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Colorado State’s Road to the Sweet 16: Volume 5

CSU stumbles in league play

(Check out Colorado State’s Road to the Sweet 16: Volume 4 here)

Here’s how the last 5 games have played out for the Rams:

CSU vs. New Mexico - CSU 80-74 (14-1, 4-1 conf)

CSU @ Air Force - CSU 73-53 (15-1, 5-1 conf)

CSU vs. Nevada - CSU 77-66 (16-1, 6-1 conf)

CSU vs. UNLV - UNLV 88-74 (16-2, 6-2 conf)

CSU @ Wyoming - Wyoming 84-78 OT (16-3, 6-3 conf)

Forgive me for the delay between Volume 4 and Volume 5 of “Colorado State’s Road to the Sweet 16.” To put it mildly, there were frustrations about how the Rams lost to Wyoming up in Laramie on Monday.

It started innocent...

Then it got a little hasty...

Then it just went off the rails...

Suffice it to say, this was a tough game to watch.

Reiterating my last tweet, the officiating wasn’t necessarily one-sided (though I’d argue more bad calls hurt the Rams than the other way around), it was just an overall terribly officiated game. It’s been a theme all year within the conference. I get these guys aren’t making the big bucks, and aren’t messing up on purpose, but this stuff needs to get cleaned up. It’s ruining the product on the floor. When the two best players on the court, David Roddy and Graham Ike, aren’t in the game in the final minutes because they both fouled out on extremely questionable calls, that’s a problem. Additionally, Isaiah Stevens, Hunter Maldonado, and John Tonje were all playing the final minutes with 4 fouls each. The foul calls on Tonje were especially egregious, as I couldn’t even find one foul of his that should have been called. And don’t get me started about this no call goaltend:

That was a 5 point swing...

Alas, CSU walked out of Laramie with their second loss in as many games, after dropping an extremely disappointing game against UNLV at home just a few nights prior.

Officiating complaints aside, the Rams simply just haven’t played well recently. It wasn’t like they didn’t have their chances against Wyoming. David Roddy could have essentially sealed the victory in regulation with a made free throw. Unfortunately, he fell short. Isaiah Stevens, the most clutch player I’ve ever seen play for CSU, uncharacteristically lost count of the shot clock in the most critical of moments. Stevens also struggled shooting late. Again, uncharacteristic of who Colorado State fans know Isaiah Stevens to be.

What really killed CSU though was what’s been happening too often lately. Slow starts.

The Rams once again struggled to score at the beginning of this one. In almost identical fashion to the UNLV game, CSU didn’t score their first bucket until nearly 4:30 minutes in. That’s unacceptable. This is something Head Coach Niko Medved needs to clean up, because while it wasn’t the sole reason they lost against Wyoming (CSU was able to make it just a 1 point game by halftime), it certainly didn’t help. Against UNLV, IT WAS the main reason they lost. Against the Runnin’ Rebels, that game was essentially lost by halftime, as CSU was down 43-25.

Besides starting slow, the Rams have also had a major issue slowing down the opposing team’s best player. Against UNLV, Bryce Hamilton went off for 45 points. 45 points! That’s inexcusable. Why CSU didn’t make some sort of adjustment against Hamilton mid game is beyond me. It was a similar story against Hunter Maldonado of Wyoming, who put up 35 points. Letting one player destroy you like this can’t happen. I’ve praised Niko Medved repeatedly, and deservedly so. He’s completely transformed CSU into one of the better mid-major basketball programs in the country, but he deserves criticism for these last two games. He’s been out-coached, plain and simple.

Fortunately it hasn’t been all bad for the Rams.

Before tripping up against UNLV and Wyoming, CSU had quality wins against New Mexico, Air Force, and Nevada. New Mexico specifically caught my eye as a team on the rise. Their backcourt is legit, as Jaelen House, Jamal Mashburn Jr., and Javonte Johnson all have serious game. I really like what Richard Pitino is doing down there with that program. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, The Pit is one of the hardest places to play in all of college basketball. So if New Mexico can get that program back to relevance, this could be a team to watch here in the coming years.

For the Colorado State Rams, these last few games have been a bumpier ride than anticipated. Once thought to have a chance at a top 6 seed in March, CSU is suddenly facing the very real possibility they don’t sniff the Big Dance at all. While still projected to make the tournament, the pressure is now higher than it’s been all season.

It all starts this Friday in a rematch against SDSU. This will be a vitally important game for CSU. The Aztecs handed the Rams their first loss of the season, in embarrassing fashion, destroying them by 30 points in early January. A win and CSU’s automatically back in the Mountain West championship conversation, and subsequently, the NCAA tournament conversation. A loss and it will be an uphill battle the rest of the way.

Don’t miss out on any of the action, as you can watch SDSU @ CSU on FS1 this Friday 2/4 @7pm MST.