Conference call: Mesa hoops teams ready to start RMAC play
Preseason? What preseason?
In the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, “preseason” is short and sweet. Two weeks, three or four games, and it’s time to start keeping score against other RMAC basketball teams.
“If we had a couple more, it wouldn’t be a bad thing, but as late as we started scheduling, we were really lucky to fill it,” Mesa State women’s coach Roger Walters said Monday after the Mavericks wrapped up their pre-conference schedule with a 50-point win over Northern New Mexico. The women have four more nonconference games before and after the Christmas holidays and the men have three games in Illinois before breaking for the holidays.
Tonight, though, conference play begins for the Mavericks in Lakewood against Colorado Christian, and Saturday at Colorado School of Mines.
For the 4-0 men’s team, the short preseason provided the experienced Mavericks a good mixture of competition.
“What’s been nice is we’ve played different styles of teams,” coach Jim Heaps said. And one of those teams was RMAC East Division favorite Metro State. “We had Metro with the full-court pressure and the matchup zone, (they) kind of spread you out and penetrate. Azusa (Pacific) was a lot like that and Central Methodist had 10 different sets and they execute their halfcourt offense real well, make the extra pass.
“For playing only four games, it was a pretty good preseason as far as getting our kids ready for what they might see.”
Heaps has the advantage of an experienced team, with a half-dozen seniors, plus juniors and sophomores who have plenty of playing time and a redshirt season on their resumes. This week the Mavericks edged into the national picture, receiving one vote in the men’s Division II poll.
“It’s a real mature group,” Heaps said. “They understand what it takes and they hold each other accountable and push each other to be the kind of team they want to be.”
On the men’s side, Colorado Christian (0-3) is picked second in the East and fifth overall, one spot behind Mesa, which is picked third in the West and fourth overall in the preseason poll. Mines (3-1) was picked to finish fourth in the East and eighth overall.
“Both teams are extremely well-coached,” Heaps said. “Every team in the conference is. You don’t face anybody that’s not really prepared and very tough to guard and will guard you.
“Christian has arguably the best post player in the conference and a candidate for player of the year in (6-foot-11) Justin Neuhaus and a couple of kids who can really shoot it. They show up and play hard.”
Walters, in his first year as Mesa State’s women’s coach, has been poring over game film to learn about his conference opponents. He faces the cream of the crop in the East right off the bat. Mines (3-2) is picked to win the East and finish second overall behind Fort Lewis, the No. 3 team in the nation, with Colorado Christian (2-5) predicted to be the East runner-up and make the conference final four in March.
For now, Walters is more concerned about his own team making progress. He saw progress made in Monday’s win, with the Mavericks (1-2) striving to run their offense and play hard-nosed defense.
“It’s not so much what everybody else does, we’re paying attention to what we do, and we got better,” Walters said after his first win as a college coach. “We were better than we were last Saturday night and that’s all we want to do, be better every day.”