Larry Eustachy’s no dummy. He knew what he was stepping into when he agreed to replace Tim Miles as the head basketball coach at Colorado State. This was no rebuilding job. This was an opportunity to win right away. How many teams were coming off an NCAA tournament appearance and would be returning every key piece of the line-up and then some? How many teams anywhere would be able to boast a starting line-up with five top flight seniors?
While the veteran CSU roster had plenty of returning talent on hand for 2012-13, Eustachy had slightly different plans for how he would best use that talent during his first season in Fort Collins.
So far, so good.
After recording their 13th non-conference win (a new school record) with a blow-out win over 2012 NCAA tourney participant St. Bonaventure, Eustachy’s Rams appear to be hitting their stride, just in time for the rugged conference schedule that awaits them…starting next Saturday when they travel to conference favorite San Diego State. Down the line of course there are multiple encounters with not just the Aztecs, but nationally ranked New Mexico and UNLV as well.
It’s very rare these days to see a college basketball team in a power conference – and yes, with three teams in the Top 25 and six in the top 41 of the RPI rankings, the Mountain West is most certainly a “power” conference, send out a starting line-up that consists of five seniors. Eustachy was asked about the advantage after his troops routed the Bonnies.
“Well, I think that freshman over at UNLV is pretty good,” Eustachy replied, referring to Anthony Bennett of the Runnin’ Rebels. “But yes, without a doubt. Having this much experience is a huge advantage. Huge.”
But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been growing pains of sorts. Eustachy’s style is very different from Miles, and he has asked his players to buy into a system that is unlike anything they’ve played before. Colorado State has been among the nation’s best defensive teams this season, and has spent much of the non-conference season leading the country in rebounding margin. The defense-first mentality was the major “culture” change Eustachy brought with him to CSU.
“It’s difficult,” said senior guard Dorian Green. “It’s a hard way to play but when we play it right, it’s been proven to work.”
“They totally believe in it now…it’s just hard to do,” Eustachy continued. “To move the ball around and cut hard and get the ball reversed and take good shots and then sprint back and defend every inch of the court is very difficult. But it’s the way to play. It gives us the best chance to win.”
CSU – along with upstarts Wyoming and Boise State – is trying to break through the three team stranglehold that the Aztecs, Rebels and Lobos have had on the MW for the past few seasons. Sitting at 13-2 heading into conference play, the veteran Rams have now won a school record-tying 22 straight games at Moby Arena. The last visiting coach to taste victory in Fort Collins? None other than Larry Eustachy, then coaching Southern Miss last season.
It was the road that was the Rams major pitfall during their run to the NCAA tournament last year. Now, with the addition of senior transfer Colton Iverson (who’s already been the MW player of the week twice this season) in the middle, and the returning talents of four other seasoned seniors, these Rams have the look of a contender. Can they do better than two conference road wins this season, while continuing to protect their home floor?
Green believes they’re ready for the test.
“We’ve been itching to get to conference play,” he smiled. “Now is where we make our move.”
Eustachy is eager to find out as well.
“Boys can win at home. Men win on the road.”