Season of frustration
Defensive inconsistency has led to roller coaster 2013-14 for Colorado Mesa men
The 2013-14 season has been up and down for the Colorado Mesa men’s basketball team.
The Mavericks (10-11, 8-9 RMAC) won seven of eight games before the Christmas break, then lost seven of eight immediately after the break. Last weekend, Mesa played one of its best games on defense in a 71-64 victory over Black Hills State, then the next night played one of its worst in a 94-82 loss at Chadron State.
“At times, it’s been frustrating for the players and the coaches,” CMU coach Andy Shantz said. “We’ve showed signs of how good we can be. We’ve been the only team in the league to beat some of the top teams and the only team in the league to lose to some of the worst ones.”
Colorado Mesa led top-ranked Metro State most of the game before losing. The Mavericks beat the third-, fourth- and fifth-place teams in the RMAC in Fort Lewis, CU-Colorado Springs and Adams State. The Mavs have also lost to Regis (7-15, 4-13 RMAC) and Western State (2-19, 2-15 RMAC).
The struggles are rooted on defense, Shantz said.
“It’s never been an effort problem with these guys,” he said. “Some of it is having new guys, but that can’t be an excuse.
“We’ve had small breakdowns with our defense. It’s finding consistency on that end. We’re much better when we’re aggressive on defense.”
Mesa has played well defensively at times this season.
The Mavericks are 6-1 when they hold opponents under 70 points, and they’re 3-0 when they hold opponents under 40 percent shooting from the floor.
“Consistency is our biggest focus,” CMU junior guard Landon Vermeer said. “We need to bring it every single day in practice and games, not just the Metro games. When we play Metro, we play them well. Then, we drop games to teams like Regis who we should beat.
“Defense consistency is our biggest thing, being consistently aggressive. Being aggressive (on offense) is another key. Coach wants us to swing and execute. We can be passive with that. We need to swing the ball to score instead of swing it to swing it.”
The lack of consistency this season has put the Mavericks in a precarious position, but senior guard Clay Kame remains upbeat.
“I have all the confidence in the world in what we have,” Kame said. “Ryan (Stephan) had an off game, and we usually go to him when we struggle, but he had 12 great games before that. Part of that is our execution. Part of it is (the opponent) being hot.
“We understand what we have in front of us.”
The Mavericks have some work to do to make the RMAC tournament for a 16th consecutive season. They enter this weekend in eighth place in the RMAC with five games left. The top eight teams make the conference tournament.
The last time Mesa missed the RMAC tournament was 1998.
“I guess it is a little foreign for us to be in this type of situation, but we can also look at it as a new type of challenge,” Kame said. “We know we’re a new group together. We knew a lot of things would change. I see it as a challenge now. All we have left is five games, and that’s are focus.”
Mesa hosts New Mexico Highlands (10-11, 7-10 RMAC) and Western New Mexico (1-19, 1-16) this weekend and Western State (2-19, 2-15) next weekend. Then, the Mavs close out the regular season with road games at Adams State (14-6, 10-6) and Fort Lewis (14-6, 11-5).
“The way the schedule is set up with the teams we play, it’s set up perfectly for us to go on a run,” Kame said. “We can be a team that is scary in February. It helps us we’ve been through a lot of up and downs.
“We’ve had a couple games like that this year, but I think that will help us. We’re going to have to find a way to get a little tougher and buckle down.”
Vermeer believes the team will respond.
“It’s not going to be an easy road by any means,” Vermeer said. “I think we’re going to have to play desperate, which leads to being a dangerous team. I think we’re as talented as anybody. We can play with anybody, we’ve proved it. We just need to do it on a consistent basis.”