Last season, the CSU menâ€™s basketball team had more wins than any team since the 2002-03 squad.
But after struggling down the stretch, the Rams fell short of an NCAA tournament berth. Instead they went to the NIT where they lost in the first round to Fairfield University.
CSU now begins the quest to improve on their NIT appearance of a season ago and make it to the Big Dance this year when the Rams open the 2011-12 season tonight against Montana University.
While it may be the first game of the season, CSUâ€™s experience last year has taught them well that every game can come back to help, or hurt, their chances of making the tournament.
â€œLike weâ€™ve been saying, every game counts toward the postseason,â€ starting point guard Dorian Green said. â€œThatâ€™s kind of our focus. Every game is going to be important, and thatâ€™s how weâ€™re looking at this first one.â€
And even though Montana may not be the sexiest name on the schedule this year (hello Duke!), the game will be far from a glorified exhibition.
Coach Tim Miles has a lot of respect for a program that won 21 wins and made it to their conference championship game last season.
â€œIâ€™m really excited about the game,â€ Miles said. â€œTheyâ€™re well-coached, theyâ€™ve got a physical element about them and they can make threes. I think theyâ€™ve got three or four guys faster than anybody weâ€™ve got playing this year.â€
Montana, traditionally one of the top teams in the Big Sky Conference, has made the NCAA tournament eight times â€“â€“ the most recent coming two seasons ago when they won the conference before losing to New Mexico in the first round.
And they are a familiar opponent for CSU. The two teams have played three times in the last four seasons, with the Rams winning two home matchups after falling on the road in 2007.
The Montana attack is run with the Princeton offense which features constant motion, passing and back door cuts.
Itâ€™s an attack that gave CSU problems last year when run by the Air Force Academy. And the Rams are coming off of two preseason games in which they allowed 76 points per game.
But CSU is hoping that the return of Dwight Smith, their best perimeter defender, will help them ramp up the defensive intensity.
â€œHeâ€™s one of those guys that comes in and changes the game defensively,â€ Miles said. â€œHe applies stress on offense with his athleticism, his intensity, his energy level. We need that. We donâ€™t have that.â€
The Rams are hoping that a Moby Arena crowd that averaged almost 5,000 people last year will help lead them to an early season victory.
â€œI think every publication out there has picked them to win the Big Sky,â€ Miles said. â€œAnytime youâ€™ve got a team that can be a champion in their league, itâ€™s going to be a great game.â€
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Montana University vs. CSU
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Moby Arena
Tickets: Free with a student-ID
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