LAS VEGAS — Colorado State’s 2022-23 season came to an end with Thursday’s 64-61 loss to No. 20 San Diego State.
While the Rams were unable to complete what would have been an epic upset over the best team in the Mountain West, they did battle admirably in each of their games in the conference tournament.
Had a few things gone differently, we very easily could have been set up with Tim Miles versus Niko Medved Pt. III. But in the end, the Rams just did not make enough shots to overcome an Aztecs squad that has reached the Mountain West Championship in each of the last five seasons.
“I tell you what, I don’t know that I could have asked our guys to give a better effort,” Niko Medved said postgame.
Medved continued, explaining that if you would have told him going into the matchup that CSU would produce 14 points off of turnovers, while SDSU would only finish with 1, he would have been thrilled. He praised his team for guarding like crazy and for busting their tails on the glass. As the now-veteran Rams coach put it, they really just needed to be able to make one more play.
“It’s been a hard year,” Medved said. “It’s been a hard year in so many ways for this group. All of the things we’ve dealt with, injuries and you name it. And you know, I just kept asking these guys to improve and to stay with it. And no matter what the circumstances were, that’s what they did all year.”
Obviously the results were not what anybody expected coming off one of the program’s best seasons in modern history. While most did assume the Rams would take a step back after losing David Roddy, the general consensus was that CSU would still be very much in the mix as one of the league’s top contenders. Clearly that was not the case. For much of the regular season the Rams were flirting with finishing last in the MW.
As frustrating as this season was at times though — and there were moments where it truly tested one’s patience, like losing three straight in-state matchups — the fact that this group was able to play competitive basketball down the stretch is a testament to the leadership provided by Isaiah Stevens and John Tonje.
When teams with veterans have seasons that go south, that can be a recipe for an extremely toxic situation in the locker room, especially when there are as many new pieces as the Rams had this season. It becomes easy to start pointing fingers and throwing players under the bus. Instead of finding solutions and learning how to maximize each other’s strengths, teams tend to play the blame game. And as soon as that happens, the wheels completely fall off and the whole season goes to shit.
Again, this was not the season that anybody imagined after earning a 6-seed in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. But as someone that has been around this game for some time now, I hope that Ram Nation at least acknowledges some of the context.
From top to bottom this was the deepest that the Mountain West has been since 2014. And that was after playing the toughest non-conference slate of the Medved era thus far — all while dealing with more missed games due to injury than the previous four years combined.
CSU finished 15-18 this year but they very easily could have gone like 10-23 with all of the things that went wrong. For that, the seniors deserve credit for holding the fort down and guiding the team to a more competitive state.
“I couldn’t have asked for better leaders,” Medved said. “I say it all of the time, you learn the most through adversity. And I learned who these guys were this year. I learned who they were as young men.
“How they’ve grown and how they stayed with it — that’s going to carry on with them for the rest of their lives. And this one hurts. We were right there to win it. But I thought we learned a lot about ourselves toward the end of the year.”
As of right now it’s unclear if either will elect to use their Covid year and return for a fifth season at CSU. Medved has said a few times that he would love to have them back.
Following the loss to the Aztecs, Medved said that he didn’t want to focus on the future at that moment. Instead he just wanted to live in the present and appreciate everything those guys have meant to him and the program.
Day 1 guys that believed in the vision from the get-go, Stevens and Tonje have been nothing but first-class representatives of CSU since the day that they arrived on campus.
“What more could you ask for as a coach? They’re the ones who really helped set the foundation and the tone for our program,” Medved said. “They mean everything. I don’t want to think about tomorrow yet. I don’t want to think about what might be, you know, coming back. We’re just gonna stay here in this moment today. And then we’ll focus on tomorrow, tomorrow.”