If you’re a night owl on the East Coast, the Thanksgiving long weekend nearly always treats you to some pretty entertaining hoops while everyone else snoozes. Namely, the Great Alaska Shootout Tournament from Anchorage, Alaska. The GAS lured teams from different mid-major conferences all across the country to play in the brand new Alaska Airlines Center from the United States’ largest city (in terms of land mass). And with the University of California Santa Barbara taking down Mercer last night, along with Colorado State edging Pacific, the championship matchup is set. The Gauchos enter the last game in Alaska as 3.5-point underdogs to the Rams with another late tip-off set for 11:30 on the East (7:30 local time in AK).
Of these two teams, Colorado State definitely looked better in the semifinal stage of the Shootout. The Rams never really sweated out a late-game situation against Pacific, while it took a great performance from Alan Williams for UCSB to get past a pretty decent Mercer team. Williams will certainly be the focal point of the Gauchos’ attack in Saturday’s game. The senior has been one of the Big West’s best players for the previous two seasons and was the preseason player of the year in the conference. He’s averaging nearly 20 points per game this season along with 13.8 rebounds. And I’m not sure Colorado State has the personnel to match up with Williams. JJ Avila is the Rams’ leading scorer and will probably also be tasked with stopping Williams. It’s concerning for CSU because Avila may not be quick enough to stop Williams on the low block and he’ll need to dedicate much of his energy to stopping the UCSB star, which means the Rams need some offense out of their role players.
If one of Colorado State’s other senior leaders, Daniel Bajarano or Stanton Kidd, can get hot for one game, Colorado State’s better balance as a five-man unit will shine through in this one. You also can’t ignore Larry Eustachy on the Rams’ sideline. Really, Eustachy is one of the very best in the country and will certainly have more than just one plan to stopping Alan Williams. Not to mention the great respect he holds with college hoops officials across the country. He’ll have his team ready to play ahead of the championship.
This should be an interesting game between two West Coast mid-majors with NCAA Tournament aspirations. I think UCSB hands CSU its first loss tonight, though. I like the star power with Williams and those extra 3.5 points in the back pocket.
Free Pick: UCSB +3.5
2014 CBB: 2-3 -0.3