No. 24 Colorado State entered Wednesday’s matchup with San Diego State as the ranked team. They came in tied for first in the conference in the loss column, a game in front of the Aztecs.
They were playing at home in Moby Arena, a place they haven’t lost in their last 27 games.
They were playing at altitude and in front of a fired up home crowd excited about wearing the orange and green of their team’s Colorado A&M Aggie throwback jerseys.
Any way you slice it, the Rams were the favorite to beat SDSU, and yet it still felt pulling out a tough, hard-fought, 66-60 win in the final minutes — thanks in part to a couple of beneficial whistles — was a statement made.
How many times have we seen teams get upset this season? How many times have we watched the hype for the Flavor of the Week build into a crescendo, only to see everything come crashing down when that group comes back to earth? It’s almost expected at this point. Attention and affection is the ultimate jinx here in “The Year of WTF?!?”
But Colorado State survived it, through a combination of lockdown defense on Jamaal Franklin in the second half, the physical toughness of their lineup and the ability to play 40 minutes of physical basketball a mile above sea level.
And all of a sudden, the Rams have put themselves into a position where they look like they could be the best team in the Mountain West. It starts with their powerful front line, which is anchored by 6-foot-10 Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson, who is nearly averaging a double-double. He’s joined up front by Greg Smith and Paul Hornung, which gives the Rams a veteran front line, a trio of grown men that can outmuscle the younger, more talented front lines in the rest of the conference. That’s part of the reason why the Rams have been one of the best rebounding teams that we’ve seen in the Kenpom era.
Thrown in the elderly back court of Dorian Green and Wes Eikmeier, and what you have is a team of veterans that knows how to play the game. The Miami of the Rockies, if you will.
What the Rams have done with this win is put themselves into a position to win the Mountain West. They control their own destiny, even if that ‘destiny’ is going to be hard to come back. They go on the road to Air Force and UNLV in their next two games before hosting New Mexico in the game that could determine the MWC’s regular season champ. With road trips to Boise State and Wyoming bookended by home games against Fresno State and Nevada, Larry Eustachy’s club has their work cut out for them.
But regardless of how the rest of the season plays out, this is a group that have proven their toughness and proven their ability.
Anyone want to play these guys on a neutral court in March?
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.