This article is the second in a series predicting Colorado State’s 2018-’19 basketball season. The first focused on CSU’s initial non-conference portion, while the second evaluates the Rams’ upcoming games against Southern Illinois, Colorado, and Arkansas.
The Colorado State Rams were brought back down to earth last week after losing two of three Gulf Coast Showcase games.
CSU began the season by winning its first three games. Then, the Rams’ level of competition increased. However, the Rams’ ability to produce regressed. The Niko Medved led team from Fort Collins are now 4-2 overall early on.
It has become evident that the Rams have some work to do after struggling against better competition in the last three games.
Long range shooting woes were a major contributor to CSU’s losses in Fort Myers. The Rams converted 16-60 3-point attempts combined in their blowout defeats to Louisiana and South Dakota State. That’s a ghastly 26.7 percent, about half what they shot in their first three wins.
Better shot selection, and maybe even less attempts from deep, will most likely be emphasized by Medved moving forward.
While the 3-ball has been the biggest area of concern as of late, there is plenty for CSU to be proud of in the early stages of Medved’s head coaching stint.
The head coach emphasizes ball movement, which is something the Rams have done well with after struggling to distribute the ball effectively under Larry Eustachy. Currently, six different Rams are averaging at least 10 points per game and helping everyone score is the team’s 14.3 assists per contest.
That includes Kris Martin, who returned from suspension for the green and gold’s most recent game against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. From scoring and defensive perspectives, Martin significantly boosts the depth CSU already possesses.
The Rams have seven non-conference games remaining before Mountain West play commences. And it’s going to get tougher before it gets easier, particularly with CSU’s next three games, which won’t be any easier than its Gulf Coast Showcase matchups. If anything, each game will be more difficult.
Let’s take a stab at predicting the manner in which CSU responds to its minor funk.
November 27: Southern Illinois
On Tuesday, the Rams play the first of three consecutive games that will require them to scratch and claw until the final buzzer in order to win.
Playing their rival the Colorado Buffaloes is obviously a highly-anticipated matchup, Saturday. The Rams will also be seeking redemption against SEC opponent Arkansas. Simply, it’s crucial for CSU to not overlook the SIU Salukis.
The Salukis most recently bounced a talented Tulsa program by 10 points in a neutral site game. SIU now stands at an even 3-3 overall this season after facing some solid competition.
SIU began the season by playing back-to-back ranked opponents in Kentucky and Buffalo, both of which the Salukis hung tough against.
SIU lost to then-No. 2 Kentucky by 12 and only trailed by only three at half in Lexington. The Salukis gave Buffalo a run for its money before suffering a 62-53 defeat. Buffalo is 5-0 this season and recently moved up to No. 21 in the AP Polls.
The Salukis are veteran-led group that will be tough for the Rams to handle, returning five of its six leading contributors from last season. Additionally, 8-10 players to play thus far for SIU this season are upperclassmen.
Senior guard Aaron Fletcher recently returned to the Salukis’ lineup after sitting out three games with an injury. Fletcher averaged 14.1 points per game last season and was SIU’s leading scorer.
The Rams are led by experience in Anthony Masinton-Bonner, J.D. Paige and others. However, SIU’s veteran presence is truly remarkable. The Salukis have proven they can stick with top tier competition as well. I don’t see CSU beating SIU on Tuesday. (Tip, 7 p.m. MT at Moby Arena.)
December 1: @ Colorado
After facing SIU at Moby Arena, the Rams head to Boulder in attempt to defeat the Buffaloes for the third consecutive time.
CU has responded nicely to a 17-15 finish last season by winning three of its first four games this time around.
The Buffaloes lost a significant amount of its production from last season, notably, second-leading scorer George King, who was drafted by the Phoenix Suns.
The emergence of redshirt freshman forward Evan Battey as well as sophomore guard D’Shawn Schwartz have helped compensate. The former four-star recruits are each averaging more than eight points per game.
This year’s basketball version of the Rocky Mountain Showdown should be extremely competitive. After losing twice in a row to the Rams, the Buffaloes will be hungry and probably feel due for a victory.
Since the game will be played away from Moby Arena, I’ll give CU a slight edge to win. (Tip at 1 p.m. Saturday in Boulder.)
December 5: Arkansas
Arkansas defeated CSU with ease last season. The Razorbacks coasted past the Rams 92-66 and eventually went on to earn a seven seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Razorbacks have responded with a four-game win streak following a 73-72 season-opening loss to Texas. The current win streak includes a resume-building victory over Indiana at home.
Arkansas is still a very talented group. However, it is tough to imagine the Razorbacks being as consistent as last season. The program lost six of its seven most significant contributors from last year’s brief March Madness run.
Unlike the Salukis, the Razorbacks are an extremely young team. So, it wouldn’t be surprising if the moment gets to them occasionally. That is good news for the Rams considering they face Arkansas at home.
CSU versus Arkansas has the potential to be a nail-biter, just as the football game was between the two teams was this season.
The Razorbacks welcomed one of the best recruiting classes in the country this season. The six-man class features four four-star players and two three-star freshmen.
Freshman guard Isaiah Joe is the only impactful freshman so far for Arkansas, though. Joe is averaging 12.8 points per game. The Razorbacks’ next best freshman has been Reggie Chaney. Although, Chaney has only scored a combined seven points over Arkansas’ last three games.
The Razorbacks will be a more dangerous team down the stretch, when their young talent hits its stride. But, when CSU faces them, the Rams will have an opportunity to pull out a big win.
Despite this, Arkansas has looked extremely dominant lately. The Razorbacks have won their last four games by an average of 16 points.
My gut tells me Arkansas will avoid the football-basketball sweep, and defeat CSU in Fort Collins. (Tip scheduled for 8 p.m. MT on Wed, Dec. 5.)
Assuming my predictions are correct, the Rams will be 4-5 and in the midst of a four-game losing streak with four non-conference games remaining.
Even if this is the case, CSU will be given a nice opportunity to right the ship with a home game against Sam Houston State on Dec. 8.
Then, the Rams will be given plenty of rest before facing South Dakota at Moby Arena over one week later. They finish the non-conference at Long Beach State and home against New Mexico State. Stay tuned for the next part of the series.