The CSU Men's team, coached by second-year head man Dale Layer, returns just two players, including one starter - forward Brian Greene - who have logged meaningful minutes in a Ram uniform. Eight of the 13 players on the roster have yet to suit up for CSU. They've been picked to finish seventh in the eight-team MWC in the pre-season poll.
On the other hand, the CSU Women's team - fresh off a trip to the NCAA Tourney where they were ousted by powerful UConn in the second round - have their sights set on another MWC title and even more post-season success. Fifth-year head coach Tom Collen returns 10 players with substantial playing experience. The Rams are the obvious pre-season choice to win the conference, and are ranked 24th in the national pre-season polls. They'll find out quickly just how good they are, when they host defending National Champion Notre Dame on November 21st.
For Layer, rebuilding takes on a literal meaning this season. The Men's team lost five seniors who averaged almost 50 points and 20 rebounds per game last season, not to mention intangibles like ‘senior leadership.' With only Greene and guard Andy Birley back from last season's team, pre-season practices had as much to do with introductions as they did with learning the playbook. Last season, the Rams were one of the country's best outside shooting teams, but lacked athleticism and versatility. This year's squad, re-loaded with Junior College transfers like Joe Macklin and Darian Burke, should be much more athletic.
"We're much more talented basketball-wise than we have been the past couple years, I think," Greene told the media. "We've got guys who can shoot as well as dribble, make moves in the post, drive and dunk on people. It just makes us a lot more versatile than we've been in the past."
Macklin, a transfer from Barton County (Kansas) Community College, will likely get the starting nod at point guard, with highly touted sophomore Jonathon Sanders in reserve. Sanders has the height to play forward at 6'7", and is still trying to get comfortable in the Rams system. Layer has very high hopes for the Westminster product, who's limited time as a true freshman was spent in the front court. Birley is also in the mix here, although he will also see time at shooting guard.
There's also super freshman Freddy Robinson to consider. The 6'5" product of Tulsa was listed as one the country's top 100 prospects a year ago, and could force his way onto the court this season.
In the middle, Layer has high hopes for the 6'10", 250-pound Burke, from Grayson County (Texas) Community College, and redshirt freshman Matt Nelson, a 7-footer from Morton Grove, Illinois.
The Rams will also look forward to December 15th, when talent transfer Ronnie Clark will become eligible.
The Men's team opens the season November 17th at home against Montana Tech. Things get more rugged after that, with non-conference games against Colorado, Wisconsin, Washington State, and – stuck in the middle of the always tough MWC season on February 11th - national power Michigan coming to Moby.
"It's a whole new team," said Layer of this season's Rams. "I'm not sure what to expect yet."
Collen is sure what to expect, and what others expect of his team.
"As a coach, you take pride that people respect your program enough that they feel like you're the team to beat," he said. "I think the fact that the media would step up and pick us as the favorite is an indication that maybe we're starting to get the respect we'd like to have."
It's hard not to respect what the Rams return this season. Start with shooting guard Angie Gorton, who spent much of last season at point guard, where she led the team with 109 assists. She will move back to her more natural shooting guard position, with the hopes that her 10 points per game scoring average from last season will rise. That will leave the point duties to Elizabeth English, a solid passer and outside shooting threat.
In the front court, the Rams will be led by Junior Ashley Augspurger, a pre-season all-MWC pick. She led the Rams in scoring a season ago, and is versatile enough to play both forward spots. Expect to see a lot of juniors Jackie Campbell and Katie Borton as well.
The Rams will host the Fighting Irish on November 21st at Moby, but the fun doesn't stop there. They will also take part in the Orange Bowl Classic in December, as well as hosting nationally ranked Colorado on November 28th. Also on the schedule is Xavier, who knocked powerhouse Tennessee out of last season's NCAA Tourney.
"I think we're a top 25 team," Collen admitted. "We return nine of our top ten players, and we proved last year that we can go on the road and win. When you start there, you can afford a loss or two and still stay up there and get the recognition you deserve."