3 keys to victory for Texas vs. Colorado State

Texas basketball opens its 2024 NCAA Tournament with a tricky Round of 64 matchup against the 10th-seeded Colorado State Rams. The Horns will have to be sharp if they want to move into the Round of 32 for a third consecutive season.

Mar 20, 2024; Charlotte, NC, USA; Texas Longhorns forward Dylan Disu (1) during a press conference
Mar 20, 2024; Charlotte, NC, USA; Texas Longhorns forward Dylan Disu (1) during a press conference / Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Texas basketball (20-12) opens its 2024 NCAA Tournament with a Round of 64 matchup against the 10th-seeded Colorado State Rams (25-10) out of the Mountain West. The game will be played in Charlotte, NC, and is set to tip off at 5:50 p.m. (CST) on TNT. The Horns are currently a 2.5-point betting favorite, with the total set at 144.5.

Colorado State had been solidly in the field of 68 all season, with early January bracket projections slotting them as high as a No. 5 seed. However, a brutal Mountain West gauntlet saw their seeding drop, and the Rams were the last team in the field when the bracket was revealed on Sunday.

Colorado State seemed to take that as a slight as they opened up their tournament with a rout of Virginia on Tuesday night in Dayton. The Rams put on a clinic on both ends of the floor in their 67-42 victory. Their 55.3% field goal percentage was the highest the Cavaliers have given up all season, and Virginia's 25.0% shooting percentage was their lowest.

The scary thing about the win was Colorado State's All-Mountain West First Team point guard, Isaiah Stevens, finished with just five points, his lowest output of the season.

The Rams are a veteran-led team featuring four graduate starters and one senior. Only one rotation player (backup center Rashaan Mbemba) Coach Niko Medved deploys is an underclassman. They run an incredibly efficient half-court offense that ranks third in the nation in assisted field goal percentage at 65.3% (Read the full game preview here).

Colorado State is a very solid basketball team, but they do have some weaknesses that the Horns can exploit. I took a look at the three spots in this matchup that I think Texas can control and will help lead them into the Round of 32 for the third consecutive season.

3 keys to victory for Texas basketball vs. Colorado State

1. Dominate down low

Success in the NCAA Tournament is all about manufacturing easy buckets. The best way to do that is to dominate the paint. Getting the ball to the block early and often should be a priority for the Horns.

The Rams do not have anyone on their roster who matches up well with Dylan Disu. Patrick Cartier (6'8", 220 lbs) will likely get the assignment, but the Colorado State big man has been a defensive liability that season and will struggle with Disu's versatility.

Kadin Shedrick should be able to make an impact off the bench tonight. The aforementioned Cartier is the tallest player in the Ram rotation, with 6'7" Joel Scott and 6'7" Rashaan Mbemba getting the other big man rotation minutes. Shedrick should be able to take a couple of dribbles and get to his right-handed hook whenever he wants.

Colorado State ranks 246th in the nation in block percentage, per KenPom. Disu, Shedrick, and even Dillon Mitchell should be able to have success playing out of the low and mid-post. If (and when) the Rams start sending double-teams, it will be paramount that the Longhorn bigs make quick decisions with the ball that leads to open jumpers.

2. Win the bench minutes

Colorado State is not a deep team, at all.

Although I expect ten different Rams to see the floor on Thursday night, only four are legitmate contributors on the offense end: Isaiah Stevens, Nique Clifford, Joel Scott, and Patrick Cartier.

The quartet all average in double-digits and combine for 69% of the Rams' total scoring. In Colorado State's First Four win over Virginia, they scored 57 of 67 points. Guys like Jalen Lake and Joe Palmer have shown they can get hot from beyond the arc, but if I were Coach Rodney Terry, I would force the rotation pieces to beat me.

The Texas bench has struggled with consistency this season, but they should sense an opportunity to dominate when the second units come on the floor. Look for a guy like Chendall Weaver to be incredibly disruptive on the defensive end and use his elite athleticism to his advantage.

3. Disrupt the passing lanes

Colorado State is one of the best passing teams in the country. Led by fifth-year point guard Isaiah Stevens (6.9 APG), the Rams move the ball extremely well in the half-court.

As a team, Colorado State averages 18.3 assists per game (sixth in the country). 65.3% of their field goals come off of an assist, which is good for third in the country. They always make the extra pass, turning good shots into great shots.

It is paramount that the Texas defense gets in the passing lanes and makes the Rams work for every pass they make. That, however, is easier said than done, as CSU does not turn the ball over very much and uses the defense's aggression against them with backdoor cuts and off-ball movement.

Tyrese Hunter, Chendall Weaver, and Dillon Mitchell must use their length to their advantage. I know this staff loves to count deflections. If Texas ends the game with a high number of them, I'd feel good about the Horns' chances of advancing to the Round of 32.

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