CRAWFORD | Eustachy poses U of L a different kind of challenge - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Eustachy, Colorado State present U of L a different kind of challenge

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) -- Larry Eustachy is not your typical sound byte. On the press conference podium, he sounds like a mix between Steven Wright and Larry Sanders, with a little Jerry Sloan thrown in, just for basketball purposes.

After his Colorado State basketball team beat Missouri Thursday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, he professed not to know even a single player's name from the University of Louisville, the team his Rams will face Saturday at 5:15 p.m. for a berth in the NCAA Sweet 16.

He swore to reporters that he wouldn't spend Friday night watching NCAA Tournament games.

"I don't watch college basketball," Eustachy said. "I really don't know -- I couldn't tell you who started for Louisville until this morning. . . . NCIS is my favorite show. It's changed from Law & Order."

Off the wall. He embraces it. Eustachy has traveled a difficult road in the profession, acknowledging alcohol addiction, losing a job at Iowa State after pictures turned up of him at a fraternity party with students.

"My dad sold cars and I wasn't -- I got cut from a Division II team in college," he said. "So I've played about every role on a team, and I think that's helped me in coaching. I haven't had a golden path, you know. I had to wait tables to be a GA starting at Mississippi State. So I get these guys, and they get me. I haven't had just, like I say, a yellow brick road to success, even if I've had any success. I have to be judged by others."

He resurfaced at Southern Miss, and now has Colorado State rolling. The Rams are 26-8 and in their second straight NCAA Tournament in Eustachy's first season.

And if Eustachy -- and even his players, to a degree -- sound unfamiliar with U of L, he's at least very familiar with one person at the school. He and U of L athletic director Tom Jurich have been friends since childhood.

"Tom and I went to high school together," Eustachy said. "So it isn't special or different, it's just fun, you know. No added pressure or less pressure, it's just -- it's fun. I have a lot of respect for Rick. Nobody is playing better in the country than Louisville and we welcome it. We welcome it. So it's got a neat little twist to it, yeah, it does. It's kind of neat."

If Eustachy is a bit different, his team is built on some old-fashioned basketball standbys. It leads the nation in rebound margin. The Rams run motion all over the court, spread defenses effectively and make them defend soundly, or pick them apart. They don't beat themselves. They rank No. 11 in the nation in fewest turnovers per game, at just over 10 per contest.

They have an outstanding point guard in Dorian Green, and a next-level 6-10 forward in Colton Iverson. That combination is complemented offensively by Wes Eikmeier, a career 36 percent three-point shooter, and small forward, Pierce Hornung, who averages 9.1 rebounds per game.

And all four of those players, plus one other starter, Greg Smith, are seniors, three of them fifth-year seniors. Eikmeier transferred from Iowa State. Iverson from Minnesota.

"I think we're a team, and I've said this from Day One, that we're built for this type of play, this tournament play, you know," Eustachy said. "If we're playing right . . . we're getting back, we're protecting the basket, we're limiting teams to one shot, we're not giving up easy shots, we're coming down and not taking bad shots, we're not turning it over, hopefully.

"So I think we're hard to play against, in my opinion, and that's why we play that way. It's the hardest way to play. Louisville plays the whole floor and so do we. We play -- that's how big the court is, let's play the whole thing, whether it's a loose ball going to the corner or whether they're trying to trap us."

U of L coach Rick Pitino is wary of the Rams. He acknowledged Friday that he was rooting for Missouri to win Thursday, because he thought the Tigers' style of play was "a better fit for us." The Cardinals already had beaten Missouri by 23 this season.

"I have a lot of concerns, 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 in the nation and they beat them 42-19 on the backboard. So they have great experience, outstanding talent, extremely well coached, they do it all."

If U of L is worried about Colorado State's rebounding, the major question of the game is how the Rams will handle U of L's pressure.

"We can't be on our heels or we'll have no chance," Eustachy said.

When pressed to compare Colorado State to an opponent from this season, U of L junior captain Luke Hancock was quick with an opinion: a cross between Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. The Rams rebound like Pittsburgh, but have a spread, pure motion offense much like Notre Dame's. Asked the same question about U of L and its defensive pressure, Green offered: "I think when Lon Kruger was at UNLV . . . that's the closest we've seen to Louisville. It might be a little different, I don't really know, but we've had some experience with that."

In the end, Eustachy said his team will go as far against U of L as its toughness will take it. And he said it from experience -- both in basketball and life.

"We have to be strong with the ball," he said. "You know, from an officiating standpoint, they grab, they reach and it becomes so common, you know, and I have no problem with it, but we just have to be men and be strong with it and not let them jar it loose because I think we're going to get it for 40 minutes.

". . . We're not a great playmaking team. We're not a great passing team. So it's not a good matchup for us that way. We're going to have to play above ourselves in that area. . . . But we get to go toe-to-toe with the best team in the country. And I don't think we'll back down."

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