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Musings from a Saturday Morning Hoops Scrimmage

October 10, 2021

It only took a few minutes to realize that this year’s CSU Mens Basketball team is headed to the Final Four.

Ha Ha.

Anybody who draws any conclusions from events like this is crazy.

It was a fun morning with a chance for Ram fans to reconnect with their team after an empty season of fandom driven by COVID. It was fun to see the veterans and young players get up and down the floor. It was fun to catch up with some friends and to meet some new people.

The scrimmage was run as a series of three 6-minute games, all of which featured the trendy Elam ending which sets a winning score for either team after the 6 minutes has expired. Players were rotated between green and gold squads. And the coaches for the two teams were seniors Kendle Moore and Adam Thistlewood, both of whom were withheld with minor tweaks. The tweaks were certainly not enough to limit their dexterity with the clipboard.

And so the players went at it and of course the usual suspects like David Roddy and Isaiah emerged. Roddy with a thunderous dunk off a dribble drive to end one of the games, Stevens shooting freely from the perimeter and in the paint.

Newcomer Chandler Jacobs starting fast with an NBA three-ball and backdoor layup. Loyola transfer Baylor Hebb with a corner three to win the third and final game. Freshman Jalen Lake showing a lot of offensive skills inside and out.

What was apparent was the shooting prowess of this year’s squad, a trademark of a Niko Medved team. With Thistlewood and Moore, arguably the two best perimeter shooters not even dressed, virtually every Ram drained a three-ball. Moors, Thomas, Roddy, Stevens, Tonje, Rivera, Lake, Hebb, Jacobs. (I apologize if I missed anyone)Bigs, wings, guards, you name it. Shots were going in.

And since CSU won all three mini-games, I think I can safely say that they have begun the season 3-0.

The Good and the Bad

After the scrimmage, I was asked by new Assistant Coach Brian Cooley what I thought was the good and the bad.

I started with the bad.

When guys play against players they see every day in practice running offensive sets they are familiar with, they cheat on defense. They know where the ball is supposed to go in the offensive design, they know where the screens are coming from, where the dribble handoffs are supposed to take place. The result is a little less of an edge on the defensive end of the floor. Human nature.

And the good you ask…

John Tonje and Isaiah Rivera, two very valuable players who played off the bench last season, both made major contributions throughout the scrimmage. Tonje was a candidate for MWC Sixth Man of the Year last season and he continues to grow his game on both ends of the floor. Rivera saw limited action last season because of the difficultiies of integrating new players due to COVID. He was scoring from the perimeter (including a buzzer-beating three) and finishing at the rim. At some point down the road I’ll hit you with some advanced analytics on Rivera that’ll show you how big contributor he can be.

If I had to say who the biggest gainers were it would be those two.

Reconnecting with Friends

I spent the entire scrimmage sitting with my friends Terry and Ann Pettit. I haven’t seen them much recently. In case you arent aware, Terry is the volleyball coach who put Nebraska volleyball on the map. A National Championship coach, a court named after him. But more importantly, a deep-thinking and observant coach who understands the team dynamics that go beyond individual skills. And a good golfer too.

And he pointed out a play that John Tonje made while being defended by David Roddy. There it was with Tonje near the top of the key. 225 pounds against a 250-pound Roddy. The same Roddy who shut down All-MWC players Matt Mitchell and Bryce Hamilton in crunch time. But Tonje was able to withstand the physical presense of Roddy as he drove and the finished at the rim.

And Terry turned to me and said that is how basketball is so much different from the game we grew up with in our day. The size, the strength, the skill of two guys. Finesse and power that would have sent someone like me flying into the third row if I had tried to guard it.

A Chance to Meet an NBA Player

10+ year NBA big and current Denver Nugget General Manager Calvin Booth was visiting with his son who is a junior at Cherry Creek HS. I had a chance to introduce myself with the former Penn State star. I was also smart enough to not do anything other than say hello with a touch of small talk. I did the same two years ago with the parents of a player who ended up at CU.

There are rules for what you can and cant do as a booster which I technically qualify for. And I didn’t want to get my hand slapped like I did several years ago when I just happened to take a picture of a certain visitor to a CSU game and then post it on social media. I was contacted immediately by someone in compliance and told to remove it immediately. which I did.

You might remember the player. Former Louisville star Chane Behannan.

Is This Year’s Team a Sweet Sixteen Team?

I thought I’d get some insight from someone in the program who was on a Sweet Sixteen team last season.

You might remember Loyola (IL)’s remarkable run to the Sweet Sixteen last season which featured a high regular season ranking earning an 8-seed, highlighted by a second round double-digt win over 1-seed and Big Ten power Illinois.

CSU’s Baylor Hebb transferred after his freshman year at Loyola where he had limited playing time. He had been recruited by CSU before heading to Loyola and has now come full circle.

Let me preface this by saying that the last time I asked a transfer for some insight into what he was seeing at CSU vis a vis his previous program, I received a rather bitter ”No Comment”.

But Baylor was more than open to share his thoughts with me after the scrimmage.

He basically said that the biggest difference between the two programs was that Loyola’s Head Coach Porter Moser paid attention to every detail on the defensive end of the floor and was willing to live with some slippage on the offensive side. Conversely, CSU’s Nkio Medved is a stickler to details on the offensive side of the floor and less so on the defensive end. Thats what he saw over the summer but then Hebb added that the attention on the defensive side has really picked up as the team has begin formal practices in October.

I asked Baylor if he thought the talent level of this years team was good enough to be Sweet Sixteen. He answered in the affirmative.

Like anything in life, there are no guarantees.

But we might be headed for a fun ride.

And finally…

It was so good to see parents again in Moby after last season. I couldnt resist getting a picture of Isaiah Stevens with his parents Barry and Pat.

Cracker Attends His First 2021-22 Hoops Practice

September 29, 2021

First things first.

Yes I’ve chosen a third person headline.

Because I can.

I knew CSU Mens Hoops Basketball practice for the 2021-22 season officially began this week. And after attending one short team activity over the summer, I wanted to get my fix. I shot a quick message to Aaron Katsuma, CSU’s Director of Basketball Operations, and he let me know that Tuesday would work best this week.

So I arrived at the IPF with mask and was quickly required to show proof of vaccination. Such is the reality these days. Had they asked, I would have shown proof of Flu Shot and Pneumonia vaccine which I had received earlier in the day. Im 68 years old for Gods sake. I have found that vaccines work for me.

A short visit with CSU’s Kyle Neaves, a quick wave to CSU play-by-play extraordinaire Brian Roth, a short hello from Coach Medved, a fist bump from Mike Brohard.

And then a whole variety of team drills. Including 2 on 2 screen and roll, 3 on 2 transition. Interspersed with shooting drills. Some more smaller group drills.

And spotlight free throw shooting. Two free throws. A miss means the team runs. Adam Thistlewood misses and the team runs. Kendle Moore makes and they don’t run. Simple as that.

And then the moment of truth. A conditioned 5-on-5 game that began in the halfcourt and involved transition as well. Teams split. Green team consisting of Isaiah Stevens, Adam Thistlewood, James Moors, John Tonje, Isaiah Rivera. Gold team consisting of Kendle Moore, Chandler Jacobs, David Roddy, Baylor Hebb, Dischon Thomas, Jacob Jennissen.

In a game played to 20, the Gold team jumped out to an early dominating lead as both Moore and Jacobs nailed three-balls. 17-4. Game over right?

Not so fast as Isaiah Stevens grabbed the reins and led the Green team back from oblivion. Play got physical and a little bit chippy. Some hard fouls, some complaints of other fouls called.

A quick intervention by Coach Medved reminding them that complaining about fouls wasn’t going to get their team to 20 which was the goal of the game. Both teams refocused and the game was decided by a free throw by Dischon Thomas.

A quick huddle, a quick talk from Coach Medved and practice was over.

So what stood out?

First and foremost was the competitiveness of the practice. This was not a practice for the timid as the players really get after it.

Second is the culture that has been build where other player’s successes are celebrated by all. Drawing an offensive foul by getting absolutely run over draws loud roars. A dive for a loose ball gets a roar and an entire squad helping the player to his feet. It is a culture of team. And so when you hear the mantra of ”Team Together”, you know its real.

Other Observations

This team has really done their work in the weight room in the off-season. They are beefy and will make it very difficult for teams to attack them in the paint. They are also very fearless in terms of physical contact. More than once I saw Isaiah Stevens set a hard screen on David Roddy. Your all-conference point guard at all of 6’, 180 pounds on a 250-pound Roddy. Halting him in his tracks with a screen.

The usual suspects (Roddy, Stevens, Moore, Thistlewood, Moors, Tonje, Thomas) have not just settled at last year’s levels. They carry an even greater edge to their game.

But from my eyes, the most improved of all is Isaiah Rivera. Last year was a bit of challenge for the talented freshman from Illinois. COVID robbed him of important individual development and team activities. Rivera had his first true pre-season this summer and it shows. His perimeter shooting is good, he’s fearless going to the rim, and he mixes it up on the defensive end as well. He will push other returning players for PT this season.

Chandler Jacobs will fit in seamlessly with this CSU team. He can run, he can shoot, he can rebound, and oh how he can defend! Strength, length, cobra-like arms to create steals and deflections. He’s not just solid positionally on the defensive end. He is a ball winner.

I had a chance to speak with David Roddy post-practice and asked him about how he thought Chandler fit into the squad. Point blank David tipped Jacobs to win the MWC Defensive Player of the Year. Thats pretty strong stuff coming from an All-MWC player in 2021 and one of the early favorites for MWC Player of the Year in 2022.

And when I pressed David to compare Jacobs to other well-known established defenders in the MWC, David basically said there were none and immediately pointed more to an NBA-tough Russell Westbrook.

Ram fans are certainly in for a treat with Jacobs this season.

UPDATED: I forgot to comment on freshmen Jalen Lake and Jalen Scott. They did not participate in this particular practice. Like all of their teammates, they are fully vaccinated but there was some kind of issue in terms of their COVID vaccine certification. That should be corrected shortly. Obviously I look forward to seeing where they are at in their development.

Open Scrimmage on Homecoming Day

CSU will host an open scrimmage in Moby Arena at 10:00AM on Saturday, October 9th. Doors will open at 9:30AM. I suggest you find a way to stop by the scrimmage prior to beginning your tailgating festivites to get an early look at this year’s team.

And if you have any time, I suggest staying afterward and spend some time with the players.

I had a wonderful post-practice conversation with David Roddy yesterday. A lot of it was in confidence. But the more time you spend with these players and get to know them, the more you realize how remarkable they are. Roddy is mature beyond his years and is a wonderful example of why I have so much belief in our collective futures.

I touched bases with Adam Thistlewood post-practice as well to get caught up. As one of the team’s elder spokesmen, I love talking to him about things beyond basketball. If you arent aware, Adam is a Computer Science major who defines student-athlete. He filled me in that he’s taking 500-level graduate classes this semester. No small feat for an Honorable Mention All-MWC performer last season.

Adam brought up the first time we really had a chance to chat which was years ago during his freshman campaign. He and Kendle Moore came in together and formed a bond. They are the vetrans who have been the fisrt building blocks of the program built by Niko Medved. And because Adam brought it up, here’s the picture I took that day.

Inside the 2021-22 CSU Men’s Basketball Schedule

September 21, 2021

The much anticipated 2021-22 season is nearly upon us and the schedule has finally been released. Snippets have been appearing regularly over the last several months but now it is finalized.

And it is a schedule becoming of an NCAA hopeful from the Mountain West Conference. It features a variety of games against what are expected to be top programs meant to produce important numbers in the NCAA Quad System to help with NCAA Tournament selection. O

Of the 30 games on the schedule, as many as 8 of them could be against what were NCAA Tournament teams last season, Another 4 games are scheduled against NIT teams.

It also features games against weaker opponents to get the program ready for a demanding conference schedule. Games that offer challenges and risk in some cases.

It all begins with an exhibition game on October 31st against in-state D2 Adams State. Nothing noteworthy other than to point out that the last time Adams State visited CSU, Ram favorite Pierce Hornung was cold-cocked as he was running down the floor by an Adams State player. It resulted in a concussion and did affect CSU for a few games. On the positive side, that was the last season that CSU won a game in the Dance so maybe its good juju to have the Grizzlies on the schedule.

Nine days later, the Rams host Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles won their Summit League Tournament last season to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, then went on to upset both Ohio State and Florida before succumbing to Arkansas in the Sweet Sixteen. They are led by high-scoring guard Max Abmas, who averaged 24 points and 4 assists last season. We’re taking Jimmer-like stuff here as Abmas is the closest thing to the 2011 appearance of the BYU Naismith Award winning Fredette in terms of pure scoring. Jimmer scored 42 that day in Moby. Abmas is capable of challenging that. A CAN”T MISS FOR ANY BASKETBALL FAN!

Max Abmas

Following Oral Roberts, CSU will host both Arkansas-Pine Bluff and NAIA Peru State . Yes I know, Peru is not a state. These should be easy wins for the Rams but more importantly they serve as early-season tune-ups to get the team ready for what is to come.

Jacob, you will not be getting 500 words on Peru State. You’ll get nothing and like it. 😀😀😀

And then the first big series of test comes as the Rams head eastward to [play the 2021 Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. The first and only known match-up is against the Bradley Braves from the Missouri Valley Conference. Bradley is expected to be a middle of the pack team but MVC teams always offer a tough test. Not a gimme by any means. CSU Head Coach Niko Medved is 2-1 against Bradley, leading Drake to a pair of regular season wins before falling to the Braves in the MVC Tournament.

If all goes well, the Rams will meet perennial Big East power and NCAA Tourney team Creighton. The Blue Jays are in a bit of a rebuild but will be loaded with a lot of young talent looking to grow over the course of the season. And if the Rams can make it past Creighton, there is a good chance they will be matched up in the final game with none other than the Mighty Buffs of The University of Colorado. The Buffs won a game in the NCAA Tourney last season but 2021-22 is a bit of a rebuild for them as they look to incorporate a very talented freshman class with several top-notch upperclassmen.

I am sad that these two teams are not scheduled to play in Boulder this year. A hard-fought rivalry game played 2000 miles away doesnt have quite the feel of a game being played in the Foam Dome. Local hoops fans will have to wait another season to get a look at these two teams. Oh well.

Regardless, this Paradise Jam event is a fantastic opportunity for the Rams to build their NCAA Tournament resume. CSU is more than capable of garnering three wins.

And then its back home to Moby for a three-game set against local rival Northern Colorado, Sun Belt representative Little Rock, and WCC power Saint Mary’s.

Northern Colorado will be improved in 2021-22. They are a senior-laden team led by Sterling-grown Bodie Hume, a highly underrated (and under-recruited) forward. Head Coach Steve Smiley will be looking for a local scalp to add to his resume. Assistant Coach Dorian Green will hope to make his return to Moby a memorable one.He started every game in his career at Moby. Maybe Smiley and Medved will agree to give him 5 seconds of eligibility to keep his extraordinary streak alive.

Dorian Green

Little Rock is next. The Trojans are a bit of an enigma. They were the top team in the Sun Belt in 2020 with a very young team. They returned nearly everyone in 2021 and finished near the bottom of the Sun Belt. I dont know anything about them but they do have a bit of a unique roster which features three players from Serbia and two from Bosnia-Herzegovina. An Eastern European pipeline so to speak.

And then there is St Mary’s.

Easily the premier home game of the non-conference schedule. The Randy Bennett-led Gaels are a WCC powerhouse who missed out on the NCAA Tournament last season but will be looking to return. Pre-season prognosticators have them as high or higher than the Rams and this game is not only a toss-up, it will be an incredibly hard-fought game between two highly skilled and disciplined teams.

St Mary’s closes out the home non-conference schedule but really kicks off a stretch of three neutral site games that will give Ram fans insight into how far the 2021-22 team can go.

The first is against 2021 NIT finalist Mississippi State. The other Bulldogs from the SEC are coached by the venerable Ben Howland, who enters the season with 515 career wins and three Final Four appearances. The Bulldogs will be athletic, physical, and disciplined and give the Rams all that they want.

That game is followed by a return neutral court match-up with Tulsa in Fort Worth. The game was supposed to be held in the Pepsi Center last season but was wiped out because of COVID. For a variety of reasons, the Ball Arena in Denver was not an option and the teams agreed to play in Fort Worth. Bummer that Ram fans cant make the short trip to Denver. Last time these teams met the Rams prevailed in a 3OT 110-104 thriller that was the coming out of then freshmen Isaiah Stevens and David Roddy. Stevens delivered a 26-point, 12 assist double-double and Roddy, in his first start, delivered 17 and 11 for his first double-double as a Ram. Here’s another tidbit. Tulsa coach Frank Haith was the coach for Missouri when the Rams defeated them in the 2013 NCAA Tourney in Lexington, KY.

Colton Iverson

And then comes the biggest what is expected to be the biggest test of the entire non-conference schedule.

The Rams travel to Birmingham, AL to take on the Crimson Tide of Alabama. No they not coached by Nick Saban. They are coached by Nate Oats who has built an SEC powerhouse in his two years in Tuscaloosa. The same Nate Oats who built Buffalo (yes, Buffalo) into an NCAA Tourney 6-seed in his four years there. A Sweet Sixteen teamin2021 aftger earning a 2-seed. There will be plenty of NBA talent on the floor that day. Make no mistake. The Rams aren’t going there for a paycheck.

Nate Oats

That will conclude the out of conference schedule.

The Rams will begin their Mountain West campaign after taking a short Christmas break before heading to Alby-Q to take on the Lobos. I’ll be doing an in-depth preview of the entire Mountain West somewhere down the road so Im not going to get into any detail on the confefrence shcedule. Other than the fact that CSU and San Jose State were not scheduled to play in Moby Arena. Which means that if Ram fans will not be seeing Tim Miles in Moby Arena this season. Bummer! If you want to see Niko and Tim get together, you will have to travel to San Jose for a January 15th match-up. My wife and I are already planning to attend. Its not something I plan to miss.

So is the schedule enough?

I wanted to take a look at how the 2021-22 schedule projects into the NCAA Quadrant System analysis that the Selection Committee uses. Take these projections with a bit of a grain of salt. College Basketball can be pretty difficult to predict with all the roster upheaval that takes place off-season these days. This alone is what makes non-conference scheduling such a challenge. Aspiring non-P5 NCAA Tournament At-Large teams have it the hardest. Not enough Quad 1 and 2 games during the conference schedule and guesswork to orduce the best set of non-conference game to lead to the ultimate outcome – the At-Large bid.

I used last years NCAA published NET rankings and the 2022 projections from Barttorvik.com to give you a picture of where these opponwents fall. The Quad system is a bit complicated in how they view Home, Neutral, and Road games. You can Google the details if you want.

Opponent2021 NET Ranking2022 Projected
(BartTorvik.com)
Quad Projection
Oral Roberts1251803
ARK-Pine Bluff3423564
Bradley1731853
Creighton27721 or 2
Colorado9731 or 2
Northern Colorado2542394
Little Rock2213303 or 4
Saint Mary’s60392
Mississippi State78572
Tulsa1271052
Alabama8161

I didnt list Peru State because they have no effect on the NET Ranking and Quad System.

I think its important to note that 6 of the 11 Division 1 games can be either Quad 1 or Quad 2 games. The biggest swing factor will be the Paradise Jam event where CSU will hope that they win and advance to play both Creighton and Colorado. Ultimately, it will be incumbent on CSU to win all three games to produce the best outcome.

As for the conference schedules, CSU can expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 Quad 1/Quad 2 games. If I were to guess the mix, I would say 3-4 Quad 1’s and 6-7 Quad 2’s

Which means that the overall schedule should produce roughly 6 QUAD 1 games and 10 Quad 2 games. Certainly enough to produce in At-Large if the Rams can take care of business.

Roddy and Stevens Named to Top 100 Mid-Major List

July 31, 2021

So there’s a website named makingthemadness.com that took the time to compile a list of who they believe are the Top 100 basketball players at the mid-major level. It features an incredible amount of research, a little bit of subjectivity, and a heck of a lot of insight into these players.

Its not really a surprise to see Colorado State players David Roddy on the list. And I dont think its a surprise to see them placed so highly with Roddy at 5 and Stevens at 11. They truly have been a unique pair of players since they set foot on CSU’s campus as freshmen in 2019 and there is no doubt that they have been the main cogs in CSU’s rise to the upper echelon of the Mountain West Conference.

Only halfway through their eligibility at CSU, they are well on their way toward placing themselves at or near the top of CSU’s all-time statistical categories and well on their way toward hanging banners in Moby Arena.

Take a look at the list and you’ll see several players who are in the Mountain West. Including Grant Sherfield of Nevada, Bryce Hamilton of UNLV, Matt Bradley of San Diego State (via Cal), Justin Bean of Utah State.

Take a look and you’ll see that the Top 2 on the list are Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren of Gonzaga. Timme led Gonzaga to their #1 ranking and 2nd place finish in the NCAA Tournament in 2021. Holmgren is the #1 rated recruit in the Class of 2021 and expected to be a one-an-done before being a 2022 high lottery pick.

Heady company indeed for Roddy and Stevens.

I’m sure some people are upset they dont see their favorite players on this list. I’m sure some think that their players deserve to be higher ranked. I’m not one to get into that kind of stuff because I have so much respect for the writer who obviously took the time and effort to do the research.

But I will say this.

I would not trade for anyone on that list for Isaiah Stevens

Stevens stepped into the role of lead guard as soon as he joined the program and his progression has been readily apparent. He passes, he scores, he defends. But most importantly he leads. He leads in practice, he leads in games, he leads off the court.

When a game is on the line, he wants the ball and shows a remarkable ability to create the right play. Numerous game-winning shots, none of which are the same. It can be a pull-up jumper from the midrange, a floater in the lane, a three-ball, a layup banked high off the glass.

And that level of creativity is born from lots of hard work in the gym. When you see Isaiah attempt a remarkable shot that will drop in all likelihood, you can rest assured that he has practiced that particular shot repeatedly in order to perfect it. His creativity is driven by a high level of technical ability honed through many hours in the gym.

But there is something else that stands out that transcends all of his technical ability.

As an ex-Division 1 coach friend of mine who attends CSU games said to me the other day, “He plays with such confidence.”

Any D-1 coach will tell you thats the most important characteristic a lead guard can display.

Like I said.

I wouldn’t trade him for anybody on that list.

My First Visit with the 2021-22 Hoops Team – LET’S GO!

July 28, 2021

So for a variety of reasons I had a couple of days open this week and thought it might be a great time to get an early peek at the 2021-22 version of the CSU Men’s Basketball squad.

You know who I’m talking about. The squad that went 14-4 in the MWC and was one of the Last Four out of the 2021 NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament. The squad that won two NIT games before losing to Memphis in the semi-finals. The squad made of of entirely underclass men and return everyone other than backup guard PJ Byrd who transferred to Southern University.

I sent a message to Aaron Katsuma, CSU’s Director of Basketball Operations, and we decided on Wednesday morning at 9:45AM at Moby. The next to the last of the summer workouts before the team goes on break prior to the start of school and the official Fall season.

I was there to have a look at the returning players, the new players, the new coaches and to start to get to know the newcomers. First to say hello were the usual suspects. Katsuma, Head Coach Niko Medved, returning stars Isaiah Stevens and David Roddy.

I’m not going to go into any practice details. It was mostly a variety of drills and conditioned games that featured anything from 1-on-1 stuff all the way through 4-on-4 stuff (Tomorrow will be the final day and that will feature a lot of 5-on-5).

Kendle Moore popped over to say hello during a free throw shooting segment. New Assistant Coach Brian Cooley (who I met earlier this summer on the golf course) wandered by to say hello and share some of his early thoughts. Which included being impressed with Moore’s competitiveness and John Tonje’s defense.

Trainer Joe Phillips stopped over and we talked about a whole variety of subjects. Great trainer who just absolutely loves working with this particular team. He feels like he won the lottery!

Spotlight went first on Dischon Thomas who drained a pair of free throws. Spotlight went on Stevens who drained a pair of free throws as well. Want to know how a team finishes 7th in the nation at 79.2%? Simple. By taking them very seriously.

Adam Thistlewood wandered over to say hello. We had a chance to chat a bunch since Adam was currently sitting out with a wrist injury. I congratulated him on his national student-athlete award from the NABC and our conversation switched to the Olympics. Adam is currently dating CSU T&F star Lauren Gale who is representing Canada in the 4×400 relay in Tokyo.

Adam was doing a lot of running to stay in shape and of course I had to tell him that he should be taking the time to develop his left hand. I told him I expected him to somehow deliver a tomahawk lefty dunk. Amazingly, I peeked at him shooting off to the side left-handed. He swished an elbow jumper and immediately followed it up by swishing a three-pointer from the corner.

James Moors was not practicing due to a foot injury but he was going hard on the exercise bike off to the side. Injuries are never any good but this one is a bit of a blessing because it allows second-year big Jacob Jennissen to get a lot more reps. A healthy Moors, a bigger and stronger Dischon Thomas, and a more developed Jennissen and you have the making of a pretty solid tandem of bigs.

Of course my eyes were drawn to the newcomers – transfers Chandler Jacobs and Baylor Hebb, and freshmen Jalen Lake and Jalen Scott. I’m always curious to see how they fit in.

Jacobs showed the ability to score from everywhere on the court. Post-ups, mid-range, beyond the arc and dunking. And even with all of that offense, its pretty much the consensus of the staff that he’ll help the team even more on the defensive end with his physical presence. He’s a big strong guard.

I’m not going to put any pressure on the two Jalens but they will both be very important players by the time they finish their CSU careers. Lake is a scorer, Scott a playmaker with great vision. Hebb is a gym rat who transferred from Loyola (IL). They’ll all need to develop physically. I’m not going to guess how much they’ll play in their first season in Fort Collins. That will be entirely up to them as this coaching staff has shown that they are willing to play younger players if they are deemed ready.

After practice, I had a chance to introduce myself to Baylor Hebb, Chandler Jacobs, and new assistant Sam Jones. Jacobs told me he loves everything about CSU – his teammates, his coaches, the school, Fort Collins. After committing to Texas Tech and then switching to CSU, he knows that CSU is where he belongs.

I talked a bunch with Sam Jones about a ton of stuff. Mostly about his playing and coaching background and some about his family. After playing D-2 ball he played several years in Europe including Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, and Spain. He then became a head coach on both a professional team snd the Dutch National team before returning to the States as a Player Development coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He and his wife love Fort Collins.

Oh. And one more thing. Isaiah Stevens and David Roddy are still the Alphas. There’s no joking around when they’re engaged at practice. They both go about their business at full speed. They’re not just back. They’re better!

You Can Follow Me at RamNation.com in 2020-21

December 4, 2020

Because of the COVID pandemic, I have made the conscious decision to publish my blog exclusively on RamNation.com for the 2020-21 season. It is the best path for me to deliver my insight on CSU Basketball given that I will not have access to attend games as season ticket holder for the foreseeable future.

Link to Ramnation.com

CSU Twitter Final Four

April 8, 2020

Looks like recency bias has produced the following four players to compete for the title of CSU’s Twitter Poll All-time best basketball player: Jason Smith, Dorian Green, Gian Clavell, and Nico Carvacho.

Dorian Green after the 2013 win over SDSU

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with the concept of recency bias. Especially when it comes to CSU Basketball as I didn’t live in Fort Collins when many of the greats of the past plied their trade in both Moby Arena and the old field house on College Avenue. I know players like Bill Green and Lonnie Wright were amazing players back in the day. I just have no frame of reference.

I do have a lot of recent history with this final four, seeing virtually every home game and several of their away games over their CSU careers. I’ve also gotten to know them all a little bit on a personal level which makes it hard to pick one over another. I do believe that these are the best four players over the last 15 years of CSU Men’s Basketball.

First, let me begin by saying that there is no wrong answer picking the best of these four. They all had All-MWC careers and all of them are well-represented in the CSU Record Book.

Gian Clavell delivered one of the most amazing performances in a road win at San Diego State in 2017. 37 points that featured several circus shots, including the game winner. Everybody knew he was going to get the ball and he weaved his way full court through the entire Aztec team before finishing off the glass left-handed. Just one of many great games on his way to being named MWC Player of the Year.

Gian and I at Canvas Stadium

Jason Smith ended his Moby Arena career his junior year with a huge win over Wyoming with an amazing 28 point, 22 rebound performance where he virtually fouled out all 4 of the Wyoming bigs. MWC Freshman of the Year, followed by two All-MWC First Team awards. First round NBA draft pick and a 12-year career in the league.

Jason Smith at Moby for HOF Induction Weekend
Nico and I after the 2020 UNLV Orange-Out win

Nico Carvacho with a 4-year career where he became the MWC’s all-time leader in rebounds and double-doubles. His best game probably came on the road against UNLV against whom he delivered 28 and 20 in 2019. He’ll also be remembered as one of the most popular players because of his warm personality.

Dorian Green started all but one game in his four-year career. His best game was a 36-point effort, including 8-10 from beyond the arc, at Northern Colorado where I had the pleasure of sitting next to his dad. He didnt win MWC Freshman of the Year because his class included SDSU’s Kawhi Leonard and BYU’s Tyler Haws.

Dorian and dad

Ultimately, my vote will go to Dorian Green. Not because his individual stats are the best. I’ll vote for him because in his four-year career at CSU he led the Rams into four consecutive post-season tournaments. CBI in 2010, NIT in 2011, and NCAA At-Large bids in 2012 and 2013. Dorian scored 26 in CSU’s only NCAA Tournament win in this century. From the moment he arrived in Fort Collins, Dorian played as if he was elevated three feet off the floor, seeing everything from a different perspective. Best of the best in my book.

Rams Drub Falcons 87-74 on Senior Day

March 1, 2020

Nothing on the line for either team in terms of their position in the MWC standings. But plenty on the line in search of their 20th regular season win, a rivalry game,and a day when they were saying goodbye to their three seniors. And of course an important Crackers Front Range League tilt.

Hyron and Kris post-game

And the Rams made sure the visitors from Colorado Springs felt their wrath as they came out of the gate fast and furious, establishing a double-digit lead before the clock struck 10 minutes, a lead they would never relinquish.

Nico post-game

The Rams trailed 8-4 early but it wasn’t for a lack of effort. They were flying around defensively, getting into passing lanes, deflecting passes but their efforts were going to naught as somehow the ball was still finding its ways into Falcon hands who converted into an 8-4 lead.

And then it happened.

The Rams unleashed a 19-2 run that rendered the Falcons wingless as the ball started to find their hands defensively, they ran the floor hard, and found their shooting form. A three-ball from senior Kris Martin gave the Rams their first lead at 9-8, Adam Thistlewood came off the bench to tickle the twine on a trailing three in transition from Timnath (thats alliteration folks!), and Kendle Moore concluded the run with his first three of the game after a pair of offensive rebounds by John Tonje.

The scoreboard read 23-10 and the Falcons never threatened again as the Rams crisply executed their offensive sets, led by freshman guard Isaiah Stevens but supported by an entire selfless crew. Stevens would finish the game with 7 assists. For the game, the Rams assisted on 25 of their 29 field goals, an incredibly high assist percentage of 86%.

The players were clicking and the crowd was roaring, ready to celebrate their seniors as they led by 18 with 4 minutes remaining.

And then Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich happened. His team had been outclassed the entire game but he wasnt going to allow the home team and fans to enjoy it. A series of fouling and timeouts took all of the air and energy out of the gym. The Falcons never got closer than 8 but it didn’t stop the Falcons from fouling Nico Carvacho 60’ from the ball and completely away from the play. Some people would call it fighting until the very end. Others would call it disrespecting the game.

It made for an awkward final seconds as CSU coach Niko Medved wanted to get his seniors Carvacho, Martin, and Edwards a final round of applause but could only get them into the game together with 17 seconds remaining. A timeout with 6 seconds remaining and the seniors would leave the Moby court as victors in their final home game to a loud and appreciative ovation.

Kendle Moore lead 5 Rams in double figures, all of his 21 points coming on 7-11 shooting from beyond the arc. Stevens would finish with 14 and 7, David Roddy with 14 along with 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Carvacho had 12 and Thistlewood 11 off the bench as he ceded his starting role in respect to senior Kris Martin. The Falcons were led by senior LaVelle Scottie who finished with 20.

Other Stuff

Kendle Moore missed his first two attempts from beyond the arc. He then proceeded to make 6 in a row. A miss and another make and next thing you know he had a career-high seven bombs. His performance was enough to make him the conference leader in Effective Field Goal% (62.9%) and Three Point Shooting % (45.9%) in MWC games.

Of course I gave him some crap after the game because he had Air Force all spread out when he missed that attempt at 7 consecutive makes. I told him he should have given them a shot fake and delivered his patented flying and spinning finish at the rim. He smiled at me and said two words. “Heat Check”.

Nico Carvacho, Hyron Edwards, and Kris Martin successfully concluded their CSU careers with an emphatic victory. Carvacho will be remembered the the All-time MWC leader in rebounds and double-doubles and in all likelihood a CSU Hall off Fame career. Just as important, the three of them will be linked together and remembered as the guys who stayed at CSU rather than transferring and the catalysts for CSU’s resurgence.

Nico, Hyron, and Kris with a post-game selfie

A Homecoming of Sorts as former CSU players Jason Smith and Andy Ogide made their way to Moby for Senior Day. It took a little work on my part and a lot of cooperation on their parts to get them together for a picture with Nico Carvacho. There’s a lot of history of CSU Mens Basketball in this picture of three All-MWC First Team centers. All it needed was Colton Iverson.

Nico, Jason, Andy – thats a lot of points and rebounds!

Freshman Isaiah Stevens all but wrapped up the Mountain West Freshman of the Year award with a brilliant 14 point and 7 rebound effort. There were several great passes but the best of which was a second-half drive where he skillfully attacked the paint and avoided an offensive foul as he dished to Carvacho for an and-1. He even had Air Force’s LaVelle Scottie saluting him.

Sir, Yessir!

And finally, The Rams got to 20 wins for the first time since 2017 and the first time in the Niko Medved Era. It was a remarkable regular season as the Rams regularly play 4 freshmen and 2 sophomores in their 9-man rotation. 20 wins for the 296th least experienced team in the country is quite an accomplishment. Tremendous senior leadership, a talented young group, and a hard-working and smart bunch of coaches has the Rams poised to continue their climb in the Mountain West.

Rams’ Second Half Surge Enough to Overcome Spartans 78-71

February 23, 2020

A combination of stifling defense, sharing the ball on offense, and the toughness to overcome some curious officiating in the second half propelled the Rams to their 19th win of the season and 10th in conference play.

Adam Thistlewood with Stan Hornung

Enough to overcome a mistake-prone first half where the Rams turned the ball over 12 times and committed uncharacteristically poor fouls which gave the visitors from the crotch of Silicon Valley far too many uncontested points. Three fouls on San Jose three-pointers, a foul 90’ from the basket with 2 seconds on the clock, led to 11 free throws of which the Spartans converted 9. Passes to no one in particular led to an amazing 28 points off turnovers for the game, most of which came in the first half.

A poor enough half for the Rams to go into the locker room trailing 43-40. They had shot 56% from the field and 50% from the three-point line and trailed. It wasnt an issue with effort. It was an issue between the ears. On top of that, they failed to defend San Jose’s Seneca Knight with any effectiveness, allowing the Spartan sophomore to ride a streak of hot shooting on his way to 26 first half points. 26!

But the Rams came out in the second half with a razor sharp focus of defense, limiting Wallace’s ability to score by trapping him off of screens and forcing the ball into other shooters’ hands. And even though their shooting percentage fell off from the first half, they shared the ball enough to score at the rim and converted at the free throw line.

The game was still tied at 59 with just over 8 minutes remaining before a Ram 14-2 run, bookended by Kendle Moore and Kris Martin three-balls propelled them into a 73-61 lead inside four minutes. And while the Spartans came back with an 8-point run of their own, the Rams effectively killed the game at the free throw line.

Adam Thistlewood led the Rams with 16 points, 14 of which came in the first half featuring 4-7 shooting from the perimeter, the first of which came from Timnath. Dischon Thomas came of the bench to score 13 on 6-6 shooting, scoring on an arsenal of jumpers, leaners, and dunks. Niko Carvacho recorded the 48th double-double of his career with 10 and 12. And David Roddy overcome a poor first half to finish with 10, scoring at the rim and the free throw line.

Dischon Thomas post San Jose State

Seneca Knight was the story for the Spartans, finishing with a career high 37. But the Rams held him to only one field goal in the second half, a late runner.

Other Stuff

I referred to some curious officiating that occurred on the second half. I have seen mostly very good officiating in Moby this year. Not this afternoon. The first 4 minutes of the second half were especially atrocious, punctuated by a technical foul call on Carvacho for daring to show pleasure with an over-the-back foul call that was the third such foul in about 30 seconds but the only one called. Thistlewood pushed a couple of times with no call. Kendle Moore pummeled on a loose ball. Kris Martin run over drawing an obvious charge called a block.

CSU’s Bench delivered on a day when they really needed it. Thomas was perfect from the floor and contributed a pair of steals. Kris Martin with 8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks in 24 minutes; and it was his effort defending Wallace that fueled the Rams in the second half. All in all, 29 points from the bench.

Kris Martin with Jan Carpenter

Kris Martin was honored pre-game for scoring his 1000th point earlier in his career. Most of those points came at Oral Roberts before transferring to CSU. Fortunately he chose to stick it out with CSU with the regime change. His senior leadership, along with that of Carvacho and Hyron Edwards, has been instrumental in the Rams’ revival.

On To San Diego where the Rams will face the formerly undefeated and now angry San Diego State Aztecs who were upset at home by UNLV. It was a night that SDSU hung their MWC championship banner and the Rebels did not take a liking to that. The Rams’ broadcast team will be without color man Adam Nigon, whose wife is expecting a child shortly. Good luck in the next few days Adam! Word is that Pierce Hornung might be in San Diego and be invited as a guest color man. Wouldn’t it be awesome if Pierce spent his time telling Nigon stories? Even more awesome if the Rams can pull out a win!

Merrill Delivers a Master Class as Aggies Hold Off Rams 75-72

February 12, 2020

Reigning MWC Player of the Year Sam Merrill had tortured Colorado State throughout his career. 38 points in a late-season OT win in Moby last season. 28 earlier this season in a 77-61 win in Logan.

So it came as no surprise that Merrill scored 32 in leading the Aggies to a pulsating victory in a hard-fought contest. 20 of those points came in the second half and the most important of which was a late clock, deep three-ball over the outstretched Nico Carvacho in the final 30 seconds.

The Rams spent most of the game clawing back from an early deficit and when Adam Thistlewood nailed a three-ball to get the Rams to within 73-72 inside of 10 seconds there was hope for some Moby Magic. It wasnt to be as Utah State guard Abel Porter nailed a pair of free throws and a late Thistlewood three rattled around the rim.

With that miss, the Aggies had scored a huge road victory, moving into 2nd place in the MWC standings and firming up their resumer for an at-large NCAA bid.

The Aggies began the game crisply and ran out to a 16-7 lead only to see the Rams reel them in. That trend of Aggie building lead then getting reeled in continued up until the final 4 minutes. Merrill and center Neemias Queta were scoring inside and out. For the Rams it was sensational freshman Isaiah Stevens scoring in the mid-range supported by a balanced attack from Carvacho, David Roddy, Adam Thistlewood, and Kris Martin.

But it wasnt to be for the young Rams as repeated errors cost them dearly. Multiple uncontested layups on Aggie inbound plays. Out of control close-outs leading to more easy buckets in the paint. And a staggering failure to commit repeatedly to a defensive game plan designed to force Merrill off the 3-point line. Merrill was able to get 10 shots off from beyond the arc and he made 6 of them.

The young Rams played hard, they fought to the bitter end and there was no shame in the loss. But they also learned a valuable lesson. Playing at the highest levels requires more than grit and determination. It requires strict adherence and discipline to a game plan for a full 40 minutes. It cant come in spurts to overcome an NCAA Tournament level team like Utah State. Its more than a simple play here or a play there to get over the top. Its playing the right way on every possession.

Other Stuff…

So I went back and forth with another passionate Ram fan during the game regarding how to stop Merrill. He suggested a box-and-one defense. I fired back how about a triangle and 2 with a pair of defenders chasing Merrill. I mean what the heck, who would you rather have shooting – Sam Merrill or Diogo Brito?

I also asked the coaches why they didnt throw a heavy double team at Merrill at the end of the game to keep the ball out of his hands. I was told that they actually tried to trap Merrill when he came off a ball screen but they weren’t successful. Bottom line is that Utah State sets really good screens, Sam Merrill is a big strong guy that knows how to use screens, and the Rams weren’t able to control him this time. He is very good.

Carvacho and Queta battled for the entire game and Queta has a slight edge, going for 14 and 11 while Carvacho had 12 and 9. Queta unleashed an unstoppable jump hook from the right baseline several times. Carvacho finished hard at the rim. Both were clean and physical. No BS to eithers’ game last night.

But amazingly, it was David Roddy who was the. Most dominant defensive force in the paint. Queta had 2 blocks, but Roddy delivered 4 blocked shots, on top of 10 points and 7 rebounds. He more than neutralized a tough match up in Utah State’s Justin Bean

Isaiah Stevens was absolutely brilliant, save for a couple of sloppy turnovers. He displayed a mid-range game that was Chris Paul-esque, shooting pull-up jumpers, runners, and attacking the rim. Several were of the extremely difficult variety, having to launch over Queta guarding the paint. Stevens finished with 19 points, including 8-9 on his 2-point attempts.

And finally…

I cannot thank my fellow Ram fans enough for stopping by and seeing how I’m recovering from my hip surgery. Thanks Mallory, Traci, Ben, Todd. Thanks to people like Coloradoan beat writer Kevin Lytle too for checking up on me. I love great college basketball games. I’m getting them in Moby now and I’m getting to share them with my extended Ram family. Yes I hate seeing a loss. But some things are bigger than the final score.