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SIU UMass Basketball

SIU guard Aaron Cook (right) tries to shake UMass guard Luwane Pipkins around Kavion Pippen's screen Thursday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The Salukis lost 84-62 to the Minutemen. 

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Colorado State is undefeated at home this season. SIU's men's basketball team is on a roll after topping Tulsa Friday night in its final game of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Holiday Invitational.

The two teams battle tonight at Moby Arena in a Missouri Valley Conference-Mountain West Conference Challenge game that could help swing the series toward the Valley. The home team has won every game the last two seasons, but the Salukis know the Rams and coach Niko Medved well. Here are three things to watch:

No. 1 — The Salukis double-teaming Carvacho

Colorado State's 6-foot-11 center, Nico Carvacho, is more of a rebounder than a scorer. SIU may choose to man him up with 6-10 Kavion Pippen, or double down as it did against Tulsa's mobile forward, Martins Igbanu. 

Carvacho (12.2 ppg., 11.3 rpg.) was second in the Mountain West in rebounding last season at 10.3 a game and is shooting 52.8 percent from the field this season. He had double-doubles in 10 of his last 16 games last season, and has scored 10 points or more in all of the Rams' wins this season. 

"He's an interesting player to guard, because it looks like he's ambidextrous," SIU coach Barry Hinson said. "He looks like he can go right or left. We think he's extremely skilled. I really like the (J.D.) Paige kid, and their best athlete, supposedly their best guard, is the kid that just got eligible and played in the last game, Kris Martin."

Paige, the only senior for Colorado State (4-2) in its top eight, is the team's second-leading scorer at 15.4 points per game. Martin, a transfer from Oral Roberts that was suspended for the first five games, had 11 points and seven boards in 30 minutes against South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits beat the Rams 78-65 at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Florida.

No. 2 — SIU's depth on the road

SIU got points from nine of its 10 players against Tulsa, and almost the same thing against UMass. 

The Salukis might not need that kind of production from its bench against the Rams, but if Sean Lloyd gets in foul trouble, or Pippen draws two quick ones, Hinson believes in the guys behind them.

"The balance part of it is if somebody gets in foul trouble, we've got guys coming off the bench that can help us," Hinson said. "The last game is really indicative of what I would like to do, where we don't have almost anybody at the 30-minute mark."

Eric McGill, a backup guard, was the MVC's newcomer of the week after leading the Salukis in scoring in both games in Vegas.

No. 3 — The Rams stopping the dribble drive

Colorado State is averaging over 80 points a game but also giving up over 75 for the season. Opponents are shooting 43.3 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from the 3-point line. Marcus Bartley, Lloyd, Armon Fletcher, McGill and Brendon Gooch give the Salukis several good 3-point options, but Rams coach Niko Medved has his defense pointed at Aaron Cook.

"Cook really hurt us last year. He's a terrific guard," Medved said. "He gets in the paint. He creates a lot of offense, so we've gotta do a great job on him, and Pippen too. We've gotta do a good job of making it tough for him to get good post touches, and make him shoot in a crowd." 

Cook (12.2 ppg.) is now SIU's leading scorer after six games and is one of the few players the Salukis have that can create his own shot. If he can get past his guy and get into the paint, he'll either score, pass to a teammate, or get to the free-throw line, where he is 10 of 15 this season (66.7 percent). All those are good things. 

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todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com

618-351-5087

On Twitter: @THefferman

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Sports reporter

Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

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