March Madness is in the air Colorado State Rams fans, can you feel it?
Your Rams are playing the best basketball in the 110-year history of the program, earning a school-record 25 wins before the NCAA Tournament begins, and they are a definite sleeper in this year’s big dance.
What were the expectations of fans in Fort Collins before the season began? Head coach Larry Eustachy said after the Rams regular season finale win over the Fresno State Bulldogs they would have expected the team to make the Final Four.
While they aren’t likely to make it that deep into the tournament, Colorado State could come close.
The green and gold tip off their tournament Thursday night at 7:20 p.m. Mountain against the nine seed Missouri Tigers; a difficult matchup but a game CSU can win.
In the best-case scenario, Dorian Green comes out and is ready to play Thursday night, able to perform well enough to run the Rams offense as efficiently as during the regular season. He swings the ball and finds cutters in Pierce Hornung and Greg Smith, while also dumping it inside to allow Colton Iverson to go to work.
Iverson gets into a groove early and is a physical presence from the first tip, spinning out of the block and earning dunks by moving without the ball. And when Iverson is doubled, Green’s there to knock down the big three-ball when needed. Smith is aggressive, both on the boards and with the ball in his hands, driving to the hoop instead of settling for jumpers. And even Wes Eikmeier joins the act, hitting outside jumpers as well as making layups; the Rams win by double digits and advance to the round of 32.
There they meet the No. 1 seed Louisville Cardinals, and with the confidence boost brought from beating Mizzou, Colorado State plays their best game of the season. Green’s health is no longer a concern, he and his Rams start out hot against the Cardinals in Lexington, Ky. Iverson scores at will in the low block and Smith comes to play for the entire game.
In fact, it’s one of those nights where every starter scores in double digits, and Louisville can’t figure out which player to guard. When Jon Octeus and Mountain West Conference Sixth Man of the Year Daniel Bejarano are called upon, they come up huge. Octeus drives the lane for dunks while Bejarno drains threes with ease. After a close ending, Colorado State pulls out the win when Green hits clutch free throws; Eustachy cracks a smile.
To the Sweet 16 they go, against the fourth-seeded Saint Louis Billikens, where their luck finally runs out. Iverson gets into early foul trouble and the Rams lack of big man depth shows against Saint Louis’ multiple beastly forwards. Billikens guard Kwamain Mitchell gets hot, making multiple three pointers when CSU goes under screens, and the Rams bow out. Still, they look back at their run positively, matching the deepest the team had ever gone before.
Green is too gimpy to be effective, much like he was in the team’s second round MWC Tournament loss to the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels last Friday. Without Green, the offense lacks rhythm and redshirt sophomore Octeus is overwhelmed by the big stage. He turns the ball over multiple times, resulting in an early deficit. The Rams hang in until halftime, when the Tigers smell blood in the water and go on a large run; something CSU has been susceptible to giving up at times this season.
Colorado State loses, but not before Eustachy gets thrown out of the game for yelling at the referees too much in a physical game. The five senior starters end their careers without an NCAA Tournament win, wondering what could have been.