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HOF Classic Takeaways: CSU Men's Hoops makes a statement

Justin Michael Avatar
November 24, 2023

Thursday’s 69-48 victory over No. 8 Creighton is one of the biggest moments in Colorado State men’s basketball history. 

Not only is the top 10 win the highest-ranked opponent that the Rams have beaten since No. 5 UTEP in 1984, but the 21-point margin of victory is the largest CSU has had in a ranked win since beating No. 20 Wyoming by 24 all the way back in 1951. 

Nov 23, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; against the Colorado State Rams hold up the champions sign after the game against the Creighton Bluejays at T-Mobile Center. Photo: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of a solid start to the year, CSU hoped to make a little noise this week, especially with the opportunity to play two high-major teams at a neutral site.

Simply getting to the title game of the Hall of Fame Classic would have been a nice way to cap off the holiday week.

I don’t think anybody expected the Rams to go out to Kansas City and beat a pair of previously undefeated teams by an average of 16.5 points though. This trip surpassed even the wildest of hopes and expectations. 

After a performance like this, CSU should definitely be ranked in the upcoming AP Poll for the first time since the beginning of the 2022 NCAA Tournament. The Rams should be taken much more seriously in the Mountain West title conversation as well.

With all of this in mind, here are some more takeaways from CSU’s historic performance on Thursday. 

Elite defensive effort 

The Rams were absolutely locked in on Thursday, as they were able to hold Creighton to just 28 percent from the floor (17-of-61) and 21 percent from beyond the arc (6-of-29).

It was not a situation where the stats made the performance seem better than it really was either. The Rams truly had the Blue Jays out of sorts in this one. And they did it with tremendous on-ball pressure, timely switching and good old-fashioned relentless effort. 

Any time a CSU defender got beat on the drive, boom, there was a teammate right there to help pick up the slack.

Any time that Creighton tried to get off a clean look from deep, a Ram came flying at him with an effective close-out.

Every loose ball seemingly ended up in the hands of CSU. And despite being the smaller team, the Rams finished with a 43-34 advantage on the glass. 

We always knew that CSU was capable of winning big games when the offense is firing and guys are making shots. To beat a team like Creighton when you don’t score 70 and finish 5-of-19 from deep, though, is honestly even more encouraging. 

Most nights the Rams are going to make way more shots than they did in this win. But what they showed against Creighton is that when this team plays to its defensive capabilities, the Rams can hang with anybody in the country, even when they don’t necessarily have their best stuff on the offensive end. 

I could probably write a paragraph on every individual that made a play at some point in this game. If you just glance at the box score, you’d never know the defensive impact of guys like Nique Clifford, Joel Scott or even Joe Palmer.

For the sake of expediency, though, the suffice way to put things is that the squad really flexed its defensive muscle. Let’s hope we see more of that in the coming weeks as CSU concludes a difficult non-conference slate with multiple Pac-12 games and a pair of deceptively tricky WCC matchups.

Isaiah Stevens is the best point guard in college basketball

Isaiah Stevens was masterful against the Blue Jays, finishing the afternoon with 20 points, six rebounds and seven assists. 

After recording only one turnover in the 21-point victory, Stevens now has 47 assists and just 12 giveaways through the first six games. As his 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio indicates, the fifth-year starter has been putting on a masterclass of how to play point guard.

Nov 23, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Colorado State Rams guard Isaiah Stevens (4) drives around Creighton Bluejays guard Josiah Dotzler (15) during the second half at T-Mobile Center. Photo: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

While facilitating for others is a major part of Stevens’ role with the Rams and it was certainly a positive factor on Thursday, I would be remiss to not point out how impactful the savvy point guard has also been as a shotmaker.

There were multiple instances against the Blue Jays where the defender was seemingly in good position — at least they thought they were — before Stevens created space for himself and drained a jumper.

It’s been a theme in every game this season. Whatever Stevens wants to do out there, he’s able to. If he continues this absurd pace, not only will Stevens be a frontrunner for conference player of the year, he’ll be in the All-American mix, too. 

More Mbemba please 

With Patrick Cartier leaving the game with back pain less than two minutes in, the Rams were able to get some key minutes for Rashaan Mbemba on Thursday, and the true freshman showed why the staff is really high on him.

The 6-foot-7, 250-pound guard/forward wears number 21 just like David Roddy used to. And while we do not want to get too carried away with that comparison, the versatile Austrian definitely showed some shades of Roddy in his game. 

For one thing, Mbemba is extremely thick and not a guy that opposing players can push around, even when they have a significant height advantage. Just ask Creighton’s 7-footer, Ryan Kalkbrenner, how that went for him. 

Beyond the physical similarities, though, Mbemba also displayed great versatility and a sense of maturity that is rare for such a young player. He just plays the game at his pace and doesn’t allow the chaos around him to impact him in the slightest. 

When it was all said and done, Mbemba finished the outing with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He had four rebounds, one block and a nice assist in the paint as well.

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