Mesa men ready to hit the road in tough RMAC

Jeff Hart and the Colorado Mesa men’s basketball team open RMAC play on the road, Friday at Chadron State and Saturday at Black Hills State.

Men’s basketball coaches in the RMAC acknowledge Metro State is the team to beat this season.

That doesn’t mean any of them will concede the title to the Roadrunners, however. Metro, 4-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation, is the last team to run the table on the conference, but that was the 2003-04 season.

“I’d be shocked if anybody went undefeated,” Colorado Mesa coach Jim Heaps said. “Not that it couldn’t happen.”

Only a couple of weeks into the basketball season, it’s time for conference play.

Coaches are split on their views of the 22-game schedule — Fort Lewis coach Bob Hofman detests it, Colorado School of Mines coach Pryor Orser wouldn’t mind a 26-game RMAC slate.

“We’re in experimental mode another three or four weeks, in particular the ‘satellite’ teams like Mesa and Fort Lewis,” said Hofman, whose Skyhawks are 3-0. “It’s a whole different kind of grind than the Denver schools have.”

The conference went to a 
22-game schedule in 2010. It’s an unbalanced schedule in the 14-team conference, with teams playing four schools only once. Colorado Mesa plays CSU-Pueblo, CU-Colorado Springs, Regis and Metro State only once this season.

“I like the 22 games,” Orser said. “They’re meaningful and they get guys ready. Scheduling is so difficult anymore and it costs money (to travel or to pay guarantees to entice teams to travel). I’d play 26 (RMAC games) and call it good.”

For veteran teams it’s a little easier to get ready quickly for the RMAC road show, which now stretches from South Dakota to the southern edges of New Mexico.

Colorado Mesa makes its first trip to Spearfish, S.D., this week to play new RMAC member Black Hills State on Saturday night. Spearfish is only a couple of hours from Chadron, Neb., where the Mavericks play Chadron State on Friday.

Heaps laughed this week that he thought he’d run the gamut of new towns he’d visit in his coaching career, but he’s eager to take the Mavs on the road.

Mesa was not a good road team last season (2-9 in conference), but lost four of those games by six or fewer points. Heaps thinks this veteran group can turn that around.

“I think this is a team that I like to take on the road,” he said of the 3-1 Mavericks. “It’s a focused group and they’re mature and I think it’s a team that will play well on the road. It’s nice to get these long road trips out of the way early and be done with.”

Heaps liked the progress the Mavericks showed between their two tournaments, with a week off between.

“I saw a lot of improvement watching film. We had better pace of play, we defended much better than we did the opening weekend,” he said.

“We had to go against a zone and some things that you don’t see much. It’s good for us to have to make adjustments in the game.”

Coaches are spending plenty of time downloading game film to see what’s in store the next three 3½ months. Adams State (2-0) and New Mexico Highlands (2-1) have talented rosters and have played well early.

Orser called Metro “very, very good” and Hofman said the Roadrunners are “special,” but he sees the “three M’s — Metro, Mesa and Mines” as the front-runners.

Mines (3-1), which went 20-2 in the RMAC last season, lost 2010-11 player of the year Brett Green, the Orediggers’ only senior, to a knee injury, and Orser said he’s still trying to figure out rotations with the healthy players he has.

“But I tell them nobody feels sorry for us,” he said. “You have to play the game. You still have to go play. It’s like in the NFL, next man up.”

Heaps figures Mines will be in the hunt, and the Mavs want to return to the RMAC Shootout, where they lost to the Orediggers in the title game last season.

“The league is what it is,” Heaps said. “Metro is probably head and shoulders better than everybody else. They’ve got four of the top 10 preseason all-conference kids. I think everybody else is pretty even. It’s all new right now and we’ll see what happens.”


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