There was a school of thought entering the spring that Colorado State had a chance to improve enough to emerge as the top challenger to defending regular season champ San Diego State in the Mountain West next season.
With Louisville transfer Chane Behanan opting to turn pro instead of joining the Rams and starting point guard Jon Octeus announcing Monday that he will transfer, optimism that Colorado State can challenge for a conference title has waned considerably. The Rams can still improve on last season's 16-16 finish in a transition year, but their ceiling may not be as high as it once appeared.
Though Behanan's considerable baggage made him a risk for Colorado State, he also would have been an ideal fit for Larry Eustachy's emphasis on crashing the boards. A three-year starter at Louisville, Behanan was a mainstay in the Cardinals' 2012-13 national title run and delivered 15 points and 12 rebounds in the championship game against Michigan.
Not adding Behanan hurt Colorado State, but there was still plenty of reason for optimism with leading scorers J.J. Avila, Daniel Bejarano and Octeus all returning and a couple of potential impact transfers also set to become eligible. Alas, the Octeus news is a major blow to that because the 6-foot-4 senior was the lone experienced point guard on the roster and averaged 13.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists last season.
Octeus, who graduated from Colorado State this spring, will have one more year of eligibility remaining and will be able to play right away at whichever high-major program he chooses. Colorado State will probably hand the point guard position to unproven but promising Arkansas Little Rock transfer John Gillon, but the Rams will miss Octeus' leadership, clutch scoring and off-ball defense in particular.
How good Colorado State can still be next season will probably depend on Gillon's readiness at the point guard and how big an impact transfers Stanton Kidd (North Carolina Central) and Dantiel Daniels (Southern Illinois) make.
Kidd, a 6-foot-7 forward, averaged 14.5 points and 6.9 rebounds in the MEAC, but he'll face far better competition in the Mountain West. Daniels, a 6-foot-5 forward, led the Missouri Valley in blocked shots as a freshman and is joining a program that has enjoyed success with undersized forwards in the recent past.
The one saving grace for Colorado State is that the rest of their Mountain West peers have plenty of question marks too.
UNLV waved goodbye to its entire starting five from last year's dysfunctional, disappointing season and will build around another star-studded freshman class and steady transfer point guard Cody Doolin. New Mexico lost its three best players as Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams graduated and Alex Kirk opted to turn pro instead of returning for his senior season. Heck, even San Diego State — the clear favorite in the Mountain West next season — still must find a replacement at point guard for do-everything star Xavier Thames.
The result may be a wide-open race to challenge the Aztecs.
UNLV can be a threat if Doolin stabilizes the offense and the freshmen don't experience too many growing pains. It's foolish to discount New Mexico given its history and the possibility that its role players are ready to shoulder a greater load. Boise State lost a ton of close games last season and could take a step forward, as could Wyoming if star Larry Nance Jr. fully recovers from the knee injury he suffered last March.
Colorado State also can't be discounted even without Octeus and Behanan.
The Rams could have been a clear-cut top contender. Now they're simply in the mix with everyone else.
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