In the first two seasons of the Tim Miles era at CSU, Ram fans didn't have much to cheer about other than hope for a brighter tomorrow.
The Rams couldn't beat Wyoming or CU-Boulder during the regular season, players were constantly being suspended or dismissed from the team, and the late season injury to Jesse Carr in 2009 made it seem as if CSU would be doomed for another year.
Well, another year is here, and CSU is looking miles ahead (pun definitely intended) of where they were last year.
Now, just over halfway through his third season as the head coach of the CSU men's basketball team, Miles seems to have changed his recruiting approach by focusing more on high school players rather than JUCO kids, and it's paying off.
Obviously, there was Carr at point guard and his ability to shoot the three-pointer last season. Now the trio of Dorian Green, Greg Smith, and Pierce Hornung this year all have their unique ways of sparking the Rams both offensively and defensively.
As of today, CSU is 11-6 overall with a Mountain West Conference mark of 2-1. Compare this to last season when the Rams won nine games total, four against MWC foes. The Rams are currently tied for second place in the conference with Utah and have a great chance to stand alone at that spot should they beat UNLV on Wednesday and the Utes fall to San Diego State tonight (two outcomes that are incredibly likely).
The truth is, college basketball west of the Mississippi is down this season. If I were to rank the top four conferences in the west in order, it would go Big 12, Mountain West, West Coast, Pac-10. Yes, the Arizona, ASU, Stanford, UCLA and Washington-filled Pac-10 takes a back seat to Gonzaga and Saint Mary's. Crazy, eh?
As cool as it is to see the MWC looking so strong, with three schools making it "in" in ESPN's latest Bracketology on Monday, aside from BYU at the top and Air Force at the bottom, the league is incredibly balanced.
This means it's going to be giant cluster (you know what) in the middle for the rest of the conference to push for at least one, maybe two more NCAA Tournament spots come March (for sake of argument, we're assuming BYU wins both the regular season and MWC tournament championships).
Right now, aside from BYU, ESPN is predicting that both New Mexico and UNLV make the Big Dance. While I will agree that the Lobos and Rebels are the next two best teams in the MWC, I don't see both of them making the Tournament.
New Mexico has been the biggest disappointment in the league thus far, and UNLV has seemed to struggle while touring the other eight MWC cities the past few seasons. That's leaving a door open for Utah, SDSU, TCU, Wyoming, and believe it or not, CSU.
2003 was the last time Colorado State made a visit to the NCAA Tournament; only Wyoming (2002) and TCU (1998) have longer droughts amongst conference opponents. In fact, TCU was still in the WAC when they made it last. This could be the year one of these three schools finally breaks through, and for the majority of you reading this column, you're hoping it's the Rams.
Well, if Colorado State is going to make an NCAA Tournament, or even NIT, appearance in 2010, the Rams are going to need a more loyal fanbase. A Moby Arena filled with students can be one of the toughest environments to play at in the MWC. Just take the game against CU-Boulder back in December.
Moby is a relatively small facility, seating only 8,745. That number is roughly 34 percent of the current student body at CSU. Roughly 2,300 seats are allotted to students, which means if a measly nine percent of students show up to each home game, it could greatly influence the Rams' chance of winning (CSU is undefeated at home this year).
With conference play already under way, a postseason appearance for Colorado State looks more and more like a reality. Just need to keep winning. Plain and simple.
Author's Note: This post was featured in Tuesday's Rocky Mountain Collegian.