LAS VEGAS-Some said CSU needed one win in the Mountain West Tournament to secure its spot in the Big Dance, others said two.
Coach Tim Miles and his team now hope it just needed one following a 79-69 loss to the No. 1 seed San Diego State on Friday.
â€œWe’ve made our case,â€ Miles said after the loss. â€œWe don’t pass the eye test, the smell test, the airport test. We don’t pass any test. Put me on the floor and let these guys compete and we’ll see. You know, yeah, we made our case.â€
CSU finished the regular season with a 19-10 record, a RPI of 21 and the 5th strongest schedule in all of college basketball, but the Ramsâ€™ future was anything but certain.
The Ramsâ€™ marquee wins during the season came in conference play, upsetting ranked San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV, but all three victories came on their home court bringing into question the legitimacy of the teamâ€™s season performance.
CSUâ€™s best wins were matched by some disappointing losses on the road against the lower level MW teams like Boise State, Wyoming and TCU. At one point in the season, CSU had lost five of seven games, including embarrassing road losses at New Mexico and UNLV.
The regular season placed the Rams solidly on the bubble, but it was critical to perform well in the conference tournament.
â€œObviously we came in the tournament with the goal that we wanted to win the tournament,â€ said junior Jesse Carr during the post-game press conference. â€œWe felt we could. We really believed that we were going to. It’s tough that we fell short of our journey.â€
The Rams made a strong statement in the quarterfinal round against the No. 5 seed, TCU, thoroughly dismantling the Horned Frogs in an 81-60 win. The victory along with the home finale against UNLV moved CSU off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.
Before the game Friday, Lunardi had the Rams as an 11-seed paired with Creighton in Albuquerque, N.M. And the Rams looked exactly like and NCAA worthy team in the first half against San Diego State taking a 39-38 halftime lead.
But the wheels came off in the second half getting outscored by 11. Despite the second half lapse, San Diego State coach Steve Fisher insisted he saw a Tournament team, and the legendary coach knows a thing or two about Tournament caliber teams.
â€œâ€¦This was a well-played, hard fought game against two teams who both should be in the Tournament,â€ Fisher said of CSU. â€œI’m a strong believer you reward for what people have done. Colorado State has had a magnificent season. I hope they are in the NCAA Tournament.â€
Now CSUâ€™s hopes of reaching the Big Dance for the first time since 2003 lay with the NCAA Tournament selection committee, who make the announcement on Sunday at 4 p.m. For the Rams the wait feels like an eternity.
â€œ(The wait will be) long. Really long,â€ Miles said. â€œIt’s out of your control. It’s going to be long.â€
While the Rams wait and hope to achieve their goals, they take comfort in the fact they gave it everything they had.
â€œWe’ve been working hard all year,â€ Carr said. â€œI hope the journey doesn’t end now because I know this team has a lot more to give come post season play.â€
Sports Editor Cris Tiller can be reached at email@example.com.