WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Matt Stephens, who covers Colorado State men’s basketball for the Fort Collins Coloradan, about today’s game with the University of Wyoming at 4:05 p.m. at Moby Arena in Fort Collins, Colo.
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At 14-13 overall and 5-9 in the conference, are you surprised the Rams are where they are at this point in the season?
As much as I’d like to join the masses and say yes, in all honesty, I can’t. This is a team that lost five seniors starters from last season, including a second-round NBA draft pick. We knew there was going to be a significant drop off. Only Daniel Bejarano and Jon Octeus played significant minutes for this team last year.
There are a few games, however, that I am a little surprised CSU has lost, like at home to Utah State and at Nevada, but overall, this is about how I thought the Rams’ would perform.
What’s caught me off guard more this season is how other mid-level teams in the Mountain West are playing. Fresno State has seemed to find its identity. Wyoming has come a long way and Utah State is transitioning fairly well from the Western Athletic Conference. Those teams have really magnified CSU falling to the bottom of the standings.
Losing five starters from an NCAA Tournament team last season, obviously, is a lot to overcome. But where else have the Rams struggled this season?
Shooting, and we had an idea that would happen. The Rams just don’t shoot the ball well. Bejarano is CSU’s best scoring option and can make some nice shots from long-range, but he’s averaging 37 percent from the field and 31.9 percent from behind the 3-point line.
CSU is averaging 66.6 points per conference game and is the worst 3-point shooting team in the Mountain West. Overall, the defense has been fine and rebounding, while not tops in the nation anymore, manages to suffice. This team can’t seem to score.
Junior forward J.J. Avila and junior guard Daniel Bejarano have combined to average about 33 points per game. Are they the strengths of this season’s squad, or what else is your opinion has been the strengths of this team?
They’ve definitely been the strong points for this team. Avila was the go-to guy for the first few months of the season, but toward the end of January is when Bejarano started to take over offensively. Avila still plays a key role in ball distribution.
What I’ve really liked, though, is the development of junior point guard Jon Octeus. He had one start last season, playing in place of the injured Dorian Green against Fresno State in the Mountain West tournament, but has exponentially grown since then.
Octeus is a player who admits he hated film last year, but now when teammates are goofing off with a dunk contest after practice, he’s sitting over to the side with an assistant coach and a laptop watching replays of the last game.
He’s really taken the leadership role to heart and isn’t afraid to take over a game when other players aren’t producing. Octeus plays like a point guard should.
Does Colorado State’s game plan change any knowing Wyoming will be without junior forward Larry Nance Jr. for this game and the rest of the season?
Not even remotely. CSU has played two games against teams missing one of their top players (Josh Davis at San Diego State and Alex Kirk versus New Mexico), losing both.
When talking to the team about this, players say there’s a mindset change they shouldn’t have when an opponent is down a star, thinking they have the upper hand. CSU has fallen victim to that too often.
Is there a decent buzz around Fort Collins and campus for this game, and how do you see the game unfolding?
Not really. Basketball hasn’t been a big deal around here this season, unfortunately. Moby Arena sold out a record four times in 2012-13, but has failed to reach capacity this year, not even against Colorado (though, to be fair, snow and ice really hurt that game).
The Border War will hopefully be a big deal to the fans still this season, but I haven’t felt the same buzz around here this year as last. A big thing with the 2012-13 team was how much the community grew attached to those five players rather than CSU basketball itself since they were the ones who built the program from nothing for four years.
It’s a rivalry game and anything could happen, but until CSU shows me it can break out of this slump where it beats itself late in games, I’m going to have to favor Wyoming right now.
Nance or not, behind San Diego State, the Cowboys are the most impressive team in the Mountain West this year.