Much of the hype this week at CSU is focused north toward Laramie, as the Border War takes center stage on Saturday at noon. But later that evening, there is a men’s hoops battle sure to impress.
Tim Miles and the Rams welcome the Minnesota Golden Gophers and coach Tubby Smith to Moby Arena at 8 p.m. Saturday night. The first 2,000 fans will receive a t-shirt featuring the game slogan “Timmy vs. Tubby.”
The head coaches are getting the top billing, and Miles is certainly excited to go head-to-head with Smith, who has over 400 career wins, including a 1998 National Championship at Kentucky.
“He has won a National Championship, and I was just like anyone else, sitting on my couch watching it on TV,” Miles said. “Anyone who has been that successful, you admire and respect.”
Miles isn’t just impressed by Smith’s past accomplishments. He is also weary of the challenge Minnesota (3-0) will present to the Rams (2-0).
“We have to be able to handle their pressure. They have great pressure on defense, and if you beat the press, then they block shots like crazy, and then on offense the will run it right back at you,” Miles said. “They have a lot of size, good shooters.”
Handling the pressure would usually fall squarely on the shoulders of senior guard Willis Gardner, but he will be unable to go for the Rams after spraining his ankle in Tuesday night’s win over Northern Colorado. He is still wearing a boot, and Miles knows that his loss will make a big impact.
“What has me worried is not having Wills Gardner. He is one of our best players and a senior leader,” Miles said. “It is going to force guys to step up and play in positions that they aren’t used to.”
Miles stated the Rams will need guards Jesse Carr, Harvey Perry and Josh Simmons to step up to handle the ball if they want a chance to be successful. Miles said they did well against UNC, but they will face even more pressure from the Gophers out of the Big Ten Conference, which features bigger and more athletic players than UNC’s Big Sky.
CSU center Dan Vandervieren is from Eden Prairie, Minn., which is about 20 miles from Minnesota’s campus. Vandervieren grew up a Minnesota fan and wanted to be a Gopher. After going to Purdue for one season before transferring to CSU, he said he always relishes the chance to go up against them.
Vandervieren was a high school teammate of Minnesota guard Blake Hoffarber, who scored 21 points last season when the Gophers topped that Rams 91-74 in Minneapolis.
Hoffarber is best known for winning an ESPY Award in 2005 for hitting a game-tying, buzzer-beater while sitting in the 4A Minnesota state title game (consult Collegiansports.com for the video), while an incredulous Vandervieren looked on.
Further connecting the two teams is that CSU’s other transfer, 6-9 forward Andy Ogide, played with Smith’s son Brian Smith while at Mississippi.
Despite all the storylines connecting the two teams, the Rams still remember that the Gophers dominated them last season, and they want to prove that this is a new year.
“People are starting to give us a chance because we won the first two games,” Ogide said. “If we can get Moby filled up, then anything is possible, and I think that they may take us lightly.”
Men’s basketball beat writer Matt Pucak can be reached at email@example.com.