Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 | 6 p.m.
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Larry Eustachy is just being himself. That coach you can see about to explode during a game and the one doing a celebratory jig in front of the Air Force student section are the same guy, experiencing his first season with Colorado State the only way he knows how.
“I am enjoying it,” Eustachy said on Monday’s Mountain West conference call.
Fans in Fort Collins, Colo., have reason to enjoy Eustachy’s debut, too. The Rams (21-4, 8-2) entered the Associated Press poll last week at No. 24, marking the first time they’ve been ranked in 59 years. Now the 22nd-ranked Rams have a chance to take the league lead, playing Wednesday at UNLV (19-7, 6-5) and Saturday at home against first-place New Mexico (22-4, 9-2).
Colorado State tips at the Thomas & Mack Center at 7:15 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
The Rams should be clear favorites in their four games after this week, meaning a pair of victories could put them in great seeding position for the NCAA Tournament, where they haven’t won a game since 1989. Just don’t ask Eustachy about those upcoming games.
“Totally honest, I know we play UNLV on Wednesday and we play New Mexico on Saturday,” Eustachy said. “On my mother’s grave, I don’t know who we play after that.”
That singular focus, while not totally unique among coaches, has been perfect for Eustachy in his current situation. After starting his head-coaching career at Idaho (1990-93) and Utah State (1993-98), Eustachy gained notoriety as the AP National Coach of the Year in 2000 at Iowa State. That’s also where his career derailed in 2003, when photos surfaced of him drinking and partying with college girls after a loss at Missouri earlier that season.
That brought Eustachy’s alcoholism to light, and after a year out of coaching, he restarted his career at Southern Miss. Eustachy has substituted Diet Coke as his drink of choice, according to an sportsillustrated.com story, and this offseason, which marks 10 years since his resignation at ISU, will represent another potential seismic shift as the CSU coaching staff will have to replace nearly all of its production.
Last year, then-coach Tim Miles took the Rams to their first NCAA Tournament since 2003 and just their second trip since 1990. When Miles left for Nebraska, Eustachy stepped into what some coaches would call a dream scenario: five starting seniors, the only new one being 6-foot-10 Colton Iverson, who transferred from Minnesota. But the guy who has started out into varied situations before saw the possible downside of this season.
“This type is the hardest,” Eustachy said. “Expectations were a little too high coming in.”
Eustachy added he felt expectations were too high for UNLV, too, especially considering how many new pieces coach Dave Rice has had to work into the rotation. You get the feeling Eustachy would prefer no one expect anything until they see it, but that’s going to be hard considering the way CSU is playing.
A good rebounding team last year, Eustachy has taken the Rams to historic levels. They currently rank second in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (42.3) and first in defensive rebounding percentage (77.4), according to kenpom.com. Only one team in the last decade has ranked top five in both categories — Texas in 2006, when the team finished fifth in both.
The addition of Iverson was key, but the rest of the front line is pretty average to small in size. They win rebounding battles not because they’re bigger but because they want it more, and they want it more because Eustachy made them that way.
"I don't think there's any coach in the nation that stresses rebounding as much as Coach Eustachy does," Iverson told Yahoo! Sports last week.
The Rams lead the nation in rebounding margin (+13.8) and have outrebounded their opponents in all 25 games. That includes a 36-34 advantage on Jan. 19 in a 66-61 home victory against UNLV.
“We’ve got to make sure we have individual accountability on our block outs (Wednesday),” Rice said.
When a reporter pointed out UNLV had missed a rebounding assignment in the first minute of that loss at CSU, Rice corrected him.
“We actually missed block outs on the first two possessions,” he said.
Larry Eustachy dances at Air Force
Still, the Rebels led the rebounding totals for most of the game. However, a key offensive rebound by 6-foot-5 Pierce Hornung in the final minute tilted the advantage to the Rams.
“If we get that defensive rebound, the outcome could have been different,” Rice said.
That’s what the Rebels are aiming for this time around: a different outcome. Playing at home will help, though CSU already has won at Fresno State, UNR and Air Force, showing some poise on the road.
It was at the end of that 89-86 victory at Air Force, where the Rams were about to survive Michael Lyons’ 45 points and Eustachy wanted to let loose after hearing it from the Air Force student section all game, that the coach broke into a spontaneous strut and boogie.
That’s just a coach enjoying this ride. With a history he’ll always have to hear about, Eustachy seems more focused on making the future worth talking about.