Feb 202002

I think the CSU men’s basketball team might just be NCAA tournament material.

I think they have the talent and a solid enough team core to win their conference tournament and get a shot at the big boys.

No, of course not this year. What do you think I am, a moron? (Don’t answer that.)

It’s safe to say that this year is pretty much in the tank. This has been a rough year for fearfully stoic coach Dale Layer and the Rams. They have found so many tragic ways to lose games, they seem to be taking notes from the (kind of) professional basketball team down the road.

This season is, for all intents and purposes, over. They will probably get a chance to enjoy the sights and sounds of Las Vegas pretty early, as they will more than likely enter the Mountain West Tournament as the last seed and get bounced first, putting the exclamation point on a season gone awry.

But look forward to next season. I think the Rams have the pieces in place to be one of the top teams in the Mountain West next year.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not predicting any national championships any time soon. CSU simply doesn’t attract the talent necessary for something like that. But I do think they can be a Wyoming- or Utah-caliber team, win some close ones and have a fighting chance to win the league as early as next year.

Despite being plagued by injuries, illnesses and suspensions this season, the young Rams have been competitive in nearly every single game they’ve played.

Twelve of the Rams’ 15 losses have been by less than nine points. They hung with league-leading Utah until the final seconds. It took co-league-leading Wyoming overtime to dispatch the Rams.

CSU even beat Michigan. Many of the losses this year could have gone either way. So while its record may be Nugget-esque, the team has shown a lot of potential, and they will virtually all be back next year.

Team leaders Brian Greene and Andy Birley have both had breakout seasons. As two of the few remnants from last year’s squad, they have provided the leadership that this cast of newcomers needed. Both will be back next year.

Spring-loaded sophomore Ronnie Clark is a different style of player than what most CSU fans are used to, but he is one of the more exciting players to come to Fort Collins in a while. He’ll be back as well.

A healthy crop of freshman has also contributed greatly this year. Matt Nelson, Matt Williams, Freddy Robinson and Jon Rakiecki have all played key roles for the Rams this season.

If they can manage to stay healthy, get a little seasoning and a year of Division I basketball under their belts, these guys are going to start finding ways to win some of the close ones that they have lost all season.

If they manage to win their conference tournament, they’ll get an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. And then, you never know what could happen.

So here’s a warning to the rest of the Mountain West. The 2002-2003 Colorado State Rams are going to be a force.

Remember, you heard it here first. n

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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