The CSU men’s basketball team is simply on a roll.
The Ram , who are in the midst of what has been the best season in program history, went undefeated through 14 games, shattering the previous program best start of 6-0, and currently sit at third in the Mountain West.
CSU is 4-2 against conference opponents and have defeated their last two by a combined 85 points. Still, the Rams are on the outside looking on top-25 polls.
A lack of national recognition is nothing new for the Rams though. Head coach Larry Eustachy’s squad is exceeding expectations and briefly found themselves ranked No. 24 before dropping from the rankings with a loss at New Mexico.
Eustachy has stuck with what has worked in the starting five of Daniel Bejarano, Joe De Ciman, Stanton Kidd, J.J. Avila and Tiel Daniels. The group has started all 15 games in which each player was healthy, and have given a steady mix of defense, shooting and rebounding.
The bench features Gian Clavell, who is making a case to be the Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year, and John Gillon, who Eustachy can unleash when the offense stagnates. Gillon’s ball handling bailed out the Rams when transfer Antwan Scott, who was expected to play big minutes at point guard, was shut down for the season by a foot injury.
Fred Richardson III is now eligible as well after he missed 11 games due to a suspension for a violation of NCAA rules. Through eight games he is shooting 42.9 percent from behind the arc. It’s hard to believe that a 17-2 team from the MW with CSU’s depth could be receiving little national attention but a look at their record explains it.
Georgia State seemed like a significant win, but the Panthers have since lost to Old Dominion, Green Bay, Texas State, UL-Lafayette and Appalachian State. There was the Great Alaska Shootout which CSU won by defeating UC-Santa Barbara, but the Gauchos recently suffered consecutive double-digit losses to the likes of CS-Northridge and Long Beach State. CSU recorded solid wins against UT-El Paso, and at Denver and New Mexico State were solid, but none of those teams are on the radar of top-25 polls.
That leaves the Colorado game. CSU grinded out a tough win in a hostile environment to claim bragging rights for the next year. However, the in-state rivalry means nothing to the NCAA. All they know is that CU has gone 4-5 since then with losses to unranked George Washington and Hawaii.
Conference play started off with a win against Boise State before CSU was handed back-to-back losses at New Mexico and against Wyoming. The Lobos beat the Rams 66-53 but Kidd played only four minutes prior to hurting his ankle. The Pit is a tough place to play and Eustachy’s team was probably due for a loss.
The Wyoming loss is tougher to excuse because defending home court in the MW is so crucial. However, the Pokes are first in the conference and it came down to the wire, which makes it a little less inexcusable.
CSU bounced back with a heated road win over in-state rival Air Force before dominating their next two matchups with Nevada and San Jose State to bring them to 17-2 (4-2 MW). They have possibly their biggest game of the season coming up hosting San Diego State (14-4, 4-1 MW) on Saturday. After that, they face a tough three-game stretch at Boise State, home against Fresno State and at Wyoming.
As well as the entire team has played, their success in MW play might hinge on Avila who is having a monster season. He leads the team with 15 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game and 1.9 steals per game. If he can sustain that type of production, the Rams should find themselves toward the top of the conference.
Avila’s performance trailed off a toward the end of conference play last season but with more talent around him and a reduced workload, that is less likely now. The importance of the San Diego State game cannot be understated and CSU will need their star forward to lead the way.
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22.