Colorado State Rams men's basketball is a team which prides itself on defense and rebounding, but it's their scoring which has been second-to-none.
15 games into the season, CSU sits atop the Mountain West's 11 teams in terms of offense, at a stellar 82.2 points per game, which is tied for 31st in NCAA DI hoops.
The Rams are also No. 1 in the MW in terms of 3-pointers made per game (10.0) and 3-point field goal percentage (38.7). That comes as no surprise to those who have been watching this 2015-16 team, a squad who lives and dies by the 3.
In fact, sometimes Colorado State is settling too much for the outside shot.
Take the last two games for example. In the 84-80 loss to Boise State last Saturday, the Rams shot a terrible 3-13 (23.1 percent) from outside the arc in the first half and scored only 28 points. They were down 14 and on the road; it looked bleak. In the second half, though, they shot 8-14 from downtown as part of their furious comeback attempt, only to fall just short.
In Wednesday night's 66-65 win over UNLV, the Rams were red hot from 3-point land in the first half, going 7-13. In the second half, as the Runnin' Rebels made their giant 24-3 run, CSU shot 1-9 (11.1 percent) from downtown.
Live by the 3, die by the 3.
So, how does the Mountain West's best offense improve?
First and foremost, they can attack the hoop more often. Namely, point guard John Gillon.
Last season, Gillon was like lightning flying to the hoop. And more often than not, he'd either score, draw a foul or both.
This season, we've seen less of that aggressive style of play from Gillon, who's taken a back seat to teammates in the scoring department. Especially as of late.
While Gillon averages 12.1 points per game this season, over the last five games that average has fallen to 5.6 per.
But, his coast-to-coast drive to the hoop which resulted in a foul and the winning free throw Wednesday night may have helped open Gillon's eyes.
The other way Colorado State's offense can improve is through consistency from bench players.
On Wednesday, it was freshman Paige's play late in the game, scoring seven points in 48 seconds to help CSU to a win. Paige's athletic ability makes it easier for him to drive the hoop, which we've seen in spurts this season. He's really come on to help pick up scoring with the loss of Gian Clavell's 20.8 PPG, as has fellow freshman Prentiss Nixon. Nixon is a streaky 3-point shooter who scored a quiet 11 points in the Rams win on Wednesday. More often than not, he effects the defensive end of the floor by taking charges and stealing the ball.
If those two freshman can play consistently on the offensive end – which they're both getting closer to – it will only help Colorado State down the stretch.
Finally, the Rams offensive x-factor is Fred Richardson III. Richardson played in the first five games of the year for CSU, then took an eight-game hiatus in which head coach Larry Eustachy said he “lost his desire to play.” But Richardson is back, playing well for Colorado State in their last two games.
In Boise, Richardson was giving effort on both ends; he scored 10 on 4-5 shooting, rebounded four and even dove on the floor to steal a ball. He was quieter against UNLV, scoring two, but when he's on, he's a boost inside and out.
For a team which looked to lack depth earlier in the season, the Rams have found immediate impact players in Nixon and Paige while the redshirt senior Richardson has helped in that regard, too.
If those three young men can find some consistency on the offensive end, and if Gillon drives the lane more often, Colorado State's offense will improve. It may even mean more steadiness in scoring, instead of those “tale of two halves” games we've seen this year in losses to UTEP, Colorado and Boise State.
Yes, the area in which the Rams can make the most gains is on defense, but they can also refine an already potent offense.
CSU men's basketball (9-6, 1-1 MW) takes on San Jose State (5-10, 0-3 MW) on Saturday with a 3 p.m. MT tip-off. The game can be seen on the MW Network.