Colorado State is off to a 3-0 start following Monday night’s 77-52 beatdown of Weber State. 

In the win over the visiting Wildcats the Rams pretty much dominated from wire to wire. CSU held Weber State to just 34% shooting from the floor in what was a tremendous defensive showing. The Rams were impressive offensively as well, hitting half of their 3-point attempts while tripling their opponent’s production in the paint. 

10 players scored, 10 players recorded a rebound, and six had at least one assist. It was about as complete of a team performance as it gets at this stage of the season. It was also a great way for a relatively inexperienced group to build some confidence before hitting the road for the first time. 

Colorado State sophomore guard Jalen Lake (15) dribbles hard in the paint against Weber State at Moby Arena on Monday Nov. 14, 2022. Photo Credit: Fort Collins Coloradoan (USA TODAY Images)

After starting the year with a three-game homestand, the Rams have their toughest challenge of the season thus far with the Charleston Classic this week, starting with South Carolina on Thursday afternoon. 

Traditionally the Gamecocks are more commonly associated with football, it is the SEC after all. After getting the top-ranked recruit for the 2023 cycle, GG Jackson, to reclassify to 2022, then flip his commitment from North Carolina and sign with USC, the basketball program has certainly made some headlines in recent months though. 

Although it’s been a small sample size, Jackson, a 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward has certainly been impressive. He is currently tied for the team-lead in scoring at 15 points per game. Jackson has proved to be effective on the glass too, with an average of nine rebounds per game.

Limiting Jackson’s production will likely be a big factor on Thursday afternoon. It will be interesting to see how the Rams handle his size and athleticism. That said, Jackson is not the only guy you’ve gotta worry about. The Gamecocks returned 83 percent of their scoring production from a year ago, so there’s quite a bit of experience on the roster. 

Depending on the outcome Thursday, CSU will face either Davidson or the College of Charleston on Friday. Tipoff will be at 3:00 pm MT once again on Friday with a Rams win. If they lose though, CSU will play at 5:30 pm MT on Friday evening. 

Now that we’ve covered what’s coming up next, let’s talk a little bit about what we’ve seen from the Rams so far. 

Veteran players have looked solid in expanded roles

With David Roddy electing to leave school early for the NBA and Isaiah Stevens out for an extended period of time, you knew that CSU was going to need the veterans on the roster to step up. 

Well, so far, that’s exactly what’s happened. The players that have been in the system have looked comfortable handling more of the responsibilities on both ends. And what has been especially encouraging is that it isn’t just one guy trying to take the reins. 

As it currently stands the Rams have five players averaging 9 or more points per game. What’s more, all five are shooting at least 40 percent from the floor and 40% or better from deep. 

Additionally, seven different players are pulling down at least three rebounds, five players are averaging at least one steal, and multiple individuals are getting involved as facilitators. 

There is always room for improvement. CSU needs to be better at the free throw line. And there have been a few instances where the intensity has been lacking in the paint on the defensive side. Overall though, it’s been a really positive start for this Rams team, especially for Isaiah Rivera and Jalen Lake — two guys that CSU really needed to make a leap in 2022-23. 

Lake has looked like an all-conference player with the way that he shot the ball over the first week. But we always knew he could score. What has really stood out to me is his impact as a passer. Over the last 80 minutes of action, Lake has recorded 22 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists and zero turnovers. And while this isn’t really something that you can quantify, his confidence on the floor is impossible to miss. He looks completely in control all the time. 

Rivera, on the other hand, has just been extremely solid in every phase of the game. His defense continues to improve each year, and at this point you feel really comfortable when he draws a tough assignment, maybe even the toughest assignment. And when things bog down offensively, he seems to have a knack for being able to end a scoring drought with a big bucket. 

Finally, I’d be remiss not to bring up the team’s leading scorer, John Tonje. His hot start was the easiest prediction of the preseason, as we already know what he is capable of doing. I just think he deserves a lot of praise for being assertive and aggressive while still allowing his running mates to get plenty of touches. It would be pretty easy for the most established player on the roster to try and play “hero ball” with CSU’s current roster situation, but Tonje is demonstrating the same selflessness that he has always brought to the table. 

Newcomers adjusting well 

Things are never going to be perfect immediately, particularly when you experience significant roster turnover for the first time in three years. What should be exciting to the Ram Faithful though, is that the early indication is the new players are solid fits in Fort Collins. 

Patrick Cartier may be a little slim to be a traditional four in the Mountain West — we will see how he handles a team with legit size like South Carolina — but the 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward is definitely skilled. 

Cartier is a three-level scorer that can hurt you from anywhere on the floor. If a defender gives him too much space along the perimeter, Cartier can drain a jumper and make them pay that way. But he can also use his footwork to create high percentage looks down low, or at the very least get to the line. 

For a true freshman, Tavi Jackson has come in and been a seamless addition to the team as well. The young point guard has been fearless on both ends, proving that he can be impactful as an on-ball defender, a facilitator for the offense, or just an elite scorer if the moment calls for it. 

As Jackson gains more experience on the floor, his ceiling is going to be extremely high as a point guard at the D1 level. While I don’t want to use this comparison lightly or put expectations on him that will be impossible to live up to, in a lot of ways Jackson feels like an Isaiah Stevens-type player. It does not matter how young he is, the guy appears to be completely unphased by the moment. I cannot wait to see where his career goes from here. 

I also cannot wait to see more of Josiah Strong, who in his CSU debut finished with 8 points on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting against Weber State. As he gets back into the flow of things after missing over a month with an extended illness, CSU should only become that much more dangerous. He was one of the best ‘3 and D’ players in the transfer portal this past offseason. And his experience will be much-needed on a roster full of young bucks.

Author

Justin is a Colorado State alumnus and has covered the Rams for DNVR since 2019. Prior to coming to DNVR, Justin was the founder of RamsReport.com and the Sports Director for the Rocky Mountain Collegian. From 2013-15 he was an intern for CSU Football.

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