Before the CSU menâ€™s basketball team played Wyoming in Laramie on Jan. 21 the Rams were on the right side of the NCAA Tournament â€œbubble.â€
ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi had CSU in the tournament as a 14-seed.
But back-to-back blowout losses on the road to Wyoming and New Mexico had CSUâ€™s tournament hopes hanging by a thread.
The Rams now, though, are right back in the mix following Saturdayâ€™s 77-60 win over San Diego State at Moby Arena.
â€œItâ€™s a good win, but itâ€™s just one win,â€ coach Tim Miles said after the game. â€œWe have to continue to do what we did today to end up where we want to end up, and thatâ€™s the NCAA Tournament.â€
Technically, it is just one win. But it does so much more for CSUâ€™s tournament hopes than, for example, an early November home win against the University of Texas-San Antonio.
Part of the reason the Rams had been in the conversation for the tournament was due to their high Ratings Percentage Index, a calculation used to rank teams based on wins, losses and strength of schedule.
CSU has a high RPI due to a difficult non-conference schedule. None of the Rams losses are considered â€œbad.â€
Of CSUâ€™s six losses, five were on the road and the one home loss was against Southern Miss, who is first place in Conference USA and holds an RPI of 15.
But while the Ramsâ€™ losses were against high-RPI teams, eventually they needed marquee victories to bolster their resume.
A victory over No. 13/12 San Diego State is just the type of signature that was needed.
Not only are the Aztecs a top-15 team, they carry an RPI of 27 and have a good national reputation after making it to the Sweet-16 in last yearâ€™s NCAA Tournament.
The next step for CSU is to continue to strengthen its argument. This is one good win, but more are needed.
Around this time last year CSU was in a similar position. The Rams had a strong resume and looked likely to make the tournament, but they then faltered down the stretch.
â€œThese guys have been through it and not had the success they hoped to have last year,â€ Miles said. â€œWe have to try and avoid that and learn our lesson from last year.â€
Next on the to-do list is to notch a big road victory. CSU has only won twice on the road and neither victory came against a highly ranked team (UTEP, RPI of 143 and Northern Colorado, RPI of 243).
The Rams have an immediate opportunity Wednesday to notch a massive road victory in Las Vegas against UNLV (20-3, RPI of six).
Further down the road CSU will have plenty of chances to get more marquee victories, or will see its tournament chances disappear if the Rams canâ€™t navigate a tough schedule.
CSU still has to face the top teams in the conference with home and road games against UNLV remaining, a road game against San Diego State, and a home game against New Mexico.
Saturdayâ€™s upset was a start, but the road to the NCAA Tournament is an arduous one.
â€œWe canâ€™t let down after this and think, oh, weâ€™re going to make the tournament or people are going to respect us now,â€ senior Will Bell said. â€œItâ€™s not done yet, weâ€™ve got to build on it â€” and this is just the start.â€
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CSUâ€™s NCAA Tournament resume
Record: 14-6, 3-2 MW, 10-1 home, 2-5 road
RPI: 21 (NCAA rankings come out Monday)
Wins vs. top-50 RPI: 2 (University of Denver, No. 47 at the time. San Diego State, No. 27)