Battle-tested CSU basketball opens season of expectations Sunday

Last year, the CSU men’s basketball team’s season ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Louisville, Ky. This year, with four returning seniors, the expectations are even higher for the Rams.

“Even though we did exceed a lot of expectation last year and did some things that people didn’t quite expect out of that group, we’re still playing with a chip on our shoulder,” senior guard Wes Eikmeier said. “The way we’ve battled in all of our three years here so far, I mean, we’re not going to take any opponent lightly, (because) we know what it’s like to be at the bottom.”

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Although excitement around the program has been building, the Rams have said that they are more focused on taking the season one game at a time while knowing that they have a lot of growing to do before March.

“We’re not nearly where we need to be, we’re where we should be,” CSU coach Larry Eustachy said. “We’re gonna play our best basketball in February, so we’re not nearly where we need to be eventually, but we’re where we should be right now.”

For the Rams, that means getting better in practice and in their scrimmage against Metro State on Sunday in preparation for the season opener against Montana on Nov. 9.

“My goal is to win the next game,” forward Pierce Hornung said. “Obviously I have big goals for this season, for our team, but you can’t focus on down the road. It’s such a grind and college basketball is so tough and every team can come out and beat you on any night.”

A big part of the success of the Rams in 2012 will hinge upon the play of six returning lettermen from last year, however, CSU will have to make do without its sixth-man from last year, senior guard Jesse Carr, who tore his ACL in the preseason and likely will miss the whole season.

Carr provided a spark off the bench last year, particularly toward the end of the year, when he averaged 10.4 points per game and 5.6 assists per game in the Rams’ final four games.

“He was more than just another body on the floor, he was a leader,” Eikmeier said of Carr. “Taking him away from our team, it kind of hits us a lot, especially with the core group that we have and it’s just one of those things, nature of the game, but we’re gonna have to be better for it and work that much harder to get to where we wanna go.”

Getting back to the NCAA Tournament this year will not likely come easily for the Rams particularly when they get into Mountain West play. CSU was projected to finish fourth in the conference in preseason polls.

“I know they’re smart enough to know that it’s not just gonna happen, they’re gonna have to earn it,” Eustachy said. “I don’t think they’re pleased with how they performed in the NCAA Tournament. I think they wanna (be) better (than) that. But getting to the tournament’s gonna be difficult in its own (right), getting through this league…I just really like this group.”

Men’s Basketball Beat Reporter Andrew Schaller can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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