The big game
Mavs excited to see how they measure up to No. 1 Metro
With apologies to the various nonconference opponents, those aren’t the games the Colorado Mesa University men’s basketball team gets geeked for when the Mavericks look at the schedule.
No, it’s the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference rivalry games against Fort Lewis and Western State, and facing perennial national power Metro State that gets the Mavs and their fans juiced.
That the Roadrunners (15-0, 11-0 RMAC) are the No. 1 team in the nation this week just adds to the excitement. After winning their fifth straight game, the Mavericks moved back into the national picture, receiving 12 votes in this week’s coaches poll.
“That’s what you live for in college basketball,” senior center Chandler Burgon said Saturday night after his first game back from shoulder surgery.
“All of us all week were saying I hope Metro beats Fort Lewis and Adams. We don’t want to go against a team that got beat; we want to go against the best to prove ourselves. For us, that’s what we live for, that’s the challenge we want.”
That’s not smack talk — the Mavericks know just how good Metro State is.
The Roadrunners reached the NCAA Division II Elite Eight last season, only two points from a Final Four spot.
“Any time I need to get their attention, I go back to the last game last year,” Metro coach Derrick Clark said of his veteran team, which has nine returners. “We didn’t win that game, and that’s a motivating factor in itself. Once you get a taste of that, you always have a little more to give to not sit in the locker room and feel that way.”
Metro, on back-to-back nights last weekend, beat No. 13 Adams State and No. 17 Fort Lewis, the two teams that have defeated CMU in conference play this season.
Five Roadrunners average double figures in scoring. That’s right, the entire starting lineup. Those five play the majority of minutes, anywhere from 24 to 31 minutes per game.
Guard Brandon Jefferson leads Metro in scoring at 16.6 points and minutes, 31.3. And talk about an assist-to-turnover ratio: his is 47 to 18, plus 39 steals.
It’s a team that shoots just a shade under 50 percent from the field (49.8), a full 10 percent better than its opponents.
From the 3-point line, the Roadrunners are 91 of 215 (42.3 percent), with opponents shooting 30.9 percent. Metro gets seven more rebounds per game than its opponents and averages 10 steals and 3.3 blocked shots per game.
And they play the patented Metro pressure defense, getting teams sped up and creating turnovers. The big difference this season, Clark said, is Metro has the depth to press for 40 minutes.
The Mavericks counter with three double-figure scorers and two more scoring seven or more a game. Colton Burgon averages 16.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, Jeff Hart, on a scoring tear since 2013 began, is adding 13.7 points per game and Mike Melillo 10.1 points and 5.5 rebounds.
Mesa shoots 47.7 percent from the field, 37 percent from the 3-point line and outscores its opponents by 10 points a game. Defensively, the Mavs allow teams to shoot 41 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from the 3-point line and has a plus-6 rebound margin.
Being ranked No. 1 is nothing new to the Roadrunners, who spent three weeks at No. 1 last season.
“The national rankings, all of that is good, but at the same time, we’re trying to get better,” Clark said. “I don’t allow them (to get caught up in the rankings). When the rankings come out, I tell them, you’ve got three hours to enjoy it because we’ve got practice tomorrow morning.
“We’ve got Mesa and that’s a tough place to come in and play, and Coach (Jim) Heaps has them playing well.”
According to Metro State’s website, only one RMAC men’s basketball team has a winning record against the ‘Runners: Colorado School of Mines.
The Orediggers are 33-30 all-time against Metro State, but went 22-1 between 1968 and 1985. Since then, Metro is 29-11 against Mines.
The Mavericks are 11-19 in the series, but have a 6-5 home record against the Roadrunners, including last season’s 64-47 win at Brownson Arena.
The Mavericks also beat Metro State 67-63 in an overtime thriller in the first round of the RMAC Shootout last season at the Auraria Campus gym.
Nearly all of the Mavericks return from that team. One who wasn’t here last season, junior forward Paul Walter, can’t wait for his first Metro game.
“How fun is that? On our own court with great fans,” he said after Saturday’s game.
The Mavericks want to see just how good they are, and you can’t get a better measure than by playing Metro year-in and year-out.
“It’s something we talk a lot about, as a coaching staff and team, those are the games that you want to play,” Heaps said after the Western State win.
“Those are the teams you want to go up against. You don’t come to Mesa and want to be a college basketball player to play the nonleague games, the first game of the Thanksgiving Tipoff. Those are fun, but the Northern New Mexicos, that’s not why you come to Mesa to play.
“You come to play great teams.”