An underdog season, a cinderella team and a magical run. However it is analyzed, Colorado State’s success this year has been against all odds.
Colorado State was predicted to finish seventh Mountain West. Midmajormadness.com thought CSU would end up in sixth place. Similarly, USA Today had little faith in the Rams, predicting them to finish in seventh out of 11 teams.
Going into the 2016-17 season, it seemed no one had faith in Colorado State except the Rams themselves.
Despite a heartbreaking 85-72 loss in the hands of Nevada to rob CSU of their first regular season conference title in 27 years, the Rams had one of their most successful seasons in program history.
Colorado State finished the regular season in second place in the Mountain West with a 21-10 overall record and a 13-5 record in conference play. The 13 MW wins ties a program record for most single-season conference victories.
Fans and observers of the Rams this season are quick to point to destiny as the culprit for CSU’s impressive season. After all, the Rams had to fight through the thick of their conference schedule with only seven players. Every player had to step up in a way that they were not expecting before the season began.
CSU closed out its home schedule with two consecutive buzzer beaters at Moby. The first came on an awkward looking 3-pointer by Emmanuel Omogbo that somehow found the bottom of the net. Though Omogbo would most likely pass up that shot nine times out of 10, by no means does he credit destiny to letting the shot fall.
“It’s not a magical season because we could lose any given day,” Omogbo said. “We could have lost those two games. But one thing about this team is we keep fighting. We just keep fighting and working hard. We feel like if you keep fighting and working hard, something good will happen no matter where you are in life.”
Nonetheless, CSU has almost always found a way to win this season. The Rams enter the Mountain West tournament having won 10 of their last 12 games. While the run has been unfathomable to many, Colorado State players are not surprised. The Rams give no credit to destiny.
“We’ve been through a lot, you know with coach and the seven players and myself,” Gian Clavell said. “It’s not magical. It’s just hard work, motivation and hard work.”
Whether you’re a believer in fate or not, it’s tough to argue that the 2016-17 Rams aren’t one of the hardest working squads Colorado State has had in quite some time.
Redshirt freshman Nico Carvacho had to play the amount of minutes that Larry Eustachy would normally only ask of from an experienced big man.
Though Gian Clavell was somewhat accustomed to playing nearly 40 minutes frequently, Emmanuel Omogbo, Prentiss Nixon, and J.D. Paige had to do so as well.
Omogbo went from playing 24.5 minutes per game last season to 30.6 this season. After the Rams roster was depleted to only seven, the forward averaged 33.6 minutes per game.
Nixon only saw the court for an average of 15.7 minutes last season. That number has nearly doubled to 31.5 minutes this season. Nixon has played 35.5 minutes per contest since CSU’s roster dwindled.
The numbers are similar for Paige as well. After playing 16.9 minutes per game last season, the Denver, Colorado native has played 32.1 minutes on average this season.
CSU has been able to win consistently and climb up into the top 80 of the RPI rankings simply because of its dedication and Eustachy’s coaching adjustments to cater to the Rams’s small roster.
“We only practice for maybe 30 minutes,” Nixon said. “We watch a lot of film, we’re in the film room a lot. We go to the court for maybe 30 minutes and then get out to keep our bodies fresh and ready for the game.”
Colorado State head coach Larry Eustachy has been praised by his team for how he has handled the seven-man roster.
“I mean you got to think about that if we practice the way we normally practice with only seven guys, someone might get hurt,” Clavell said. “Coach has changed practice a little bit. He made it a little more secure for us.”
Colorado State’s third 20-plus win season in five years is a result of hard work and smart coaching by Eustachy; not fate or destiny. CSU is hoping that the product of that hard work has not reached its full potential. The next step towards making the 2016-17 season a memorable one would be to make the NCAA tournament.
The Rams have a bye to the quarter finals of the MW tournament and will play either Air Force or Wyoming on Wednesday in Las Vegas.
Though CSU has made a decent case towards earning an at-large bid, with quality victories over Colorado, New Mexico State and New Mexico, the Rams would rather it not get to that point.
“I think it’s possible to get an at-large bid,” Nixon said. “Also at that point in the season it’s out of our hands and in the tournament committee’s hands. I hope they lean towards putting us in, but on the other hand if we take care of business the next three games, it’s in our hands.”
Collegian sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz