One-third of the way through Niko Medved’s first season as Colorado State’s head coach, and the team is an even 5-5.
Considering the in flux of talent — like freshmen Adam Thistlewood and Kendle Moore, and transfer Kris Martin — and considering the change of coaching staffs, that’s a solid record to start out the season.
But, obviously, the Rams are far from perfect at this point in the year, and at this stage in Medved’s tenure. It would be ridiculous to expect otherwise, as everyone has been figuring out their roles on the court throughout the first 10 games, but, we have learned a lot about the team already.
We know Thistlewood has worked himself into the starting lineup, that Medved is going to play a 4-guard, 1-big lineup all year long, and that the Rams will have to work to be stronger in the painted area due to that lineup.
Let’s go a bit deeper and examine where their strengths and weaknesses lie at this point in the year:
1. Offensive teamwork — These Rams are doing things offensively we haven’t seen for the last six years. They’re running set plays, which is a massive upgrade, and they’re playing with better teamwork on that end of the floor overall. The 4-and-1 lineup leaves four men waiting around the arc, with Nico Carvacho down low. The offense can go through Carvacho, and when he’s doubled, he can pass it back outside, or the four wings can pass around the arc until they find an open shot.
That’s how they’ve played their best offensively this year, and in wins, the Rams have averaged 15 assists per game compared to 12.4 in losses.
2. Listening to coaching — These coaches won over the team by working with them relentlessly before the season even began, and we’re seeing that every time they take the floor. When Medved and defensive-minded Dave Thorson bark out orders, the players respond immediately; that’s another big change from the past, when players would routinely roll their eyes for being called out on the court.
3. Shooting ability — This Rams team is chock full of shooters, led by the deadly Anthony Masinton-Bonner, with J.D. Paige, Moore and Carvacho all shooting 50 percent or better so far this year. As a team, Colorado State’s 47.1 shooting percentage is 5.3 percent better than last year, and 37.1 percent from beyond the arc is an improved mark, too.
Bonner told us before the season this team was loaded with shooters, and the only way that can be a negative is when the Rams fall in love with the 3-pointer, which they have done multiple times this year.
1. Team rebounding — Carvacho is an elite rebounder, but the rest of the Rams are not. That comes with the 4-and-1 lineup, sure, but it’s been regularly covered by Medved in postgame press conferences, that the guards must rebound better. In recent losses to Southern Illinois, Colorado and Arkansas, the Rams were out-rebounded by an average of 13.3 per game. In order to be competitive as this season matures, Thistlewood and the guards have to rebound more consistently. They’re not a terrible rebounding team — leading opponents 348-346 on the year — but in losses, it hasn’t been close, usually.
2. Communication and effort on defense — The Rams have struggled with communication on the defensive end, and Medved explained after the Arkansas loss that it’s not in his players’ “DNA.” Thistlewood was clearly the best communicator on defense in the team’s preseason scrimmage, which is interesting considering he’s a freshman. A player needs to step up and push the Rams to call out ball screens, to work together on rebounds and more, or they’ll continue to be dominated in the painted area.
3. Killer instinct — Being a young and inexperienced team has hurt the Rams in some ways, namely, with their killer instinct. Colorado State allowed Montana State to hang around and even take the lead in the second half, forcing the green and gold to come back late with clutch shots by Bonner and Paige to win. Against Sam Houston State on Saturday, the Rams came back from a nine-point deficit in the second half and led by six with 3:33 to play, but couldn’t find a way to widen that lead and really put the Bearkats away.
At 5-5, the Rams are off this week for finals before hosting a solid South Dakota (4-5) team on Sunday, Dec. 16 (2 p.m. MT tip). Then they finish the non-conference at Long Beach State (3-8) before hosting the incredible New Mexico State Aggies (7-2) on Dec. 30.
This is an improved team compared to last season, but these Rams have a long way to grow, too. Let’s see if they can take the lessons learned in their four-game losing streak to good teams and turn those into wins this year.
Dec. 16 is the first time transfer guard Hyron Edwards will be allowed to play for Colorado State. Edwards is extremely athletic, with the ability to both shoot from deep and drive the hole with lightning speed. He’s a similar player to Moore, so it’ll be interesting to see how playing time shakes out for everyone.