Colorado State surprised the Mountain West and the nation last year, but they didn't surprise coach Larry Eustachy. With their 26-9 record, second place finish and NCAA tournament invitation, losing to National Champions Louisville in the second round they exceeded all expectations. The Rams were first in the Mountain West in scoring margin at plus-9.3 points per game, scoring 73 points a game while only giving up 63.7.
They were first in the conference in rebounding margin; pulling down plus-12 more boards then their opponents in 35 games. And to no surprise, the Rams were first in offensive rebounds at 14 a game and second on defensive boards with 26 a game; attributed to one of the nations strongest front court made up of NBA bound 6'11" 260-pound Colton Iverson, and forwards Pierce Hornung 6'5" 210 pounds and Greg Smith who stands 6'6" at 220 pounds.
With Iverson and Smith looking to play at the next level in the NBA and Hornung done with his competitive basketball career, how do the Rams fill their front court void?
Well, Larry Eustachy put his hard hat on and went to work. Last June he landed a wiry 6'11" and 205 pound center, Marcus Holt transfer from Paris JC in Texas who was on the radar from top schools: Marquette, Wichita State, Washington, Mississippi State, Oklahoma and rival Mountain West, Nevada.
Most recently, Eustachy found Navy transfer J.J. Avila playing gym ball on an adult AAU team in his hometown of McAllen, Texas. The 6'7" 245 pound Avila committed to Colorado State University after he wrapped up an official visit to the school. Avila decided to transfer from Navy following the 2011-12 season and has spent the last year earning an associates degree at South Texas College
Avila was the Patriot League's Rookie of the Year in 2010-11, becoming a breakout star for Navy, averaging 11.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game as a freshman. The next season, he led the Midshipmen with 15.9 points and 7.2 boards. Avila is no stranger to playing defense, rebounding and scoring.
Last week the Rams got a commitment form former Southern Illinois forward Dantiel Daniels. Daniels has dealt with ankle and groin injuries for much of his sophomore season but averaged 7.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in 27 games. As a freshman the 6'5" 230 pound forward led the Missouri Valley Conference with an average of 1.6 blocked shots per game.
According to Matt L. Stephens of The Coloradoan, Daniels knew that he would fit in at Colorado State before the completion of his official visit to the school:
"I really liked the community, and the town of Fort Collins is really nice. We went down to the strip (Old Town), and I was comfortable. I got a really good vibe from the coaches, too," Daniels said in a phone interview.
"But I was sold on the town. It was crazy, because Friday, I hadn't even seen the basketball part of it - just the town. I knew then and there, that this is a place I feel really comfortable with. I got to talking with coach (Larry) Eustachy and all the coaches and decided this was the best situation for me to be in."
The Rams are really hoping that Daniels is the second coming of Pierce Hornurg or Greg Smith both whom are aggressive off ball defenders and tenacious rebounders. Holt, Avila and Daniels can't replace Iverson, Smith and Hornung. But they do provide the Rams some much needed front court help. Don't be surprised if Larry Eustachy finds an additional big man that can play immediately to fill his final scholarship.
Colorado State also returns three key role players from last years team: forward 6'9", 210-pound Garson Santo out of Brazil, Arizona transfer Sophomore, Daniel Bejarano guard who has size at 6'4" and 200 pounds and an athletic scorer in Jonathan Octeus who is a 6'4" 170 pound shooting guard.
These additions look to help build off Colorado State's success last season, and keep them near the top of the Mountain West.