Since DJ Gay has left all CSU fans with a broken heart I figured I would do a halfway through conference play wrap up on the Colorado State Rams. This is around where I would have guessed the Rams would be halfway through their MWC schedule.
The Rams sit at 5-3 tied with UNLV for the third spot, they did beat UNLV in Vegas as their best win so far in MWC play. Their other losses came at home in close losses to top ten ranked BYU and SDSU. The Rams don't have a "bad" loss. Their loss to UNM was at the Pit, which ask BYU, is still a tough place to play. They got wins over Utah, Wyoming, TCU, UNLV, and Air Force. Only three of their first eight games were on the road.
Over their next eight conference games I am predicting a 6-2 finish, one game better then their first half. They get the bottom feeders of the MWC on the road. Wyoming, TCU, and AFA are not exactly hard road games. Utah at home should be a good game, but Rams are the better team. Let's chalk up those as wins. BYU and SDSU away from Moby will be the toughest games of their season. I am calling those losses.
Catch the rest after The Jump...
The two pivotal games come at the friendly confines of Moby against their closest competitors UNLV and UNM. They take on UNM on Feb 12th after traveling to Wyoming a week earlier. The Border War is big with this group of seniors so I expect them to come out firing and not have a let down against Wyoming. With a week to prepare for the Lobos I expect a win for CSU. UNM has looked better, but Moby isn't the cakewalk it use to be.
A week later the Rams take on UNLV at home after visiting TCU that Wednesday. UNLV will have played BYU and SDSU again already and control their own fate for the MWC tournment seedings. CSU will need to show up and play one of their better games of the year because UNLV will be gunning for them. I think CSU is too tough at home again though and count this as a win. The UNLV and UNM games will be huge as the three seed as opposed to the four seed is a huge difference this year. Would you rather play AFA/Utah or UNM/UNLV/CSU? Easy answer.
Let's look at a couple players that are getting the Rams to play at their high level. First off the big seniors Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin. Ogide is shooting 58% and even is 50%(6-12) from three point range. Ogide can be dominating when he puts his mind and body to it. Franklin is their go to scorer, he got the call and tied the SDSU game at the end. His improved free throw shooting 54% last year to 70% this year is a huge boost as the Hack-a-Franklin strategy doesn't work anymore.
The other player making a name for himself is Wes Eikmeier. He leads all guards with 10.1 ppg, second in assists, and second in three point percentage. His injury bug might have followed him from Iowa State as he sat out two games and was limited against SDSU with a foot injury.
Let's look where the Rams can improve or need a player to step up. Free throw shooting has been a bit of a killer, the Rams are 8th in the conference versus conference opponents in free throw percentage. With the close games against SDSU and AFA(near loss) they could have won or made it less stressful, those were home games so can't blame anything but concentration.
As far as individual players go I look at Dorian Green and his poor 38% shooting percentage. The lowest by any of the players who get regular time, Green averages the second most minutes on the team. I realize he gets stuck with some bad shots late in the clock due to the offense, but 38% won't cut it. Combined aginst BYU and SDSU Green was an ugly 5-16, an uglier 0-11 against UNLV and AFA. His three point shooting is down to 33% after starting the season fairly hot, 46% the first ten games of the season.
Lastly the disappearing act of Andre McFarland hasn't helped. As a career 40% three point shooter he has dropped to 29% and out of Tim Miles rotation. Since the CU game McFarland is just 3-23 from down town, he has had three games without seeing the floor. If he can find his touch again the Rams can be that much more dangerous come tournament time.
The way I see it if the Rams can get that third seed they would get into the NCAA tournament. A 21-9 season with two wins against UNLV, plus a 1st round MWC tournament win against the 6th seed would get them in, in my opinion. If the Rams end at 20-10 or 19-11 with the 4th or 5th seed they leave themselves a tall hill to climb and probably need two or three MWC tournament wins to get in and those would come against UNLV/UNM and SDSU or BYU. Playing that first round game against Utah or AFA is a big advantage over UNLV or UNM.
The Rams secret weapon? Tim Miles, the 2010 MWC coach of the year. Two reasons SDSU won that game late, first reason is Steve Fischer trusted DJ Gay. Second reason they didn't call a time out was so that Tim Miles didn't have a chance to set up a defense. Coaches are noticing him which could be the biggest compliment he could get. He is getting the most out of his players and they are playing hard.