Survive and advance; the moniker used by every college basketball team lucky enough to be playing tournament basketball in March. Unfortunately for CSU’s Mountain West brethren in the NCAA Tournament, they didn’t get the memo. In a disappointing turn of events for a conference primed to make serious noise come playoff time, the Mountain West has come up short of those lofty expectations.
The Aztecs of San Diego State and the Aggies of Utah State were unceremoniously bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament this weekend. Saying these two teams drew tough match ups would be an understatement. SDSU, a 6 seed, drew the 11 seed Syracuse Orange in a match up that has doomed many tournament hopefuls throughout the years. Syracuse’s unorthodox zone defense, combined with having to face one of the best coaches in the country in the twilight of his career, coaching his uber-talented son, and you’ve got the best team in the conference going home after one game, while Syracuse yet again goes to the Sweet 16 as an “underdog.” Utah State in the meantime WAS the underdog as an 11 seed facing a 6 seed Texas Tech Red Raider team. As good as the Aggies were, and as dominant as Neemias Queta was all year, they ended up falling to a Red Raider squad that made it all the way to the National Championship game last time this tournament was played (2019). All in all, the end of this basketball season for the Mountain West Conference was a disaster.
But wait, we’ve got two teams still playing meaningful basketball!
In the ultimate consolation prize, both Boise State and Colorado State are headed to the second round of the only tournament in March that actually matters, the NIT. All jokes aside, it’s a small relief that these two teams didn’t get bounced from the first round of this tournament. The #2 seed Broncos held on by the skin of their teeth against a really good SMU team essentially playing a home game in Texas. This is a small but important development for Boise State, who limped their way into the MWC tournament, only to be bounced in the first round by a surging Nevada team. Thought to potentially be the best team in a conference looking to get as many as 4 teams in the tournament as late as February, getting at least another week of basketball activities under their belt is a good thing for that program.
The same can be said for Colorado State, who just barely missed out on a chance to play in The Big Dance. To be exact, just two teams stood in their way. CSU ended up being the “second team out,” which is extra excruciating when you consider that Oregon State and Georgetown had no business even sniffing the tournament field if not for two improbable conference tournament wins in the Big East and Pac-12. This is all too familiar for a CSU fans. Time and again the Rams seem to miss out on playing in the NCAA tournament by the smallest of margins.
So with that said, CSU took the opportunity presented to them; the #1 seed in the NIT. I give the players and coaching staff all the credit in the world for taking this opportunity seriously after such a massive let down on Selection Sunday.
In their first round match up against a very good Buffalo Bulls team (2nd in the MAC), it was an up and down affair from the beginning. Trailing by one at halftime, the Rams refused to end their season so abruptly. After falling behind by 7 early in the second half, CSU blitzed the Bulls with a barrage of 3’s and went on a 15-1 run to take the lead. Going back and forth the rest of the way, Buffalo tied the game at 73 with 14 seconds left. Then, Isaiah Stevens did this:
ICE IN HIS VEINS - COLD BLOODED! @IsaiahStevens7 FOR THE WIN!!!!#TeamTogether#RightNowMeansEverything pic.twitter.com/CAIPVX5bjG— Colorado State Men’s Basketball (@CSUMBasketball) March 20, 2021
What a way to end this one for the kid from Frisco, TX, playing in in front of friends and family. However, this wasn’t the only reason it felt like familiar territory for Isaiah Stevens. He’s shown time and again in his young career how clutch he his in crunch time. You may remember this gem from last year against Nevada:
Isaiah Stevens (CSU) Game Winner over Nevada pic.twitter.com/xcM86S1xrk— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) January 30, 2020
Wow, doesn’t that make you miss fans?
Colorado State continues their NIT championship quest against #3 seed North Carolina State (14-10) at 5pm this Thursday at Comerica Center in Frisco, TX. The game will be shown on ESPN.