Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

2013 CSU Basketball Teaser

Hey, remember that 2012-13 CSU team that was actually a little fun to watch?  You know, the one that won 26 games, earned an 8-seed in the NCAA Tournament, managed to beat Missouri (big ups on that one), and played feisty, combative basketball from November through their season-ending defeat at the hands of the eventual national champion Louisville Cardinals?

Well, I hope you got a good look, because that team is gone.  Like, completely gone.  Like, 'who the hell are these guys in green, and what'd they do with the Rams?' gone.
Ram-boy misses Pierce Hornung.
That '12-'13 team was built on the backs of five senior starters that dominated minutes and production.  All told, the since-graduated Colton Iverson (fuck him), Greg Smith, Dorian Green, Wes Eikmeier, and Pierce Hornung combined to provide 81% of scoring, 70% of rebounding, 79% of assists, and 75% of minutes last season.  More than that, the quintet brought with them a veteran grit and determination to the court each and every night.  Hornung, especially, was a pain in the ass of any opponent, with scoring and rebounding rates that defied his appearance (slovenly) and athleticism (questionable).  Without Hornung and the other four, it's an entirely new team in Ft Collins, one that looks nowhere near as imposing (at least, on paper) as they have in previous seasons.

Coach Larry Eustachy - incidentally, one of the better coaches in the West - would have you believe that it's not that big of a deal, that the Rams are ready to 'reload.'  Indeed, even without injured veteran guards Jesse Carr and Dwight Smith, there is still some interesting talent on this team.  Bulky forward J.J Avila, a transfer from the Naval Academy, is putting up big numbers this season (19/6), and the backcourt duo of Daniel Bejarano and Jon Octeus are both good ball-handlers (both in the national top-100 in TO-rate, Rams are overall national #1 in the category), serviceable scorers (combine for 27 points/game) and smart rebounders (both listed as 6-4, yet combine for 13 boards per night).  Beyond them, however, the bench is a lackluster combination of shallow and inexperienced.
Avila has my attention.
To date, the thee big guns - Avila, Bejarano, and Octeus - have been potent enough to lead the team to a nice 6-2 record.  Their most recent effort, a last-second, resume-boosting win over a difficult New Mexico St squad, is indicative of their capabilities.  Avila, particularly, had a huge game, dropping 29 points on 11-17 shooting, while Bejarano contributed a strong 11/15 double-double.  I'm not kidding, those three are legit talents that the Buffs need to be worried about.  Had Carr and Smith stayed healthy, this team would be real dangerous, even without the big-five from last season.

Of course, it wouldn't be a CU/CSU game without Spencer Dinwiddie opening his mouth.  Last season, the silky point guard dropped the old 'little brother' tag, while predicting a win and a 30-point night.  To his credit, he backed up his swag by doing just that - scoring 29 points and leading the Buffs to a rout of 'little brother' - but I'd just as soon see the CSU bulletin board stay clear of material.  I get the feeling that Spencer was more mindful of the microphones in front of him this year; while he did provide some kindling (reminding everyone how the Buffs 'smacked' the Rams around in December of 2012), he avoided any predictions or grandstanding to fuel the fire.  Good for him, the Rams don't need any help ginning up motive for victory.

Tonight is a big game for multiple reasons.  With Kansas on the horizon, it's important that Colorado stays focused on the task at hand, and continue to build the non-conference resume.  Additionally, it'll be the team's first test in front of a truly hostile environment (Lord knows the CSU students live for this shit).  A win up in FoCo won't shake many feathers nationally, but it will be a confidence-building keystone in the 2013-14 foundation.
The Buffs know well the price of failure at Moby...
On paper, CU should win.  They've got the athleticism, the bench, and the experience in this series to carry through.  I also like the fact that CSU is one of the worst in the country at defending the three (41.5%), don't take advantage of the arc themselves (289th in 3PA/FGA), play mostly man-to-man defense (Dinwiddie is especially happy), and don't shoot particularly well from the field (under 46% team-eFG%).  In addition, the Rams have lost the only two games that they were out-rebounded in, and I struggle seeing a scenario were the Buffs don't get the better of the boards (even though Eustachy knows how to get his troops on the glass). I am rightfully a little nervous about the road trip, the environment, and the recent history that has seen the Rams upset strong Colorado teams up in Moby, but I expect a solid CU victory, none-the-less.  Get it done.

Tip-off from Moby Arena is set for 7pm this evening.  If you're not interested in braving the worsening weather to head up to the Ft, your only other viewing option is ESPN3.  For those without the Mothership's streaming service, you can catch the radio call on 850 KOA.


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