Words From the Pope: CU-CSU hoops, fans and the Arizona Bowl “disaster”

Keegan Pope

 Keegan Pope
Keegan Pope

The past few days have been an interesting few for CSU fans, to say the least. The last week and a half for the basketball team has been pretty much a dumpster fire. 

And Sunday, CSU fans who were elated to see their team return to a bowl game for third year in a row, turned into a disappointed mob looking for Mountain West commissioner’s Craig Thompson on a spit. Twitter exploded with angry responses, frown-faced emojis and enough vitriol to make Larry Eustachy look like Mother Teresa.

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But let’s start with Sunday’s catastrophic halftime collapse by the CSU basketball team, in which rival Colorado erased a 13-point deficit, eventually turning it into a 11-point win that dropped the Rams to 5-3 on the season. After an impressive 5-0 start, CSU has now dropped three very winnable games in a row, with two of those coming at home. 

So what went wrong for the Rams, who hit a blistering 59 percent of their shots in the first half while jumping out to a 52-39 lead at the break?

Simply put, Colorado made adjustments, and CSU didn’t. That falls on Larry Eustachy, but also on his players. 

CU coach Tad Boyle made a point at halftime to change the Buffs’ defensive scheme, choosing to switch every screen instead of making his guards try to get over them. The result? A lot more contested shots, and the Rams responded just how he hoped, shooting an atrocious 22 percent in the second half. If CSU was going to beat the Buffs, they would have to do it off the dribble, and the Rams simply couldn’t. 

CSU sorely lacks a slashing forward, and has since the days of Travis Franklin and Greg Smith. Joe De Ciman can fill that role from time to time, but CSU’s best scorers, Gian Clavell and John Gillon, have developed into spot-up shooters. 

The other problem with CSU’s offense? The lack of an actual offense. 

I’m not sitting here saying CSU needs to run a bunch of Princeton sets or anything of the sort. But one of the biggest things the Rams have lacked since Tim Miles left is a set that can get them an easy look to stem a run like the one CU went on Sunday. Whether that’s a pick-and-roll, a 1-4 high set or some simple flare screens to get shooters an open look, CSU lacks the ability to get easy buckets, and when the Rams aren’t lighting it up from the 3-point line, offense gets very difficult. 

Now, on to defense. 

There was another adjustment Tad Boyle made at halftime, telling his guards to stop shooting the ball so damn much and get it inside. The result? CU outscored CSU 28-2 (!!!) in the second half, totaling 40 paint points for the afternoon to CSU’s 22. As my colleague Sam Lounsberry pointed out in his column, size matters in college hoops, and CU proved it Sunday. Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon dominated CSU’s undersized front line, and in the process, handed the Rams a heartbreaking home loss. 

Good shooting can only take you so far — even the Golden State Warriors play defense — and CSU will have to get back to basics if it wants to be competitive in the Mountain West. ‘Nuff said. 

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Before I move onto football, let’s talk about attendance at basketball games, CSU fans. It was oh-so-nice of you to actually show up to a game. Did you know that CSU is ninth out of 11 teams in the Mountain West in home attendance? They are however, ahead of Air Force and San Jose State, who won a combined 16 games a year ago, while CSU won a school-record 27. I hope you can see the snarky sarcasm font I’m typing in right now. 

So after not showing up to CSU’s first five games, why did you show up Sunday? For students, you need an excuse to take out your pent-up frustration on some CU basketball players, right? You just absolutely needed to make complete idiots of yourselves by chanting “F**k CU” every chance you got, didn’t you? By the way, grow up and think of something better to chant. And while you’re at it, watch a San Diego State or UNLV basketball game and take notes from their student section. Those are real student sections. 

Now because CSU isn’t undefeated going into conference play, it’s unlikely Moby Arena will be sold out again this season, which is really unfortunate. Moby is an awesome atmosphere when people show up, but unfortunately, you don’t. 

I think Gian Clavell put it best when he said, “It’s very frustrating, you know? Because they won’t show up again. We’re not a bad team. We’re not a bad team, we’re just struggling right now.”

And on to football…

Sure, a Mountain West team playing another Mountain West team in a bowl game is pretty embarrassing. But you know what’s more embarrassing? Not making a bowl game, when 62.5 percent of FBS teams do. And that’s where CSU was four years ago under Steve Fairchild and eventually Jim McElwain. 

So even though things could be better for CSU’s non-nationally televised matchup with conference foe Nevada, things could also be much worse. The Rams could be going somewhere cold and terrible like Boise, or even worse, like CU fans, sitting at home for the umpteenth year in a row. 

It’s not so bad, Ram fans. Cheer up, it’s nearly Christmas. And the end of the semester. Which is actually what I’m happier about. 

The Pope has spoken.

Collegian Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at kpope@collegian.com and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.