Feb 122012
 
Authors: Cris Tiller

There was no room for error.

CSU men’s basketball had to win all of its games against lesser opponents in the conference, plus earn a victory or two versus the upper-echelon teams in the Mountain West if it had a chance to earn an NCAA Tournament berth.

But the Rams made a mistake and shot themselves in the foot Saturday, stumbling to TCU 75-71, the sixth-ranked team in the MW.

With just six games remaining in the season, the Rams lost more than a game, but any realistic chance at earning a spot in the Big Dance for the first time since 2003.

At this point, CSU has not done enough to make the NCAA Tournament.

The selection committee looks at several factors when evaluating worthy participants, primarily RPI, strength of schedule and most importantly, signature wins.

CSU scores well in the first two categories with the No. 24 RPI and No. 10 strength of schedule, but RPI has more to do with what your opponents have done more so than what you’ve done.

Games against Southern Mississippi (No. 8 RPI), Duke (No. 3), San Diego State (No. 20) and UNLV (No. 10) help boost CSU’s RPI score, but the Rams only beat one (San Diego State) and got blown out by the others.

ESPN bracketologist and NCAA Tournament expert Joe Lunardi told the Collegian last week that a high RPI doesn’t hold the same weight it used to.

“The committee has become smart enough in recent years to look beyond the number and ask, ‘Where’s the beef?”

When you look at CSU’s schedule you have to ask yourself, “Where’s the beef?” The Rams’ strength of schedule is No. 10 in the country, but that is about as worthless as RPI if you don’t win any of the marquee games.

In the three losses to Southern Miss, Duke and UNLV, CSU has been outscored 248 to 185, an average loss of 82-61. Losing by an average 20 points in the biggest games of the season, against guaranteed Tournament contenders, doesn’t sell a team as Tournament-worthy.

Unfortunately for the Rams, the most critical component to impressing the selection committee are signature victories. CSU’s best wins up to now came against CU-Boulder (No. 73 RPI), Denver (No. 88) and San Diego State.

Of the three, only San Diego State will make the tournament regardless of whether or not it wins its conference tournament, making wins over CU and Denver more or less worthless.

The best wins in CSU’s eight-game winning streak over winter break were UTEP, Denver and TCU, none of which help the Rams’ case because those schools aren’t considered quality opponents.

CSU has just three wins against teams in the top-100 RPI and only one win versus the five teams it played in the top-50. There is one glimmer of hope so small nothing short of a miracle could see the Rams reach college basketball’s holy ground: the MW Tournament.

Every conference hosts a season-ending tournament, with its winner guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament, in which history has shown miracles can happen.

The Rams would have to catch fire at the perfect moment and blaze through the conference tournament like they did the last time they went dancing. Waiting will likely be UNLV, the school that hosts the tournament, which ran CSU off the court on Feb. 1, 82-63.

I put the chances of this fairy tale ending coming true at 10 percent, and that’s being optimistic.

Squandered opportunities put the Rams in a tough situation at the end of this season. There was no room for error, and it was because of a season’s worth of mistakes.

So for the ninth consecutive season, CSU will watch the NCAA Tournament from home.

Sports Editor Cris Tiller can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 3:18 pm

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