In his first game at CSU last season, Tim Miles saw the Montana Grizzlies manhandle his young CSU Rams, 75-39.
That contest was on the road against a very experienced team, in front of a hostile crowd, and Miles had just one returning starter — but that won’t be the case for the season opener when the Rams host Montana at 7 p.m. tonight in Moby Arena.
The Rams return four starters and expect several of their 10 newcomers to contribute right away.
Coach Miles said he is excited to see how much that they have improved in a year.
“It is exciting. I look forward to some outside competition and I know our guys are too. They are tired of the same old same old. When we look at things we think new lineup, new season, new results, and that is what we fully expect,” Miles said.
The Rams expect a challenge, as Montana returns much of the same team from that dominated them last year, despite losing two of their top three scorers.
“It will be good (to see) how far we have come, and I am pretty sure that it isn’t going to be the same outcome as it was last year,” said sophomore forward Andre McFarland.
When asked what he knew about his upcoming opponent, Miles kept it simple.
“Montana is a big, long team. They are excellent 3-point shooters. I know that they absolutely waxed us last year, that is enough for me,” Miles said.
The Grizzlies size will be a factor. They are led by 6-foot-9-inch forward Jordan Hasquet, who averaged 13.7 points and 7.2 rebounds last season, and he is joined by 6-foot-11-inch sophomore Brian Qvale and 7-foot freshman Derek Selvig.
A big boost for the Rams to counter Montana’s size is the return of 6-foot-11-inch sophomore center Dan Vandervieren, who initially was going to sit out the season with shoulder and ankle injuries.
His absence would have left the Rams with only two big men (6-foot-9inch forwards Mame Bocar Ba and Andy Ogide), but his return gives the Rams much needed depth in the post, something they lacked last season.
“That is good for us to have three big men,” said senior guard Marcus Walker. “Last year we had (6-foot-6-inch) Andre McFarland playing the five (center) at times, and this year it doesn’t look like we will have to, unless it is the worst case scenario.”
The Montana game served as a trial by fire for many of the Rams last year, especially McFarland, who was held scoreless in his CSU debut. This season, he expects to play with more confidence.
“I’m not as nervous this season and I know what to expect from coach Miles. I know that the yelling is part of him being him, and I don’t have to get down on myself,” McFarland said.
While his players are quick to point to the game as a measuring stick, Miles knows that his team will not just be judged on one game.
“I think that they are all measuring sticks. The first three opponents we play (Montana, Northern Colorado and Minnesota) all handled us easily last year, and if our goal is to be a good team, we can’t let them do the same thing this year,” Miles said.
Men’s basketball beat writer Matthew Pucak can be reached at email@example.com.