The Colorado State Men’s Basketball team fell short of their goal.
Making the 2021 NCAA tournament was the focus of Niko Medved’s group from the jump this year. The next step for a program on hyper speed since Medved took over. Unfortunately, this core of promising young talent will have to wait to take that next step. As the “second team out,” there’s a small chance that CSU could replace a team having to back out of the tournament due to COVID restrictions, but this doesn’t seem likely. For fans yet again disappointed in what is starting to feel like a personal vendetta against the Rams by the NCAA Selection Committee (the NCAA selection committee chair Mitch Barnhart all but admitted his bias when talking about Michigan State vs. UCLA in the round of 68, stating “…we thought it would be a heck of a way to start the tournament off”), the fact of the matter is, CSU ultimately controlled their own destiny. A win against Utah State in the Mountain West Tournament would have surely sealed their fate as a participating member of the Big Dance. Defensive monster Neemias Queta had other ideas. Instead, the Aggies are packing their bags for Indianapolis instead of the Rams. And so it goes for a Mountain West Conference getting consistently undervalued by the folks making the decision about who gets to play for the ultimate prize in March. This doesn’t even mention the head scratching decision by Mountain West officials to have CSU play 4 games in 7 days, after a month of not playing, which ended on the road in heartbreaking fashion. Would they have made the tournament if the Mountain West didn’t put them in a nearly impossible position to win at the end of the year? Who knows.
Fortunately, there are silver linings.
For one, this 2020-21 team was the 11th youngest in the nation. Not one senior occupied a roster spot. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, CSU should have essentially the exact same team next year. First Team All-Mountain West selection David Roddy (Soph.), Second Team All-Mountain West selection Isaiah Stevens (Soph.), and Mountain West Honorable Mention selection Adam Thistlewood (Jr.) are bound to improve. Same can be said for speedy guard Kendall Moore (Jr.), big men Dischone Thomas (Soph.) and James Moors (Fr.), and dynamic rotation pieces in P.J. Byrd (Jr.), John Tonje (Soph.), and Isaiah Rivera (Fr.). This Rams team is loaded, there’s no other way to put it. That’s why making the tournament this year would have been extraordinarily special.
The other silver lining is that their season isn’t done yet. CSU got awarded the #1 overall seed in the highly competitive 2021 NIT. The Rams deserved a postseason birth, and while it’s not the one they were hoping for, the NIT is nothing to sneeze at. This is a chance for Colorado State to not only show out for a national audience with multiple (hopefully) games on ESPN, but also prove to the naysayers who didn’t think they were good enough for the NCAA tournament that they were undoubtedly one of the 68 best teams in the country. This also gives them an opportunity to show out for the Mountain West. Along with Boise State, a good showing by the Rams at the NIT would potentially create less pause from the selection committee about choosing more than 2 teams from the conference to represent the Mountain West in future NCAA tournaments. A boy can dream can’t he?
First up in the round of 16 for the Rams is a tough Buffalo squad. Coming out of the Mid-American Conference, they amassed a 16-8 (12-5) record and fell just short of an NCAA tournament bid, losing their conference championship game to Ohio. They’re led by two Junior big men in Jeenathan Williams (17.4 PPG. 6.8 RPG) and Josh Mballa (15.5 PPG, 10.9 RPG). It will be interesting to see how these two match-up against David Roddy inside.
Game is set for this Friday, March 19 at 3pm MST on ESPN2. Winner goes on to face the winner of Davidson and NC State.