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Sports / Recreation

Rams' NCAA Tournament run energized fans

March 19, 2012
By Tony Phifer

The CSU men's basketball team's run is over after NCAA Tournament loss, but it was a thrilling ride for Ram fans.

All-Mountain West guard Wes Eikmeier, the team's leading scorer, is one of four starters that will return for the 2012-13 seson.

Like every CSU fan across the country, I went into the NCAA Tournament hoping the Rams could pull off an upset or two and make some noise in the Big Dance. Instead, Murray State ended CSU’s landmark season with a 58-41 win in Louisville, Ky.

Was I disappointed? Sure. Devasted? Hardly – and here’s why. I know this season was an unexpected gift – an out-of-the-blue success story that came a full season before anticipated.

To put it in foodie terms, the 2011-12 season was like getting dessert first while knowing that the entrée – a really, REALLY good entrée – still awaits.

Rare NCAA appearance

This was, after all, just the ninth NCAA appearance in school history. And when you consider that the Rams graduated three of top three players off last year’s team, little was expected of this team.

Instead, we got to see some amazing things from these Rams. Wes Eikmeier became an all-Mountain West player. Dorian Green emerged as one of the best leaders in recent program history. Jesse Carr found his game, and Pierce Hornung – he of the non-stop motor – became the most respected player in the conference.

Sabas, Bell inspire

Along the way we got to see a couple of unheralded walk-ons – Kaipo Sabas and Will Bell – became invaluable members of this team. And we got to see the promise of the Smith brothers, Greg and Dwight, as they grew as players.

Moby rocked

These undersized Rams brought the thrill back to Moby Arena, knocking off Top 25 powers San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV. By season’s end, Moby was a house of horrors for visiting teams, with CSU students becoming a deafening army carrying the Rams to a remarkable 14-1 home record.

And when “Colorado State” was called out during the NCAA Selection Show, a pride swelled throughout Ram Nation that hasn’t been seen in years. The Rams were not only big men on campus, they let the rest of the nation know they belonged among the 68 best teams in the country.

Wait 'til next year

Now, for the really cool part of this story: Next year should be even better. WAY better.

First off, everyone but Sabas and Bell returns next year. And a couple of terrific players are waiting in the wings.

Help is on the way

Colton Iverson, a 6-foot-10 transfer from Minnesota who was one of the Big Ten’s best centers last year, will provide size and strength inside – a missing ingredient this year. And Daniel Bejerano, a transfer from Arizona who was one of the top 50 players in the country in high school, will add explosive scoring ability to a team already loaded with offensive weapons.

 Holding it all together is coach Tim Miles, who has proven each season since arriving five years ago that his teams will compete from opening tip to final buzzer – and that they will win more than their share. He was named District VII coach of the year for a reason – the man can lead a team.

Ready to dig in

So, while my hopes were high for an upset of Murray State – especially after the Rams led at halftime – I managed to walk away from the watch part at Moby Arena with a smile on my face. Dessert, after all, was quite tasty – but that entrée next year is going to be SO good!