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How can Rams basketball teams improve from last year?

Mountain West sports are finally back, and the wait for Colorado State basketball is getting shorter by the day, with men’s basketball kicking off its season on Dec. 29, and women’s basketball set to begin soon after on Dec. 31. Both teams will be looking to build on their performances from last season to come back stronger.

This season will contain some unique parameters due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Both men’s and women’s basketball may be participating in a conference-only season, which will impact the number of games each team will play by giving them a shorter season. 

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Along with a shorter season, a new eligibility guideline has been put in place to accommodate the pandemic. The NCAA announced in early October that all Division 1 athletes who participate in this year’s season will be given an extra season of eligibility and an extra year to compete.

This essentially gives all of CSU’s basketball players a free season, which could be a great opportunity for coaches to experiment a little bit with new tactics and systems, as it won’t be seen as wasting a season. However, it can be assumed that head men’s basketball coach, Niko Medved, and head women’s basketball coach, Ryun Williams, will be sticking to what has made them successful in the past. 

For Williams and his team of lady Rams, their group is notorious for having a defense-first mindset. Last year, the Rams boasted the number one-ranked defense in the Mountain West Conference, holding their opponents to an average of 59.7 points per game in conference play.

Conversely, many of the Rams’ frustrations last season came on the offensive end of the ball, with CSU scoring 1,818 points in conference play, which was the third-worst total in the Mountain West that season. Defense may win championships, but if you struggle to put the ball in the bucket, you’re not going to get very far. That was evidenced in their lackluster 12-18 record along with their very disappointing offensive effort in the Mountain West Tournament, where the Rams bowed out in the first round, suffering a 60-48 loss to Air Force Academy.

The pressure to produce offensively this season will also be exacerbated by the graduation of center/forward Andrea Brady, who led the Rams in conference points last season. However, it should be noted that the lady Rams lost 10 of their 18 losses by a margin of 5 points or less, and with exciting new transfers McKenna Hofschild and Petra Farkas, both of whom are proven point-scorers, the Rams might have just the right mix to get over those offensive ruts, stick to their defensive principles and churn out more consistent results. Get excited about this team because they’ll have something to prove this season.

“This young team is full of defensive-minded individuals, like the aforementioned Roddy, who have the potential to shore up this defense and give the Rams a real shot at glory if they put the work in this offseason.”

As for Medved and his team, the men will be looking to build off of their above-average showing last year. The Rams finished with a 20-12 overall record, which was impressive. However, they were just above average in conference play with a record of 11-7. With the graduation of star center and school record-setter Nico Carvacho, his rebounding ability is surely an absence that will be felt in this team, placing much of that burden on the young David Roddy, who was a revelation for CSU last season.

This team has a lot of young players who bring high energy performances week in and week out. This season, the spotlight will be on Isaiah Stevens as the sophomore guard looks to build on an incredible freshman season. Last year, Stevens led the Rams in points and assists scoring 424 points and dishing out 144 assists on his way to being named Mountain West Freshman of the Year.

CSU may have a real superstar on their hands if Stevens can continue to produce and improve on those numbers, and, if they want to have a successful offensive outing this year, Medved will need to continue to run his offense through his star guard and work to improve the Rams’ last place free-throw percentage to take better advantage of their trips to the line and put games more out of reach for opponents.

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Defense is going to be what makes or breaks CSU men’s basketball this year. Losing Carvacho means losing rebounds and blocks, but the Rams will need to improve on more than just glass cleaning to be successful defensively.

Last year the Rams were below average in the conference, allowing an average of 72.1 points per game. However, this young team is full of defensive-minded individuals, like the aforementioned Roddy, who have the potential to shore up this defense and give the Rams a real shot at glory if they put the work in this offseason.

The CSU men’s team will face off against the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to start its season at Moby Arena on Dec. 29 while the ladies will make the trip to Reno, Nevada to match up against the University of Nevada on Dec. 31.

Bailey Shepherd can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @B_Sheps. 

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