 20 in 2-point field goal efficiency offense, while San Jose State is top 20 in the same metric defensively, largely due to the paint presence of 7-footer Ibrahima Diallo. The winner on Saturday is likely to be the team to win this specific battle.
From an intangible perspective, whoever handles Wednesday’s result better has an internal five point lead even before tipoff. Can the Rams put the disappointing showing behind them? Will there be much of a home court advantage for a mid-afternoon game on New Year’s Eve with students not back on campus yet? How will the Spartans handle success? The win over UNLV was the biggest for the program in many years. Often it is tough to follow a win like that with another peak effort. San Jose State seems slightly more cohesive and connected at the moment, but winning on the road is another animal. As tempting as it is to call for the big upset win, it says here the Spartans fall just short of making Miles’ homecoming a happy one, and Colorado State earns their first conference win. But they will have to work hard for it.
Prediction: Colorado State 70 San Jose State 65