Following Colorado State’s loss to South Dakota on Sunday afternoon, head coach Niko Medved was as upset as we’ve seen him postgame.
“Obviously, I’m incredibly disappointed here today in the outcome,” Medved started. “Moreso than the outcome, kind of how we played…I think we played incredibly selfishly on both ends when it mattered the most. And until that piece changes, it’s going to be very, very difficult for us.”
Player leaders Nico Carvacho and J.D. Paige also noted the selfish play on Sunday. Ironically, selfishness is the exact opposite of what we saw from this Rams team to start the season, where they enjoyed 21 assists in each of their first two games. But, that selfish play extends beyond the offensive end of the court to the defensive end, where Medved’s team has struggled much more so far this season.
The guard-heavy Rams are lucky to have one of the best big men in the Mountain West Conference — if not the country — in Carvacho, who enjoyed a 20-point, 17-rebound performance on Sunday. Yet, without enough energy and determination from the rest of the team, the Rams were still out-rebounded (39-38) by the South Dakota Coyotes and the home team allowed their opponents to score too much inside the paint (26 points).
“What did they shoot, 70 percent in the paint tonight?” Medved asked postgame. “You look at the numbers and we did some good things defensively at times. Obviously they really hurt us on the glass early in the game, but they shot a really high percentage in the paint. To me, there were so many possessions where the shot clock was in single digits and we just couldn’t make the next play.”
South Dakota wanted it more, evidenced by their 11 offensive rebounds in the game, and the Rams’ smaller lineup didn’t get enough out of their guards in terms of effort in blocking out and defending furiously. To wit, 6’6″ Kris Martin — one of the taller guards on the roster — found himself out of position on a shot attempt with only 2:18 to go, was blocked out and then fouled the Coyote player, who then went 1-2 from the free throw line.
“That’s how you affect winning,” Medved said of that possession. “It’s not, ‘I’ve got to come down, make a shot, score the basket to get us ahead.’ It’s come up with the rebound, finish the possession, guard the ball, block somebody out, get on the floor for a loose ball. Make winning plays.”
Those types of swings late in games are killers for teams who are not only scratching and clawing to beat hungry opponents, but for teams — like the Rams — who are searching to find their identity under a new coaching staff, with a massive influx of talent.
Speaking of that influx, the Rams’ identity continues to be an unknown because roles are still trying to be defined.
Kendle Moore and Adam Thistlewood, two freshman, have been starting for Medved’s Rams, acting as key contributors to the team in multiple ways. But, then Martin was reinstated into the lineup following his five-game suspension to start the season. And on Sunday, the Rams were allowed to play another transfer — Hyron Edwards — for the first time as he had to sit out due to transfer rules.
Martin and Edwards are two of the most athletic players on the Rams’ roster, both are dynamic on the offensive end and Medved has praised their abilities on the defensive end, too. However, no matter how talented players may be, inserting them into the lineup comes with challenges, like how they affect the chemistry of the team and how other players are seeing their importance change.
“It’s difficult to add players in the middle of a season,” Medved explained. “You go through the whole preseason and what you try to do is, you try to establish your rotations, roles. And as soon as players come back, roles can change.”
Medved said multiple times after Sunday’s loss that he may be looking at altering playing time going forward as a way to wake up the young men on the court.
“To be honest, I do think that’s some of what’s going on,” Medved said. “Guys wondering, ‘How’s this going to affect me?’ As opposed to, ‘How’s this going to affect us?'”
Medved and his incoming staff had the tall task of unifying new and old players, getting them to buy into their system and win games on the hardwood. The first two missions were seemingly accomplished, although, now players are adjusting to those changing roles with the season already one-third of the way completed.
But, as the head coach explained, “One thing they find out about me and our staff, we’re going to stay with it here.”
At 5-6 on the season, the Rams are about where we expected them to be at this point. Every year, college basketball teams try to grow over the course of the year, and we should see that as this CSU squad goes from non-conference to conference play in the next few weeks. And while these Rams may not compete for a Mountain West title this season, the team is in good hands with Medved and his involved staff in control.