The thrill and excitement of last season brought something CSU basketball hasnâ€™t had in a while: hope.
Sold-out games at Moby Arena against BYU and SDSU gave a sense of big-time college basketball, an electric atmosphere so sorely missed in Fort Collins. The season ended with a near miss of the NCAA Tournament and a berth in the NIT.
This season will bring much of the same: a competitive team with obvious talent and depth (at least at guard), but still not enough to get the Rams to the Big Dance for the first time since 2002.
The Rams have serious areas to address like defense, play from the big men and replacing the production void left by Andy Ogide.
Through two exhibition games, itâ€™s obvious CSU has work to do defensively, giving up 82 points to CSU-Pueblo and allowing Southwest Minnesota State to stay in the game during the first half.
At times the Rams, especially the guards, appear to get lost and struggle fighting through screens. This will hurt CSU against tougher opponents and in the NIT Season Tip-Off early in the schedule.
The Rams will struggle against taller teams because they simply donâ€™t have the depth or talent on the interior.
Senior Will Bell will take over at center, but at 6-foot-6, heâ€™s not a true, dominant big man to guard other centers in the conference. CSUâ€™s height comes with redshirt freshman Chad Calcaterra at 6-foot-10 and sophomore seven footer Trevor Williams. Both have little to no experience and canâ€™t be counted on to provide much on offense or defense.
Offense will not be a concern. The Rams will play an up-tempo style of offense, utilizing the depth at the guard position to force the issue on opposing defenses. Juniors Wes Eikmeier, Dorian Green and Jesse Carr make teams respect the three-point line, and Greg Smith will act as a slasher to get to the rim.
Coach Tim Miles remains adamant replacing Ogideâ€™s scoring will not be a struggle, but in critical moments at the end of the game, itâ€™s a mystery as to whoâ€™ll take the big shot.
Similar to last season, Miles was aggressive with the non-conference schedule, playing teams like Montana, Colorado and, of course, Duke.
Milesâ€™ approach to scheduling is a smart one. Playing Duke may be an automatic loss, but playing on ESPN is never a bad thing.
â€œI just think thatâ€™s the way you build your program,â€ Miles said. â€œLetâ€™s put ourselves in the biggest and brightest arenas against the best opponents because thatâ€™s the only way to look at yourself and say, â€˜Ooh, thatâ€™s a deficiency,â€™ or test your players in a competitive environment.â€
The Mountain West lost BYU, but UNLV, New Mexico and SDSU are still around as tournament worthy teams. The Rams will need to beat each team at least once to show the selection committee theyâ€™re qualified for the NCAA Tournament and this team isnâ€™t ready for thatâ€¦yet.
CSU is destined for 17 or 18 wins and a second NIT, but the future is bright.
Sports Editor Cris Tiller can be reached at email@example.com.