How Colorado State can make a late-season run before the Mountain West Tournament
March Madness is right around the corner—and while the Rams are not expected to be playing in the NCAA Tournament in 2019—the possibility is still technically on the table.
Sure, winning the Mountain West Tournament would be a tall task. Okay… It almost seems unimaginable. But that’s the beauty of college basketball. Until the final whistle sounds at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas next month, a spot in the postseason is still obtainable.
The truth is that in a league like the Mountain West, the likelihood of more than one team making the big dance is not very high anyways. So, while performing well in the regular season does increase a bubble team’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament, in a season like 2018-19 where one team has been the clear favorite since Day 1 and everyone else has been playing for second, the conference tournament was always CSU’s best shot at the postseason.
Does this mean that the final four games of the regular season don’t matter?
Not exactly. The Rams (11-16, 16-8) may have already surpassed the team’s win total from the season before, but there is still much at stake for CSU down the final stretch.
Following Saturday’s victory over Wyoming, Medved explained that this is the time of year where teams need to be playing their best basketball if they want to keep their seasons alive.
“It’s going to continue to get harder,” Medved said. “We have to go to Boise on Wednesday, who is playing really well. But, big deal. If you want to have success at all at the end of the year, you’re going to have to beat good teams.”
What would happen if CSU went on a late-season run?
First and foremost, winning three-of-four would likely result in CSU securing at least the No. 6 seed in Las Vegas; especially if the Rams beat Boise State on Feb. 27. Both teams are currently 6-8 in the league and trail Air Force (7-8) by a single game in the standings. With CSU owning the tiebreaker over Air Force, a win over the Broncos on Wednesday night would allow the Rams to move from eighth place to sixth in the league.
A win over Boise State would also put the Rams within striking distance of the No. 5 seed, which is currently owned by UNLV (15-12, 9-6). The Rebels defeated the Rams in the conference opener on Jan. 2, but it was a game that head coach Niko Medved believes CSU still should have won. If the Rebels were to lose a game or two in the next two weeks and the Rams were to go on a winning streak, the Mar. 9 showdown could end up having serious implications on the final league standings.
What needs to happen for CSU to actually go on a late-season run?
Medved has often said that in order for this team to win on a regular basis, they have to be willing to play the right way because while there is talent on the roster, they don’t have enough of it to rely solely on ability. What Medved means by the “right way” is committing for 40 minutes on defense, valuing offensive possessions by limiting turnovers and owning the battle on the glass. CSU will need to succeed in all three of these phases if the Rams are going to make a late push through the league.
“We can’t turn the ball over,” Medved said on Saturday. “We want to play aggressive and play fast, but we’ve got to eliminate the sloppy turnovers. Giving away possessions like that will come back to haunt you in the end…
“And then defensively, we’ve gotten better at times, but we’ve gotta be better for longer periods of time,” Medved continued. “We have too many lapses where we’ll give up easy baskets… I think those are the two things. We’ve got to continue to take care of the ball and we’ve gotta continue to be more sound defensively.”
Feb. 27 at Boise State (7:00)
Mar. 2 at New Mexico (8:00)
Mar. 5 vs Utah State (7:00)
Mar. 9 vs UNLV (2:00)