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National Columnist

Colorado State can't handle Louisville's pressure

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- On paper, I'm wrong. On paper, I'm an idiot. Which is no surprise, not to you or me, because on paper -- hell, on this website right here -- I'm wrong all the time.

But on paper I don't see Colorado State being able to handle Louisville on Saturday night. That's not the most daring sentence of all time, given that Colorado State is a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament while Louisville isn't just a one seed, but the No. 1 seed overall. Colorado State can't handle Louisville? Not exactly walking out onto a ledge there.

But it's the why that makes me feel vulnerable, on paper anyway -- because I don't think Colorado State can handle the Louisville press or pressure. I think Colorado State will turn the ball over 20 times, maybe more, and eventually get run out of the gym.

That puts me on the ledge because Colorado State is one of the best teams in the country at protecting the ball. The Rams also are among the national leaders in rebounding margin. They have other attributes, too. Take it from Louisville coach Rick Pitino.

"I have a lot of concerns," he said, "but the obvious one that sticks out is they have five seniors who are all very good. They're the No. 1 rebounding team in the nation. Missouri was No. 3 and [Colorado State] beat them 42-19 on the backboard. So, they have great experience, outstanding talent, extremely well coached. They do it all. We're going to have to play awfully well to come away with a victory."

No, you're not, Coach P. You're going to have to play. That's all -- just play. And press, even if that wouldn't seem to be an issue for Colorado State. The Rams average just 10.8 turnovers per game, best in their conference and 12th in the whole country.

I know what the stats say. But I know what I saw Thursday night when Colorado State turned it over 14 times against Missouri. That number isn't alarming, not really. Fourteen turnovers? You can win with 14 turnovers. Obviously, because Colorado State beat Missouri handily, 84-72, with those 14 turnovers.

But here's the thing: Missouri wasn't trying to force turnovers.

Colorado State turned it over 14 times anyway. So I'm thinking Colorado State's lack of turnovers this season says more about its schedule than its composure.

Missouri was lazy Thursday night, indifferent on defense. I wrote about it after the game, and I should have included these two supporting facts. One was my unique vantage point to write that column, unique in that I had been sitting courtside all game. Colorado State-Missouri was the fourth game of the day, and I'd been five feet from the floor for every game. And of those four games, of those eight teams, Missouri's lack of passion, effort, motivation, was glaring. Not sure how it translated on television, but in person? From five feet away? Glaring.

The other supporting fact I should have written Thursday night was an anecdote from late in the game, when Colorado State guard Wes Eikmeier got past Missouri's Earnest Ross about 40 feet from the basket and Ross turned and shouted for help. All four Missouri teammates were behind Ross, between Eikmeier and the basket. Not one of them helped.

Eikmeier dribbled to within 10 feet and pulled up for an open jumper, missing it but not because of anything Missouri had done. The look on Ross' face in that instant as he shouted for help and realized it wasn't coming -- a mixture of helplessness, disappointment and disgust, without a trace of surprise -- was incredible. He was asking his teammates to do something they don't do: Care.

Anyway, that was the Missouri defense. And Colorado State turned the ball over 14 times.

What will it do against Louisville, which cares so much and presses throughout the game with a series of small, gnat-like athletes (Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Kevin Ware) who are backed by longer, more predatory specimens (Montrezl Harrell, Wayne Blackshear, Chane Behanan, Luke Hancock and Gorgui Dieng)?

Colorado State is going to turn the ball over 20 times, easy. Colorado State won't be able to cross halfcourt lots of the time. The Rams may well pound Louisville on the glass, though I don't think so -- rebounding is a function of size, effort and athletic ability; Louisville plays with all three -- but even so, all those turnovers will mean the double-whammy of too few possessions for Colorado State, and too many transition baskets for Louisville.

The Cardinals are going to win, and they're going to win big, and I was making that feeling clear Thursday night after the Colorado State-Missouri game. I walked into the media room, spotted a Louisville administrator and blurted out that his team was going to win by 30, and was immediately approached by a Louisville assistant coach -- whom I hadn't seen sitting near the administrator -- who gave me the sign to shut up.

Serious story. The Louisville assistant, nice as he can be, waved one of his hands below his chin in the universal symbol of shaddup when he heard me saying I planned to predict a blowout win for his team over Colorado State. I understand his dilemma. Last thing he wants is for his team to read some nonsense and get overconfident, or for the Colorado State team to read that same nonsense and get motivated.

None of that is my problem. My problem on Saturday will be trying to avoid acting like Missouri had on Thursday night, losing interest in the second half of an NCAA Tournament blowout.

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