Keegan Pope/InsideTheRams.com

Inside the Rams Mailbag: Jan. 5, 2016

InsideTheRams.com Digital Editor Keegan Pope answers questions in this week's mailbag about CSU hoops, football and recruiting

It’s been an interesting past few weeks around Colorado State athletics with Gian Clavell returning from suspension, a football bowl game and academic ineligibility for three basketball players. Not to mention, we are less than a month away from National Signing Day. Here’s this week’s mailbag.

Are we ever going to see steady, upward improvement in men's basketball? After 5 yrs, no clear plan or direction? -Gary Clark (@GoCSURams)

I hate to attempt to predict the future for a basketball program, mostly because of how much change there can be from year to year, especially with Larry Eustachy’s squads. Next year’s squad will look very different from this year’s team with Gian Clavell and Emmanuel Omogbo graduating, along with the addition of four Division I transfers. 

But, let’s remember that three of those four transfers are guards, with Kevin Dorsey and Kevin Little primarily playing point guard at their previous schools. Robbie Berwick can play both spots, but it’ll be tough to find playing time in a guard rotation that deep. CSU projects to return Prentiss Nixon, Anthony Bonner and Jeremiah Paige, along with Dorsey, Berwick, Little and Devocio Butler, who can swing down to the 3 but is primarily a two-guard. While that should create some great depth at those spots, CSU’s front court will have a lot of question marks. Nico Carvacho has developed into a solid post, and I think he’ll continue to get better as he puts on a little more muscle. But Kimani Jackson and Braden Koelliker have been highly inconsistent and even ineffective in most of their minutes this year. Arkansas transfer Lorenzo Jenkins really projects more as a wing or stretch ‘4’ than a low-post bruiser. Che Bob can play the power forward spot in spurts, but will face an uphill battle against teams with big front lines. 

So while CSU may have a solid backcourt scoring punch, what the Rams don’t feature is a tenacious rebounder like Emmanuel Omogbo, Tiel Daniels or Pierce Hornung. Rebounding has been the ultimate equalizer for CSU under Larry Eustachy, but none of the players coming back next year have shown that penchant for hitting the glass. CSU has also had success with bigger guards like Gian Clavell and Daniel Bejarano as rebounders, but CSU’s backcourt next year will feature no one bigger than 6-foot-3 Jeremiah Paige, who primarily doesn’t crash the offensive glass. 

What all of this means is yet to be determined. But with only seven players beginning Jan. 17, I think CSU will struggle stay above .500 in the Mountain West this year, leaving them at right around .500 overall entering the Mountain West conference tournament. If CSU were entering the tournament with its full array of players, I think the Rams could have made some serious noise because of their depth. But with just seven players, trying to play three (or possibly four) games in four days makes that task a whole lot more difficult. 

Following the 2012-13 NCAA Tournament run, CSU is 61-39 overall but just 28-26 in Mountain West play. The Rams have made one NIT appearance in those three-plus seasons in which they were handled at home by South Dakota State. And barring a miraculous run through the Mountain West tournament in March, the Rams will likely end up at home again for March Madness. 

Unless CSU can add some serious talent and depth to its front court in the next few years, I’d say the Rams will be hovering right around 16-20 wins per year for the foreseeable future. CSU is investing a lot of money in its basketball program to be middle-of-the-road every other year. 

Do you think any walk-ons will be added? Also, who's at fault? Is this a systematic failure or on the players or both?
-CSU Ram Fanatic @csuramfanatic
-Justin Michael @justintmichael

Since two people had this question, I’ll do my best to address both in one answer. Yesterday, CSU athletic director Joe Parker told the Coloradoan that they don’t expect to add any mid-year walk-ons to the program at this point, instead electing to play with seven players once the three ineligible players begin serving their suspensions. 

Even if CSU wanted to add walk-ons, they would be subject to a lengthy review of their official transcripts and would have to be accepted by the NCAA Clearinghouse. That’s by no means impossible, but it would take a lot of extra work for CSU’s compliance department. There’s also the fact that most whoever they would bring in would not have any knowledge of CSU’s offensive or defensive concepts and would likely be a long way from game shape. There’s plenty of people at the CSU rec center that believe they are talented enough to walk on, and some likely are. But going through the physical grind of a college basketball season with a team that practices as rugged as CSU does is a lot different than showing up to noon ball every other day. 

As for who is at fault in the academic ineligibility issue, I think it is all parties involved. The players know what their grades are throughout the semester and they also know what GPA requirements they have to make. Ultimately, they are adults who have to make a decision of whether they value their education or not. The large majority of student-athletes are able to obtain passing grades despite the rigors of their game, practice and travel schedules. 

At the same time, it is the job of the coaching staff, academic coordinators and others in the athletic department to make sure their student-athletes are graduating. Though it it was not the case here, these players should be students first and athletes second, something the department is there to enforce. They can’t take the exams for them, but but they should require players to attend classes and do their homework, which is something they can do. If players don’t abide, make your own choice to suspend them instead of only relying on NCAA rules to do so. 

All parties are at fault here, but ultimately it falls on Larry Eustachy, his staff and the academic coordinators for their team to make sure these student-athletes are making the most of their education. 

Predictions for the remainder CSU basketball season? Predictions for next football season?
-Aaryck Enriquez (@aa_ryck)

As I alluded to a bit earlier, with CSU’s upcoming lack of depth due to academic suspensions, I’d put the Rams right around .500 in the Mountain West, leaving them with 17-18 wins by the time the regular season is said and done. CSU has a solid starting five and Anthony Bonner and Braden Koelliker will provide good minutes off the bench. But CSU will struggle mightily to play its starters 35 minutes a game and be able to compete with teams in the top tier of the league. Should they have to play in a first round game in the Mountain West tournament, I think the Rams have enough to beat San Jose State, Air Force or another lower-seeded team, but I think they’ll likely bow out in the quarterfinals. 

We haven’t finished this football season and we’re already looking ahead to next year? Of course we are! With all that CSU has returning next season (six starters on offense and nine on defense), I think the Rams have their best shot in recent memory to make a run at the Mountain West championship. Whether it’s Nick Stevens or Collin Hill under center, CSU will have the best skill group in the conference with Michael Gallup, Bisi Johnson, Detrich Clark, DeMarre Kitt, Izzy Matthews, Dalyn Dawkins and (possibly) Marvin Kinsey Jr. if he can return to form after a torn ACL. Zack Golditch and Jake Bennett will anchor CSU’s offensive line and I think the Rams have plenty of returning and incoming talent on defense to be one of the better units in the league. 

As usual CSU will have to contend with Air Force, an improving Wyoming team and perennial league power Boise State. But none of those teams return the kind of talent or depth that CSU does next year. With Brian Hill (Wyoming) and Jeremy McNichols (Boise State) declaring early for the NFL Draft, both the Cowboys and Broncos will have to rely on passing games with very good quarterbacks but unproven receivers. 

I’m buying into the hype surrounding this team next year, and I think the Rams likely finish the regular season with somewhere between 9 and 11 wins. A win at Alabama will be nearly impossible, but CSU faces a very beatable Oregon State team at home and a tough game against Colorado in Denver. But the Rams also get both Air Force and Boise State at home next year in the new stadium, with their other toughest road challenge coming at Wyoming. 

Book my season prediction at 10-2. 

Who do you think CSU's last remaining commitments will be?
-Bryan @breid6791

With just over three weeks until NSD and a class of 22 (including Tennessee transfer Preston Williams) I’d expect CSU to fill 3-4 more spots in its 2017 class. All of this depends on how much attrition there is this offseason, but I’d expect about a 25- or 26-player class when it is all said and done. 

CSU’s biggest remaining needs are at the defensive tackle/end spots, a pass-rushing outside linebacker, a cornerback and another athlete that could play either offense or defense. My predictions are as follows:

DL/DT: Tyrell Thompson (Trinity Valley CC), No. 81 in Scout’s JuCo 100

OLB/DE: Bryson Jackson (Lake Ridge (TX) HS), No. 12 OLB in Texas OR David Porter (Robinson (AR) HS) No. 1 DE in Arkansas

CB/DB: Marquese Taylor (Lovejoy (GA) HS) No. 12 ATH in Georgia 

ATH: Braylon Sanders (Callaway (GA) HS) No. 40 WR, No. 260 overall in Scout 300

These are by no means the only players CSU is targeting at these positions, and Bryson Jackson still remains committed to Minnesota, though that could change with the coaching turmoil there. Taylor recently backed off his commitment from Cal and said he plans to visit Cincinnati, but he lists CSU as his current recruiting favorite. 

Sanders and Thompson both have multiple P5 offers, but still seem very interested, with Sanders visiting Fort Collins officially next weekend. With the success that CSU receivers have had recently (Higgins and Gallup) along with Mike Bobo’s ability to attract big-time transfers (Kitt and Williams), I think CSU would be a great landing spot for Sanders. 

Out of all the #RAMPAGE17 transfer names that have popped up this past week, who'd be the best “get, and who's realistic?
-Ben Aaker (@greenaaker)

To be fair, I think most of the rumored transfer names will end up being just that — rumors. But CSU has had a penchant for going after P5 transfers with Paul Thurston, Faton Bauta and now Preston Williams. Though CSU is relatively set at wideout, a couple interesting names to keep in the mind back of your minds are Stanton Truitt (Auburn transfer), Frank Iheanacho (Texas A&M transfer) and Freddy Canteen (Michigan grad transfer). Both Truitt and Canteen graduated early, leaving both with two years of eligibility and no requirement to sit out under NCAA transfer rules. Iheanacho, who is connected to former Rams player Mike Orakpo, has already used his redshirt in 2015, but his academic status is unknown. Out of the three, I’d say Truitt would be the most likely, only because of his connection to current CSU wideout Michael Gallup. Truitt has played both wide receiver and running in college and could add a Detrich Clark-like dimension to CSU's offense. All three of the players mentioned above were highly-recruited players out of high school who just didn’t pan out at their schools. 

I have yet to see many transfers available at CSU's biggest positions of need, but with a lot of teams just finishing up their seasons, don't be surprised if a few names start popping up.

InsideTheRams.com Digital Editor Keegan Pope can be reached at keegan.pope21@gmail.com and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.


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