CSU coaching staff poised for MW Tournament run in impressionable year

Eddie Herz

Whether you are attending your first day of work at a new job or meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time, a good first step is vital to any impressionable scenario.

Four wins in the Mountain West Tournament would mean Colorado State’s new coaching staff could knock their opening impression out of the park.

Ad

Most agree head coach Niko Medved and staff have already done so, as the program has exhibited many encouraging signs for the future. These include the emergence of two Medved-bred freshmen, Adam Thistlewood and Kendle Moore, who followed the coach over from Drake.

The coaching staff has also inked commitments from highly touted recruits, such as David Roddy, who chose CSU over a pair of Big Ten programs.

But there isn’t any reason to focus on the future just yet. The Rams still have a chance to record a few big upsets right now and win their way to the postseason.

CSU coaches have already made a satisfactory impression in their transition season. Winning four conference tournament games in Las Vegas and earning the program its first NCAA Tournament invitation since 2013 would be like taking your aforementioned new boss to lunch at Sonny Lubick’s Steakhouse. 

Doing so is precisely what the coaching staff intends.

“We want to come out and execute and try to get four wins,” first-year Assistant Coach JR Blount said. “That is absolutely the goal. We know we have some obstacles ahead of us in some really good teams. But we think we’ve shown that we can compete with every team in this league. We’ll take it one game at a time, with the opponent at hand.”

The Rams have fought tooth and nail with the best of the best in terms of Mountain West programs.

Utah State needed five extra minutes to defeat CSU 100-96 at Moby Arena. The Rams hung tight with then-No. 6 Nevada, and trailed by only six with less than eight minutes left, before suffering a misleading 18-point defeat on Feb. 6. Finally, Colorado State bounced Fresno State in a dominant 74-65 victory in Jan.

The three previously mentioned programs represent the top three places in the Mountain West standings in descending order. With that in mind, CSU is exceptionally confident when it comes to making a run at the MW crown. This goes for the entire coaching staff top to bottom, not only Blount.  

“We’ve been competitive with everyone, or we have beaten them. So there is no reason why we shouldn’t go into the tournament expecting to win,” -first-year assistant coach Ali Farokhmanesh 

While the Rams have proved to be a tough out for every team during the regular season, conference tournament formatting calls for physical adjustments.

Ad

Playing four games in four days is rarely a situation any program finds itself in before the postseason. Because the amplified physicality is quickly approaching, CSU coaches have already begun preparing their players’ bodies for the road ahead.

Most practices are also shorter than earlier in the season, in an attempt to keep bodies fresh. Ideally, preserving players will allow the Rams to dig deep when the going gets tough in Vegas.

“If we are going to win four games in four days, toughness is the biggest thing,” Farokhmanesh said. “You can’t buy into being tired. If you make it to the last day, whether the other team is playing three games of four, everyone is going to be just as tired.”

As far as game planning goes, arranging each recipe for success will be more in the spur of the moment than premeditated. After the first game, there is no way to know who the next opponent is with enough time to devise a full course of action.

However, regardless of who the Rams may play throughout the tournament, a primary facet stays consistent. Every CSU coach sees eye-to-eye on the idea that defensive production is crucial for the program stringing together a few wins.

“We would have to come up with some stops defensively,” Blount said. “We are one of the top teams in the conference offensively. When we play well defensively, as a cohesive unit, we can compete with anybody in the league.”

The Rams have often come up short this season, even when shooting the lights out from the floor. CSU ranks first in the Mountain West with a team field goal percentage of 48.1 percent. Lack of consistent defensive intensity is more to blame than anything for the Rams’ current 12-19 overall record.

Specifically, CSU coaches are emphasizing controlling the defensive glass as best as possible in the conference tournament. Though doing so is easier said than done, the Rams substantially increase their chances of winning when achieving this.

Colorado State possesses the NCAA’s leading rebounder in Nico Carvacho. So, coaches are preaching for support around the big man. A few names surface when formulating an answer for reinforcement when everything is on the line in Vegas.

Nico Carvacho attempts a shot through the Wolfpack defense during the game against No. 6 Nevada Feb. 6. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

“Kris Martin comes to mind, he had 10 rebounds last game, and Adam Thistlewood,” Blount said. “Those guys can get in there… and then we emphasize our guards rebounding down. So, JD, Kendle, Hyron, AB just getting back and getting in there and helping us on the boards because we have an elite rebounder in Nico.”

Even though a hand full of CSU’s coaches are new to Fort Collins, that doesn’t mean they aren’t accustomed to succeeding in win-and-move-on circumstances.

Drake may have lost its only Missouri Valley Tournament game last season under the Rams’ current coaches, but Blount and Farokhmanesh both learned what goes into winning with everything on the line during their playing days as well.

Mentally, the key is doing the best with whatever the unpredictable bracket throws your way. Taking everything in stride will be instrumental to the Rams’ success once the Mountain West Tournament commences.

“The biggest thing is you just have to survive and advance,” Farokhmanesh said. “Don’t worry about the next game because that may never come. So you have to win this game, regroup, then you have to move on that night. Opposed to (the regular season), where you win and enjoy it. Now it is like once you win, that game is done, you don’t even think about it anymore. You have to move onto the next one.”

Eddie Herz can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.