Problems with four-guard lineup exploited in CSU’s loss to Southern Illinois

Nico Carvacho secures a rebound against Arkansas Pine Bluff. Credit: CSU Athletics Communications.
Nico Carvacho secures a rebound against Arkansas Pine Bluff. Credit: CSU Athletics Communications.

The Colorado State Rams ran out of gas in the second half on Tuesday night, as the Southern Illinois Salukis handed CSU its third loss in four games.

Though under the radar, SIU is an extremely dangerous, veteran-led group who finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference last season behind eventual final four participant Loyola Chicago.

Regardless, the 82-67 defeat shed light on issues that were bound to arise sooner or later for the green and gold. SIU out-rebounded the Rams 34-17 and also held a hefty 44-20 scoring advantage in the paint.

The Salukis are a talented team, who feature plenty of capable big bodies, like Kavion Pippen, NBA great Scottie’s nephew. And unfortunately for the Rams, facing a program similar to SIU will not be a one-time occurrence for CSU.

The undersized, guard-heavy Rams will be forced to deal with similar disadvantages often this season. Such is the case this Saturday against Colorado in Boulder, and even next week against Arkansas.

Redshirt junior forward Nico Carvacho is almost solely relied on to rebound. The Chilean averaged 10.3 boards per game last season and is averaging 11.2 through seven games this season.

Clearly, rebounding is Carvacho’s strong suit. However, against SIU, it was not. His lack of impact was evident; Carvacho collected only three rebounds against the Salukis. Tuesday night marks the first time the forward recorded less than four rebounds over his last 27 games. 

The Rams have lost 11-of-18 games in which Carvacho records less than 10 rebounds in last season and this season combined. He also started the year with three straight double-doubles, and yet, has none in the last four games. With that being said, it makes complete sense why CSU suffered on the glass against SIU.

“There is pressure on him (Carvacho),” head coach Niko Medved said. “There is going to continue to be pressure but it’s not on him…We’ve just got in the habit I think of watching Nico go rebound and he’s so good at it. He has a gift that way. But that is false hope sometimes. Everyone has to get involved that way…If we don’t clean that up, the movie will be replayed again, unfortunately.”

Plain and simple, CSU’s guards need to help compensate and play bigger in order for this team to stay afloat in the rebounding department. Ideally, doing so would be handled by supporting forwards.

It is not as if the Rams have no other forwards on their roster. Freshman forward Adam Thistlewood is seeing a solid work load. Either Logan Ryan or Zo Tyson usually find their way into the rotation as well.

However, the key here is that Medved frequently chooses four-guard lineups. The guards aren’t big, but they need to try to be. Even when Carvacho does rebound effectively.

“The guards have to help out in rebounding,” junior guard Kris Martin said. “We can’t just rely on Nico (Carvacho). Although he’s a great rebounder, we can’t rely on him to get 20 rebounds a game, every night. That’s our job, we have to take responsibility for that and be better.”

Besides rebounding, as previously mentioned, limiting opposing production in the paint was a crucial flaw in CSU’s Tuesday night performance.

And just like rebounding, defense down low is an area where Carvacho is relied on significantly. Though they were unable to against SIU, guards will also have to help contain paint production.

Obviously, doing so will be difficult. After all, forwards and centers tend to be the main contributors to post defense because of their size.

Redshirt junior guard Anthony Masinton-Bonner provided a simple explanation to the problem. Bonner believed his team didn’t play with enough “heart” defensively. He went on to describe how there was a “lack of toughness” in the paint.

Given the fact that guards such as Bonner will always be at a disadvantage down low, an unusually high amount of heart may be required from these players. Bonner isn’t wrong, passion will undoubtedly help.

Medved has another solution though. The first-year Rams head coach has led many guard-heavy rosters, specifically, at Drake last season. Though offensive rebounding was an issue for Drake, his team found ways to limit paint production from other teams. Which, in turn, resulted in more defensive rebounds.

“We use the word punish, sometimes in rotations you are going to have to punish a bigger guy,” Medved said. “You may not come up with the rebound, but simply punishing or blocking him out allows somebody else to get around…Guards have to rebound. Five guys have to commit to rebounding if you are going to be a good defensive rebounding team.”

After starting a perfect 3-0 on the season, the Rams have now lost three of their last four games and sit at 4-3. To wit, CSU is 3-2 when they out-rebound their opponents and 1-1 when they don’t.

Colorado State and their guard-heavy lineup face the rival Colorado Buffaloes at 1 p.m. MT Saturday in Boulder. The Buffs are currently 3-1 overall and face Portland tonight.