Failure to communicate: Rams losing streak built on breakdowns

Rams team. Credit: CSU Athletics Communications.
Rams team. Credit: CSU Athletics Communications.

What we’ve got here, is failure to communicate.

Coming off their thrashing at home, to the extremely talented Arkansas Razorbacks, a dejected Anthony Masinton-Bonner sat at the podium, head in his hands, clearly upset with the fourth straight loss for his Colorado State Rams.

“Coach will probably tell you guys, we’re more worried about our offense than our defense, top to bottom,” Bonner explained, frustratedly. “There are some guys that really played hard tonight, proud of them. Gotta take more pride on the defensive end.”

CSU, who started the season 3-0, now sits at 4-5 overall. And during this losing streak, the same story has played out repeatedly. While the Rams have improved offensively, sharing the ball much better than before, their defense has been nonexistent and their rebounding, lackadaisical.

Over the last four games, Niko Medved’s team has given up an average of 86 points, and have lost by 16 points per contest. When Southern Illinois came into Moby Arena last Tuesday night, the Salukis scored at will in the paint, doubling up the Rams in rebounds (34-17); a common theme as of late.

“I think we really got exposed tonight for where we’re at on the defensive end,” Medved said following the loss to SIU. “We’re not very good on that end, and that’s the truth…Our message to the team, our success this year, or chance to have success is really related to that end of the floor.”

Offensively, one player can take over a game and lead a team to victory. But, defensively, it takes a cohesive unit, a group, a collective effort and mindset to play well and get stops. That takes communication, which the Rams are severely lacking currently.

“Defensively, we need to be more connected as a team,” Bonner said. “It’s not one, individual person. Just need to talk more.”

Before the season, the lack of communication was stark. Freshman Adam Thistlewood was clearly the best communicator on the defensive end, calling out the ball, screens and more. But, he was basically the only one doing so.

So, what’s the solution? Does Colorado State need someone to step up as a leader?

“It’s like I told the guys at halftime, communication is contagious,” Medved explained. “Sometimes, you just gotta be chatty. Come down, ‘Hey, I got the ball!’ Whatever it is. Communicate loudly…So we need some guys that are really going to buy into that every day. Hopefully it just becomes contagious and becomes an expectation.

“They’ll get better,” he assured the media, and possibly himself, as well.

Colorado State’s on a four-game losing streak, but the level of competition has been greater than most previous years’ non-conference slates. South Dakota State and Arkansas were each NCAA Tournament teams last March, Southern Illinois is packed with athleticism and has Kavion Pippen, and Colorado is a team chock full of young talent. Combined, those teams’ records are 25-8 (75.8 winning percentage).

“I think playing these tough opponents will prepare us, further down the road,” Bonner said of the “murderer’s row” of teams they’ve played as of late.

The lesson, after playing those extremely difficult opponents is, “Defense wins games, and that’s gotta be our No. 1 priority,” freshman guard Kendle Moore said after the loss to Arkansas.

And the way the Rams can play more cohesively on that end of the floor is by someone, or multiple men, stepping up to take a vocal leadership role on the court. Bonner even said guys on the bench can be more involved, more vocal as well.

Hey, basketball is a team effort after all.

Better communication won’t just slow down the opposing ball-handler – which CSU must do a better job of – it also helps in the rebounding department. Nico Carvacho is a dominant big man, averaging a double-double this season. But, we’ve repeatedly heard from Medved and the guards themselves they have to find a way to box out, play physically and come up with loose balls.

Over their last three losses, the Rams have been killed on the boards, by an average of 26-38 per game.

Bonner pointed to a lack of effort and that failure to communicate as Colorado State’s biggest downfalls, their biggest hurdles to overcome going forward.

Luckily, the Rams can bounce back this Saturday with Sam Houston State (3-6) coming to Moby Arena before a much-needed week off to rest, regroup and continue to bond on the hardwood.

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