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South Dakota State 86 – Colorado State 76

March 19, 2015

I’m not going to take anything away from the visiting Jackrabbits who won this game.  They shot well from the perimeter and abused the Rams along the baseline for layups.

I’m not going to take anything away from the effort of CSU’s three seniors – Daniel Bejarano, JJ Avila, and Stanton Kidd.  They played hard. .  Avila, fighting off an ankle injury, had 19 and 11.  Bejarano had 17 and 9.  Kidd had 14 and 8.  I am sad that their careers had to end with a loss on their home floor but they leave us with lots of great memories.

As for the guys who are returning next year, other than Tiel Daniels, YOU DID NOT COME TO PLAY!

DeCiman with 2, Gillon a goose egg, Clavell with 9 on 2-9 from the floor.

And you will now get a chance over the summer and fall to decide what you want your legacy to be.  Because all of you have a ton of work to do to put yourself as the level achieved by the aforementioned seniors.

And for Coach Eustachy and staff…

You had a great season.  You can pat yourselves on the back. snd feel good.

But you also have a lot of work to do.

I have one problem with what I saw tonight.  Your team had no way of getting back into the game in the final minutes. Your team does not know how to play a trapping, pressuring defense that can speed up possessions and create turnovers.  You never doubled the ball to get it out of the hot shooter’s hands on the perimeter.  

It’s the only way to come back from late double digit deficits.  But your team kept playing things pretty much the same way.

I hope you and your staff perform some critical self-analysis on what you can do better. Because its not just player development that is necessary.

This will probably be my final blog entry on this year’s squad.

They were a joy to watch this season. Great victories, great memories.

Regarding the NCAA Selection Committee, something struck me the other day…

March 17, 2015

When watching Scott Barnes, the NCAA Tournament Committee Chairman, trying to explain the choice of a team like UCLA over Colorado State, there were so many inconsistencies that it was obvious there was something underneath at work here.

Gaining steam implied hat the committee valued the last 10 games of the season rather than the entire season. Something they said they never did.  Of course it was comical that UCLA’s steam was generated by winning 4 games against the lowest part of the conference, then losing close to the Pac-12’s best team.

Pointing out that UCLA has a Top 100 road win and CSU didnt.  Again, looking at one data point rather than the full body of work.  NCAA games are played on neutral courts.  CSU had a Top 100 neutral game win and UCLA did not on their resume.

Pointing to an eye test when its obvious that the committee can’t be at every game watching them.

I could go on and on.  But you get my point.  The inconsistencies are so glaring when selecting at-large bids that it became obvious that Barnes was throwing up a smokescreen.

And the smokescreen is being thrown because the NCAA Tournament is no longer about rewarding the teams that have earned bids over the course of a long season.  

Its about money.

The committee is more concerned about maximizing revenue and putting that money into the hands of those that need it most.  The big schools with big budgets who are about to be engulfed with larger expenses due to the Ed O’ Bannon decision.

Look at the teams that got in at the end of the bracket – UCLA, Texas, Indiana. None of those teams earned bids over the course of the season.  It has nothing to do with strength of schedule in their caes. It has to do with the fact that they lost a lot of games. A lot.

Big names but, more importantly, big TV markets.  Los Angeles without a team to represent? Can’t let that happen. Flagship school of the State of Texas – can’t let that happen.  Flagship school in the state where the NCAA is located – can’t let tht happen.

These teams chosen at the expense of teams like Colorado State, Temple who certainly can’t bring as many eyes to watch the televison sets.  That is the Eye Test that is really important.

And then something else struck me.

As a season ticket holder of CSU, I was contacted to see if I wanted to purchase tickets to to see CSU play if they were selected.  You don’t just click off a box and say “Yes I want tickets”.  You specify what sites youre interested in attending.  You get to say “I would travel to Omaha and Portland, but not Jacksonville or Pittsburgh”.

Every team’s fans are given this opportunity.

And guess what?

That data is probably made available to the committee to see how best they can maximize the NCAA revenue through ticket sales.  Because lately, these early round games DO NOT SELL OUT!  How best to maximize ticket sales than to place those teams that are committed to selling the most tickets!  

Want to know why Dayton got a play-in game and not Texas?  Because the game is played in Dayton! 

Duh.

And I get it. I’m OK with that.  I’m OK with the NCAA Tournament being more about generating money to those they need it most.  That’s their call, not mine.

But Its not a tournament I will care about in the future because I want to see the teams that earn it on the court – the CSU’s, the Temple’s, the Murray State’s. I don’t need to see a UCLA team that lives off the past successes of Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton.  Or an Indiana team that is out of control and poorly coached.

So when Scott Barnes or future chairs of the committee start talking jibberish, I can just sit back and laugh now.  Non conference schedule blah, blah, blah.  Gaining steam blah, blah, blah. Top 100 blah, blah, blah. Metrics blah, blah, blah.

I know a liar when I see one. I worked in the Fortune 100 world for years and the NCAA’s level of lying is far more superficial than stuff I learned how to filter.  

Its no longer about merit or earning it on the court. It’s all about the money.

When life hands you a bunch of lemons…

March 17, 2015

You make lemonade out of it.

Such is the task ahead of the Colorado State Rams basketball team, the victim of what might be the biggest snub by the NCAA Tournament Commitee since the tournament expanded to a 68-team field.

It was a kick in the gut as a fan to watch the Selection Show and not see my team called. I can’t imagine what it felt like for the players who were sold out for TV ratings and name programs by a bunch of professional suits who are supposed to be concerned about student-athletes.

I know when I lost a race or a golf tournament or a game I felt obligated to look inward and beat myself up for all the mistakes I made.  The brain goes to work and I think “If only I had done ____ instead of ___.  We would have won.”

In the case of this year’s Rams’ team, you could point to a game here or a game there.  “If only we had completed the comeback against Wyoming in Moby. If only we held onto that double-digit lead in Boise…”

But you did nothing wrong!  You had a fantastic season and now you get to continue it.

The NCAA ship has sailed and its time to move on to something that’s right in front of them.

A home game in the National Invitation Tournament against the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State.

The NIT was at one time the bigger of the two post-season college basketball tournaments.  You had to be really good to get an invitation to come play in Madison Square Garden.  As a kid I can remember some great Providence and St John’s teams playing in it.  I remember the Salukis of Southern Illinois, led by the dynamic backcourt of Walt Frazier and Dick Garrett, winning a championship on the floor where Frazier would later lead the Knicks to a pair of NBA Championships.  I’m sure CSU’s Tiel Daniels knows all about those guys.

In the Spring of my freshman year, Duke finished the regular season something like 19-9 and lost in the first round of the ACC tournament to a lower seeded NC State.  North Carolina lost in the championship game to South Carolina (yes the Gamecocks plied their trade in the ACC before running to the SEC).  In those days, there were no at-large NCAA bids.  Only conference champs went dancing.  So North Carolina were hoping to get NIT bids and they both did.  I remember Duke winning a game at Tennessee and North Carolina defeating a UMass team led by a talented young player named Julius Erving.

And then somehow they won again and there they were, on their way to New York for the semi-finals.  Duke vs. North Carolina in Madison Square Garden!

Both teams had players from the Northeast in their lineups.  The only New Yorker was a Tarheel named Bill Chamberlin but there were kids from Pennsylvania andConnecticut on the rosters.  Duke was led by senior point guard Dick DeVenzio and center Randy Denton.  Carolina had a forward named Dennis Wuycik and a feisty point gaurd from Central Pennsylvania named George Karl.  Yes that George Karl.

The game was to be played right at the start of Spring Break and I was not going to miss Duke-North Carolina. The teams had split the season series but North Carolina had a tournament win over Duke in what was known as the Big Four Tourney in those days (Wake and State were the other teams).

I was a poor college student and had no money to get there so I headed to I-85 on the outskirts of Durham and stuck my thumb out looking for a ride.  Within minutes I had a guy stop and he was headed all the way to New York.  Pure luck for me.  Even luckier, he drove like a maniac and we made it in 6.5 hours rather than the usual 8 hours.

I made it to the Garden in plenty of time,found some fellow students in the seats and cheered for my team. I remember one play.  A bounce pass from DeVenzio to Denton that he threw through the legs of UNC’s center Lee Dedmon to set up a layup.  I also remember that Duke lost that day and that North Carolina would go on to win the NIT.

Duke vs. North Carolina in my first NIT game – fantastic!

It was many years before my next NIT game. In fact it was 2011 when CSU hosted Fairfield.  CSU was a marginal bubble team that season but 4 losses in their last 5 games pushed them into the NIT.  A disappointing end to the season and they played like it.  A lackluster effort that night by the Rams but they still had a shot at winning until a final shot missed the mark.

The team was unprepared and went through the motions that night. From a fan perspective, it was one of the most disappointing games that I saw in Moby during the Tim Miles Era. A waste of 2 hours.

So my teams were 0-2 in my NIT games but at least one of the games was entertaining.

So now I’ll be attending my third. I’m excited that I’ll get to see our seniors take the Moby court again. I’m excited that I’ll get to see them pass the torch to the young players.  I’m excited that I’ll be able to scream at the opponents and the officials from my customary seat in Moby.

And for the players, I hope you have moved on from the disappointment much like Duke and North Carolina did in 1971.  Something that the 2011 CSU squad was not able to do.

Because you have an unbelievable opportunity to advance to the Mecca of basketball – Madison Square Garden – if you play like you are capable of playing.  All the history of the arena and all the history of this tournament is right there in front of you.

A chance to make your mark at the intersection of 32nd Street and 7th Avenue.

Start spreading the news…

The Rams are coming!

Colorado State 76 – Utah State 58 (Women)

March 7, 2015

It was an emotional night at Moby Arena as the Rams closed out the regular season trying to wrap up their second consecutive MWC title on Senior Night.  An important game to be followed by a celebration of the outgoing seniors and hopefully a trophy presentation.

If you want to read about all the details of the game, go read one of the local rags.  Or better yet, read the Rocky Mountain Collegian whose coverage has been extraordinary in terms of quality and depth.  Those kids over there have done a fantastic job.

I’m a sentimental schmuck.  I cry at the movies.  I’ve seen the Wizard of Oz a gazillion times and still cry when Dorothy has to return home from Oz.  

I cried at Moby several times last night.

The first was when CSU honored the Utah State seniors before the game.  That’s right.  CSU placed the names of the Utah State seniors on the video board and CSU’s seniors Gritt Ryder and AJ Newton walked to the other end of the court to present the Aggie seniors with flowers.  It was first class all the way and very much set the tone for a night where class would be on display.  Games come and go.  Acts of kindness and respect are unforgettable.

Both teams came out of the gate shooting lights out.  The Rams were attacking the rim and the Aggies were making everything form the outside against the Rams’ 2-3 zone defense.  Utah State freshman Funda Nakkasoglu was tearing it up, scoring 16 points in the first 13 minutes of the game.  AJ Newton was nearly matching her with 15 but the Rams trailed by 4.

At the under 8 media timeout, the Rams switched into their man-to-man defense and the game began to turn slowly.  At the half, the Rams had forged into the lead at 39-38.

Bu there were changes that had to be made in terms of assignments defensively.  Nakkasoglu was doing some damage off the high screen and roll and getting her team some easy looks in the paint.  The change made was to put a taller Jamie Patrick on Nakkasoglu and to switch those high screens when necessary resulting in elite defender Ellen Nystrom defending her and Patrick able to defend a post player.  The man-to-man D in the first half and started the turnaround.  The halftime adjustment turned the game on its ear.  Naggasoglu finished with 21, only 3 of which came after the break.

Offensively, the Rams attacked the paint relentlessly as the Aggies had no answer for Elie Gustavsson inside.  Giustavsson scored on a variety of post moves and off the bounce and the Rams began to pull away.  A Jamie Patrick and-1 after grabbing an offensive rebound on her own missed 3-ball, followed by a Ryder 3-ballpushed the lead to 60-49 and all of a sudden the game was in hand.

And when the game got inside two minutes, it was time to get the two seniors out of the game and let them feel the love.  But not before AJ Newton said her good-bye to the Moby floor with a series of behind the back dribbles and some shake-and-bake as she wove her way to the rim and scored a layup between three much bigger defenders.  It was the final chapter to a storybook career at CSU for Newton and Ryder. 

So much for the game.

The girls rushed center court to congratulate each other at game’s end and it was time to honor Newton and Ryder.  As a fan, I’ll always be able to look up at the rafters and see the MWC Championship banners that they hung in their two seasons in Fort Collins.  I’ll be able to look at the floor and see Gritt Ryder threading a pass to a streaking teammate for an easy layup, an AJ Newton bomb from the perimeter.  I’ll remember AJ trying to play on a leg that required surgery because her backcourt mate was on the bench with a severely injured hamstring.  I’ll remember both of them fighting through injury and adversity because that’s who they are.

But I’ll most remember the post-game celebration of the careers of two extraordinary women.  

Careers that produced a 48-14 overall record to date and 30-6 in the Mountain West. Two championships. A 29-3 record in Moby.  

Becky Hammon will always be the Queen of CSU Women’s’ Basketball.

But no one in recent years has brought more to the Moby floor than Gritt Ryder and AJ Newton.  The heart and soul of a resurgent womens’ basketball program.

And suddenly, there they were on the Moby floor standing at center court, looking up at the video board playing highlights of their careers.  They stood with their arms draped around each other as best friends.  Their love for each other is obvious both on and off the court.  Here they were supporting each other just as they had for two long, beautiful seasons. 

An indelible sight for sure. And I cried.

They’ve given me so much on these winter nights in Moby with their skill, their passion, their competitiveness.  

There’s no place like home.



Colorado State 68 – Nevada 61 (Women)

March 4, 2015

Players play.

Coaches coach.

And when you combine good players with good coaches, you get good teams that win championships.

And so for the second year in a row, under 3rd year coach Ryun Williams and behind the 2-year backcourt of Gritt ryder and AJ Newton, the Rams are champions of the Mountain West Conference.

I’m not going to spend much time recapping the game. Other than to say it was close, then the Rams broke it open to lead by 10 at the break, other than to see the lead completely disappear against a bigger Nevada team.  The Rams were winning the turnover battle and the 3-point shooting battle, but the Wolf Pack was killing it in the pain and on the offensive glass.

I’d rather spend my time describing the moment of truth in this game.  Let me set the scene.  With 2;30 to go, Nevada had just cut the lead to 4 and called for a 30-second timeout to set their defense.  CSU Coach Ryun Williams drew up a play for the ages.

Gritt Ryder calmly brought the ball up the court.  Center Alana Arias flashed to the wing for a pass.  The ball went back to Ryder as wing Hanne Mestdagh set a back screen in the paint to free up Arias in the post.  The ball went to Arias and now Ellen Nystrom was etting a screen at the free three line to free up Mestdagh for a three.  Earlier in the half, the Rams had run a similar play to set up Jamie Patrick for a three, which she had missed.  

Nevada was ready this time.

Except they weren’t.

Because Nystrom slipped the screen, cut hard to the basket, and received a pass from Arias for an uncontested layup to push the Ram lead to 6.

A perfectly drawn up play by a good coach, a perfectly executed play by a bunch of good players.

It was game, set, match as the Rams had the margin and the energy from their great execution to close the game out.

Champions again!

More Thoughts…   The Rams do not match up well with Nevada.  So it wasnt a surprise that the 1st place team was struggling with the 10th place team.  Parries to the rim are met with shot blocking and physical play of 6’8″ Mimi Mungedi.  On the offensive side, Nevada had no trouble getting shots at the rim against the smaller Ram guards.  A switch to a 2-3 zone by the Rams got the Rams into the lead but Nevada made the adjustments at halftime to deal better with that zone.  It turned into a nervy, nail-biting affair as a result.

CSU junior Jamie Patrick has come a long way in her first year with the Ram program since her arrival from a JC in Kansas.  She began as a sharpshooter from the perimeter.  She is a much more complete player on both ends now.  She finished the game with 19 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals.  Her best move of the night was a Euro-step layup which she missed.  I grabbed her after the game and she told me shewas so surprised the move worked so well that she missed the shot.  Awesome move, missed shot, good laugh after the game.

If you think officiating at the men’s level can be spotty, you’d get even more laughs at some of the stuff in the womens’ game.  With about 20 seconds left in the game, Nevada missed a shot and Elie Gustavsson garnered the rebound.  Nevada immediately fouled her.  Gustavsson walked to the other end prepared for her free throws. For some reason, the officials weren’t sure who was fouled and had to go to the replay monitor.  Everybody in Moby knew it was Gustavsson.  Except for the three officials who spent minutes looking at the replay. One official pointed to Ellen Nystrom to shoot the free throws and she gave the most quizzical “I wasn’t anywhere near the ball” look and threw up her hands in amazement.  That sent the officials back to the monitor for another good minute before they determined what everyone already knew.  They sent Gustavsson to the line and she calmly sank the free throws.

One final thought…  The starting backcourt of Gritt Ryder and AJ Newton have combined for a 29-6 conference record in their two years at CSU and have led the Rams to a pair of championships.  They can clinch an outright championship with a win at home over Utah State on Friday night.  I’ll be there for their Senior Night.  I hope other Ram fans who may not have womens basketball high on their list will find a way to get to Moby to celebrate the playing careers of two great young ladies!

Colorado State 72 – San Jose State 56

February 26, 2015

It was Senior Night.

The weather outside was abysmal, leaving plenty of empty seats.

JJ Avila, one of the seniors, was dressed in street clothes dealing with back issues.

The visitors were 0-14 in the MWC and had not won a game against a Division 1 opponent all season.

Throw that into the blender and you get what you got.  A mish-mash of good play, some bad play, emotion and love elevated higher than the quality of play on the court.

The Rams, starting senior Marcus Holt in Avila’s place, jumped out to an early lead and the game was pretty much over at the 13:32 mark when Daniel Bejarano drained a three-ball to push the lead to 17.3.

Larry Eustachy used his bench wisely and often in the first half and the Rams extended the lead to 35-12 with just over 5 minutes remaining in the half.  All 10 Rams who had played to that point scored.

From that point on, the game became unwatchable as the Rams slogged their way to the finish. From a fan perspective it was like being in a horrible traffic jam on the way to a family Thanksgiving celebratiuon.  The traffic sucks, there’s not a lot to do other than sit around, but you’re warmed by the fact that eventually the traffic will break, you will get to your destination, and you will have plenty of fun and laughter.

That being said, the Moby torch was passed from a great group of seniors to a junior class that stepped up and showed their love every step of the way.

Joe DeCiman played his finest game as a Ram, scoring 18 and grabbing 9 rebounds while stifling the Spartans’ Rashad Muhammed, a kid who can really fill it up from the perimeter.  DeCiman filled out his line in Bejarano fashion with 2 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks.

Tiel Daniels dominated in the paint. scoring 7 and grabbing 14 rebounds. He also scared the Spartans enough around the hoop in the first half as the opponents did not score a 2-point FG until the final seconds of the half.

And Gian Clavell came off the bench to score 12, nailing a couple of three-balls along the way and playing stout defense.

Daniel Bejarano started hot but cooled off, finishing the game with 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists.  A late TO resulted in Coach Larry Eustachy setting up a play for Daniel to shoot a three-ball from the corner as his final shot in Moby.  He missed. It didnt matter to the fans who were waiting to shower him with their love post-game.

With under a minute to go, both Bejarano and Stanton Kidd (who scored 14) were subbed for and the fans achknowledged them with a nice standing ovation.  The final buzzer sounded, the traffic jam ended, and Thanksgiving could begin.

More Thoughts…   The post-game ceremony was nice.  Of course the biggest cheers were reserved for Daniel Bejarano who has left a lot of blood, sweat, toil, and tears on the Moby floor over his years in Fort Collins.  But the roars were also loud for Marcus Holt, Stanton Kidd, and JJ Avila.  As always, the ceremony was tastefully done by the Ram AD.  

JJ Avila assured me that he will be back for the Nevada game. I’m sure it was difficult for him to sit out the game as he is the ultimate competitor  but he is mature enough to know that there are bigger fish to fry.  Two huge road games that will have a great impact on the post-season opportunities for the Rams.

One Final Thought… I know I’ve poked a lot of fun at San Jose State over the course of the season. They really are not very good.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that they are horribly coached or that they play lousy.  They showed the opposite in Moby.  They tried to execute their stuff for the entire 40 minutes on both ends of the floor.  They ran some nice sets, some great in-bounds plays, and could have easily quit but didnt. It also would have been easy to get frustrated and do some stupid things on the court but they didnt.  They were completely professional in the way they played and the way they went about their business. That is a testament to their coach Dave Wojcik and to their players.  I was able to shake Muhammed’s hand after the game and tell him he played a good game. I would have done the same with all of them if I could. 

Colorado State 66 – Air Force 53

February 22, 2015

The stage was set.

An in-state conference rival coming in rested off a bye with a week to prepare. The home team playing some of their best basketball of late, coming off a big road win and playing in front of their faithful. A skirmish in their previous meeting this season.

Colorado State had won the last 7 games against Air Force. But many of these wins had been high-scoring, close affairs. The Rams had a 20-point first-half lead in their last meeting but gave up 59 points in the 2nd half before holding on.

So when the Rams started hot from beyond the arc today to jump into an early lead, history said it might not matter.

But the Rams changed some recent history today. They did it by altering the way they defended Air Force’s intricate Princeton-style offense. They played 2-3 zone last game and got torched. They played some straight up man-to-man but always seemed to have trouble holding the Falcons.

And what did they do differently.

They went to a switching man-to-man D which took away the perimeter looks and forced the Falcons to put the ball on the floor and drive. Its not easy to do. It requires a lot of communication between players and a lot of work in practice to really make it work..

And oh how effective they were. Forced turnovers, contested shots, blocked shots. The Falcons were never able to find a rhythm after an early timeout by Larry Eustachy got the Rams focused on taking away the backdoor cuts.

On offense, Daniel Bejarano was hot early and JJ Avila kicked in about midway through the half, scoring inside and out. The Rams led at the half 39-26 as Avila led with 16 and Bejarano had 12.

The Falcons opened the second half with a quick 6-0 run but the Rams countered an 8-0 run and the lead never went below 9 the rest of the way. JJ Avila was forced to the bench with back spasms jut inside 10 minutes and the junior class took over down the stretch.

Tiel Daniels made 3-4 free throws, Gian Clavell scored at the rim multiple times and Joe DeCiman put the cherry on the top with a last minute dunk.

The offense wasn’t pretty in the second half but the defense was steady and firm as the Rams killed off the game in a professional manner.

They had held the Falcons to 53 points over 40 minutes after giving up 59 in 20 minutes last time out.

When the final buzzer sounded, they had moved their record to 23-5, 10-5 in the MWC.

But more importantly, they had taken another step forward. They call themselves Team Together. They played that way defensively and got the lift they needed from the juniors to close out the game. The staff had prepared them well and had pulled the right strings throughout the game.

On a snowy day in Fort Collins, the Rams had treated their fans to an enjoyable game. And Team Together grew larger.

More thoughts… Daniel Bejarano stood tall for the second game in a row as he went for 20 and 7. At games’ end he was absolutely exhausted, having given his all. He was ecstatic that his teammates had come through down the stretch so that he could put his effort into the defensive end of the floor.

Joe DeCiman played one of his most complete games ever as he scored from the perimeter, off the bounce, and at the rim. Defensively, he was in the face of any Falcon he was near and finished the game with 3 blocks. He had a nice article written about him in the Denver Post this morning and I told him after the game that they should keep writing articles about him if he’s going to play like that.

One final thought… Given the poor weather, Moby was really hopping this afternoon. And the students were at their best as they booed every touch of the ball by Air Force’s Matt Mooney. Mooney is the Falcon who punched JJ Avila in the back in the earlier meeting at Clune Arena. The students were merciless. Mooney ended the game with 1 point and was clearly bothered.

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