Love â€˜em or hate â€˜em, Duke University is the model.
Anyone looking to build a basketball program looks at schools like Duke as what they want to be.
Four NCAA championships, 15 Final Fours, 11 National Players of the Year and the all-time winningest coach in Division I history.
Tonight, a CSU (5-3) basketball program on the rise will have a chance to put its name on the map at Cameron Indoor Stadium while playing on national TV in prime time.
â€œHow many millions of people watch ESPN2 on a night when Duke plays?â€ coach Tim Miles said. â€œ…Youâ€™re going to be in every household and sports bar in the country in primetime. Itâ€™s a great opportunity.â€
Taking that opportunity and turning it into a program-changing win is likely the toughest task CSU has faced since playing in the NCAA Tournament in 2003 when the Rams played…Duke.
That matchup turned into a 67-57 Duke victory. This yearâ€™s squad, as always, is loaded.
The No. 7/5 Duke Blue Devils (7-1) score 77 points per game while hitting an astonishing 49 percent from the field. They are led in scoring by freshman sensation Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who is putting up 15 points per game.
As if the game wasnâ€™t tough enough, Duke is well rested and motivated. They havenâ€™t played since Nov. 29 when they were blown out 85-63 by Ohio State University.
And stepping into the frenzied atmosphere of 9,314 Cameron Crazies, where Duke has won 39 consecutive games, there is the risk of CSU being shell-shocked right from the tip.
â€œWeâ€™ve got to be able to handle their runs,â€ sophomore guard Dwight Smith said. â€œTheyâ€™re going to go on runs just like Kansas did last year. Weâ€™ve just got to be able to handle that momentum they take and strike back. We canâ€™t be scared.â€
The Rams are likely to lean on junior Wes Eikmeier. He leads CSU in scoring at 17.5 points per game. But maybe more importantly, he has experience playing in an extreme atmosphere similar to Cameron.
While at Iowa State, he played on the road against Kansas, Oklahoma State and Kansas State.
He said how to stay composed will likely come up in conversation, but he knows that it will take a full team effort to stick with Duke.
â€œThe way they play, theyâ€™re capable of getting up close to 100 points,â€ Eikmeier said. â€œSo obviously weâ€™re going to have to have a few guys knock down a lot of shots.â€
The Rams practiced this week with music blaring to simulate the crowd noise, and Miles insists that they arenâ€™t going to be happy just getting the experience of playing at Duke.
â€œYou just go play, go compete. This is what weâ€™re here for,â€ Miles said. â€œWhy would you not show up to win? Weâ€™re going to show up with the idea that weâ€™re going to find a way to win that game.â€
And if the Rams do win?
â€œIt would be a history type of thing for us,â€ Smith said. â€œThis would be on the top of the career for anyone actually â€“â€“ especially for a program like ours on the rise.â€
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.