Colorado State hopes to make NCAA case

March, 1, 2012
Colorado State's strong RPI, quality conference home wins and gaudy strength-of-schedule number give it the look of a team that's a lock to be off the bubble and in the NCAA tournament.

Sure, the Rams have an RPI of 27, an SOS of No. 4 and home wins over San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico. But they also have only two road wins -- at UTEP and at Northern Colorado, both of which are below 100 in the RPI. Is that enough to put an 18-10 team into the NCAA tournament?

"We're not done yet," said Colorado State coach Tim Miles, whose team is fresh off the third court-storming of the season after it beat UNLV on Wednesday night.

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Tim Miles
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireTim Miles says Colorado State has some work to do to secure an NCAA bid.

"We're not going to win the eye test, the smell test, the airport team," Miles said. "But we can win on the floor."

The Rams travel to rival Air Force on Saturday to try to finish the conference season with eight wins.

"We've got to beat Air Force; winning on the road is our weakness," Miles said.

The excuses for Colorado State's early-season swoon can be pinned on the absence of forward Pierce Hornung. Hornung got knocked out against Stanford on Nov. 15, sustaining a concussion. He played 28 minutes against the Cardinal but the Rams floundered and lost by 12, 64-52. They went 3-3 without Hornung, including losing by 21 to Southern Miss, by six at Northern Iowa and then a humbling beat down at Duke by 23.

Would they have won any of those games with Hornung healthy? Possibly, since Miles said he's the Rams' best defensive player. The NCAA tournament selection committee is supposed to take injury absences (more so than suspensions) into account. Still, the Rams had opportunities when Hornung was healthy and whiffed on the road in the MWC. They lost by 19 at rival Wyoming and fell in one- and two-possession games at TCU and Boise State. "We gave away the TCU and Boise games," Miles said. "We don't have the depth at guard so it's hard for us to get easy baskets, and that's why we struggle.

Miles tried to schedule up, and playing Southern Miss, Northern Iowa and Duke isn't bad at all in the nonconference season. The annual game with Colorado is now a legit affair with the Buffaloes being winners under Tad Boyle.

The Rams also have a decided home-court advantage. Moby Arena had its moments under Stew Morrill in the '90s. But Miles said it had been the Moby morgue at times in recent seasons.

However, this season the joint has been jumping. To add to the excitement, there's a live ram courtside at the start of games (although the mascot got a little too excited and made a small mess at center court prior to tipoff Wednesday night). "He's nervous," Miles said of the live mascot.

Regardless, the home atmosphere now gives CSU an advantage.

Miles said the argument that the Rams can't win on the road is irrelevant to some degree because NCAA tournament games are played at neutral sites. Miles' pithy comments usually come in the form of tweets. He even tweets at halftime of games, although technically his sports information director is standing in the locker room sanitizing his speech to the team and posting it directly on Miles' Twitter account.

"It's no different than a halftime interview," Miles said.

If the Rams make the NCAA tournament, it would mean half the Mountain West was in the tournament (joining likely locks New Mexico, UNLV and SDSU), quite a feat for a league that is losing multiple members in a year and merging with Conference USA. "Last year we couldn't beat the top teams in the league, and we were the No. 3 seed in the NIT," Miles said. "This year we've done that. But we're not done yet."

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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