Cream of the crop
Mesa men face tough road with Ft. Lewis, Adams on tap
Forget the records.
Yes, you’ve heard it time and time again, usually when it’s rivalry week and one team is decidedly better than another.
You hear coaches say that when they are A) trying to prevent the better team from overlooking the opponent, or B) trying to convince the weaker team it can upset the favorite.
This time, though, is different. This time, four of the top six men’s basketball teams in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference are playing when Colorado Mesa and Western State travel to Fort Lewis and Adams State.
The combined conference record? 13-1. Overall? 22-5.
So, when Colorado Mesa men’s coach Jim Heaps tells the Mavericks to forget the records, he’s really telling them to forget they’re 7-1 and in effect, the 30th-ranked team in Division II basketball.
CMU (7-1, 4-0 RMAC) is the fifth team in the “receiving votes” category of the National Basketball Coaches Association Division II rankings.
“Don’t get fooled. Don’t get caught up in the 7-1 record,” Heaps said this week as the Mavericks had a rare full week to prepare for the Sunday-Monday games, moved back to accommodate graduation ceremonies today. “It’s gotta be: Let’s focus on us and our play and not think about the record. It’s how well we play.
“If we execute what we do for 40 minutes every game, I guarantee you our record’s going to be fine. We’re gonna have a good record, and we don’t have to worry about wins and losses.”
Heaps likes how the Mavericks have shown plenty of grit already this season, not only overcoming double-figure deficits, but winning a couple of games in the final seconds last weekend. Now, he said, it’s time to address why the Mavericks have had to show that grit and win late-game thrillers.
“There’s a lot to be said with finding a way to win at the end of games and hanging in there and having no sense of panic when it gets to that point,” he said. “The thing we talked about (Tuesday) in film is we’ve got to be better throughout.
“We’ve had the opportunity to open up leads, the opportunity to make shots, to run good offense, to defend. We have to make sure we’re doing that for longer and longer stretches of time.”
It’s normal for basketball teams to have those lapses where they miss shots, turn the ball over and just don’t play well. Every coach says it: Basketball is a game of runs. It’s limiting the opponent’s scoring runs and maximizing yours that makes the difference.
With Mesa, the way to maximize scoring runs is with the defense, and it will be tested against the Skyhawks (5-1, 2-1) and Grizzlies (5-3, 3-0).
Both shoot the ball well, as does CMU (47.4 percent, third in the RMAC), but play them too tight and their perimeter players have no problem putting the ball on the floor. They’ll drive to the paint, either attacking the basket or dishing to a post player. Or, they’ll draw the help-side defense and kick the ball back out to an open 3-point shooter.
Adams State shoots 44.9 percent from the field, Fort Lewis 42.8, and all three teams hit more than one-third of their 3-point attempts.
And all three have quality depth.
“I like playing those teams that can only play six or seven kids, and you see them run out of gas late,” Heaps said. “Fort Lewis won’t run out of gas late. (Coach Bob Hofman) is playing a lot of players, Adams State is playing a lot of players.
“It’s going to be much more of a game of executing, who executes their stuff better, their game plan better, especially on the road. You don’t have that margin of error. That’s why we have to do a better job of the fundamentals of the game for the whole 40 minutes instead of going stretches where we don’t play well.”