The following will be a long, meandering post regarding the state of Colorado State basketball.
Let’s start with my experience at Moby Arena last Wednesday night. No, actually let’s start with when I became a regular at The Whale. I started going to CSU games on the reg my freshman year which was… let me think here, the 2006-2007 season. That team was actually pretty decent for a while. Jason Smith was first-team all Mountain West. I remember a couple games with decent crowds and good energy that year. Upsets of BYU and a Bob Huggins-coached Kansas State team jump out in my memory. The season peaked when CSU received one tally in the “others receiving votes” column of the national rankings. While that’s all well and good, things kind of fell apart from that moment on– not just for the season, but for the program as a whole. Dale Layer was fired. Smith entered the NBA draft. Everyone else on the team transferred somewhere. Some dude from North Dakota State was hired to coach. He went 0-16 his first year in the Mountain West. I was at most of those home games.
My overall memory of Moby Arena in my time as a student do not contain the words Madness, Magic or Maniacs. What I remember is the student sections (Yes CSU splits the student section in two, which is dumb) usually filling about halfway up.
I remember the big scoreboard that had to be as old as my parents. There was no state-of-the-art videoboards. That meant no pregame video introductions. No replays. No speeches from Ron Burgundy. The damn thing was missing about 20 percent of its light bulbs and every five minutes would advertise snacks at the concession stands by flashing the words “NACHOS!” or “HOT DOGS!”. When it wasn’t doing that, it was providing some 1960s-quality animation of a cheerleader jumping up and down or flashing the word “NOISE” to the 1,800 people there. Hard to believe that technique wasn’t all that effective.
One game (I wanna say Utah, junior year) a friend and I were debating on whether or not to go; we didn’t. At halftime, CSU was surprisingly only a couple points down, so we decided what the hell, let’s catch the second half. We walked up during halftime and sat– literally– in the front row of the student section. The Rams lost. That was a common occurrence. When my friends and I joke that we are martyrs who went through four years of pain for the good of future students, we’re only half joking.
Fast forward to this season’s home finale. #17 UNLV. Wednesday. 8 p.m. I drove up from North Denver even though I had to work south of Denver early the next morning, meaning I would not being staying somewhere in FoCo and there would be no drinking. (Yes, in my day, the uncompetiveness of CSU turned many a game into nothing more than an excuse to party, which was welcome for my group of friends. I also realize uncompetiveness is not a word). Anyway, I picked up my longtime CSU-diehard friend and we hoped for the best. We didn’t try to acquire free student tickets using our old student IDs or talking to the slew of friends who are still up there. We treated this one like real-life alumni, CSU polos and all. (If you didn’t know, nothing says “alumni” of any college like a polo).
I’ve been to a few games after graduation. I saw Air Force this year in a mellow blowout. Last season it was BYU and San Diego State, both sellouts, both losses. The SDSU game was probably the biggest heartbreaker of my CSU career. There was a noticeable difference in the atmosphere and electricity for those games last year. But even those were nothing compared to Wednesday night. The student sections were packed over capacity and they were good and drunk and very loud and very into the game. It was great to see. The non-student crowd was pumped too, well, they were until UNLV started dominating.
Vegas was up 15 at halftime and it appeared the Mitch-Hahn-Big-Game-CSU-Curse was in full effect. When the Rebels went up 16 with under 17 minutes to play. I tapped my friend’s shoulder and said, “Let me know when you’re ready to go.”
Then the Rams flipped a switch and all hell broke loose. The entire near-sellout crowd was on its feet for the last 12 minutes of the fierce comeback. The student sections were doing their thing where they simply jump in rhythm to a hip-hop or techno song. That sounds a little lame, but it is freaking awesome. Stuff like that did not exist when I was there, much as I tried. The night culminated with this:
Moby Arena, you’ve come a long way.
That said, there’s still plenty of room for growth. In that video did you notice the students rushing the court? No? Well they did. It was the fourth time this season. FOURTH TIME! Colorado, SDSU, New Mexico and UNLV.
Okay before you get upset with me over what is apparently a sensitive topic, hear me out. I have no problem with the CSU fans rushing the court after beating UNLV. They completed a 16-point comeback against the #17 team in the country. The win had huge implications on the possibility of postseason play. Standing alone, there was nothing wrong Wednesday night’s celebration.
But just think if that was the first time the students rushed the court this year. How much more special would that have been? Now you might ask me, “So we’re only allowed to rush the court once a season?” Well, I don’t make the rules, but if I did I would say no.
You should rush the court less than once a season.
While we’re on the topic of student sections– and remember I was pumped to see how the CSU students came out and acted on Wednesday– there was a couple things that made me roll my eyes. Chanting “F***-The-Reb-els” is stupid. It just is. The vulgarity is stupid, but really, the fact that a 6th-grader could come up with a more creative chant is what bothers me. Not to worry though, because that was followed up with a “Rebels suck” chant when UNLV was up by like 14 points. Come on. I don’t think it takes a genius to see the stupidity in that.
Okay, I mentioned the possibility of postseason play earlier, allow me to elaborate on that. After the UNLV win Wednesday and handling Air Force on Saturday, most bracket projections have CSU in the tournament and most even removed them from their “Last 4 In” category. So, yes as it stands right now the Colorado State Rams are in the tournament. The thing is, the season is not quite over.
The Rams play TCU Thursday at 3:30 in Las Vegas in the opening round of the Mountain West tournament. Lose that one, and Selection Sunday might not be much fun. TCU took CSU to double overtime in Fort Collins, then beat the Rams in Fort Worth, so this game is no gimmie. The Horned Frogs are a surprisingly athletic team and Hank Thorns was recently named All-Mountain West. I would guess CSU will be about 2 point favorites, but one would have to hope the Rams come out and preform well knowing the win-and-we’re-almost-for-sure-in situation. If CSU gets by TCU, they will (probably) play San Diego State in the semis. If I were a betting man, which I am, I would take CSU in this one. The Rams have played the Aztecs very, very tough in splitting the season series. A win against SDSU makes the Rams a lock.
I’m getting ahead of myself here. Forget anything I said about a second round matchup. Beat TCU on Thursday, and the Rams are probably gunna go dancing. Lose, and head to the NIT. That makes Thursday’s game the biggest CSU basketball game since 2003 when Matt Nelson and company lost to Duke in the first round of the NCAAs.
(By the way… please don’t ask me if winning the NIT would be better than getting into the tournament and losing in the first round. Screw that. You play all season with the hope of lacing ’em up in The Big Dance with the nation watching. You’re not dreaming about playing Northwestern or Iona on a Wednesday night).
Ram fans have good reason to be reluctant to get their hopes up, but Tim Miles’ scrappy bunch has proved to be resilient and tough over the course of this season. So here’s hoping they come up big this week, win a game or two, and realize their dream of playing in the NCAA tournament. Not just for the players, but for all the fans who remember the boring games, the empty arena, the losses and that damn scoreboard.