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Colorado State’s Road to the Sweet 16: Volume 9

A fantastic season ends in disappointment for the Rams

(Check out Colorado State’s Road to the Sweet 16: Volume 8 here)

It took me a week to gather my thoughts on how this season ended for CSU basketball.

I came out of it thankful.

Thankful for one of the best seasons in school history. Thankful for the direction Niko Medved has this program headed. Thankful for college basketball.

Speaking of Niko Medved, he’s going to be around for a while.

See? It’s not all bad.

For those of you who’ve stuck with me since the beginning of my “Road to the Sweet 16” series, you know that this is a two-year timetable. If you remember, the very first thing I said when starting the series was this:

“I have a bold prediction:

The Colorado State Men’s Basketball program will reach the Sweet 16 in the next 2 years.

Over the course of the next 2 seasons, I will update you on CSU’s journey into one of the top basketball programs in the country. There will be ups and downs, but one thing I am certain of; By the end of David Roddy and Isaiah Stevens’ senior season, CSU’s basketball program under Niko Medved will have played a game in the Sweet 16.”

You can find that article here.

Fortunately, I have not moved from that position.

However, as the season went on, and the Rams kept winning, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think this series could end this year.

CSU went undefeated in non-conference play, beating teams like Oral Roberts, Creighton, Saint Mary’s, and Mississippi State. At this point, I was convinced this was the year. Not only did Colorado State beat those teams, they looked incredible. They dominated Creighton and Saint Mary’s (teams that both made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament) and honestly looked like one of the best 16 teams in the country. CSU even cracked the Top 25 in the AP Poll. Then conference play started...

After almost a month of not playing games, with a large portion of that time not being able to practice, the Rams barely escaped with a win over a decimated Air Force squad who was missing 3 of their 4 best players. A few days later CSU suffered their first loss, a 30 point embarrassment at Viejas Arena against San Diego State. It wasn’t just the first time they lost a game this year, this loss was ugly, and it brought the fanbase back down to earth. Expectations tempered, both locally and nationally, and this was the first time many of us realized how competitive the Mountain West was going to be in basketball this year.

And competitive it was.

The top 4 teams in the conference (Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State, and Wyoming) ended the year with a combined 100-32 record. Each of these 4 teams won at least 23 games (everyone but SDSU won 25), and each won at least 13 conference games. Outside of these 4 teams, UNLV, Fresno State, and Utah State were all formidable opponents as well. The 2021-22 Mountain West Conference was an incredible basketball conference.

With CSU finishing the regular season 2nd behind only Boise State, they entered the MW Tournament in Las Vegas with high hopes.

Unfortunately, San Diego State rained on their parade once again.

After a close win against Utah State in the first round, SDSU took the rubber match against CSU, winning 63-58 in a game that was competitive but never really in doubt for the Aztecs. As SDSU went on to lose the championship game against Boise State, CSU looked forward to the NCAA tournament.

A 6-seed is what the Rams got. A more than fair spot in the tournament based on the season they had just produced.

The only catch? They got matched up against an 11-seed Michigan team that had enough talent on their roster to be considered the #6 team in the country headed into this season. Of course, Michigan struggled in a loaded Big 10 and lost a lot of ground since then, but the talented roster remained. Not only that, their best player was Center Hunter Dickinson, countering CSU’s one true weakness this year; the lack of a true, rim-protecting big man.

Matchups be damned, the Rams came into their first NCAA Tournament game since 2013 firing on all cylinders.

Going up 28-13 early on was unexpected, but exciting. CSU was hitting everything and Michigan couldn’t score on the Rams tenacious defense, which was displaying tremendous effort going against a bigger team. They lost a little momentum going into halftime, but a 7 point lead remained.

A reverse of fortunes occurred in the second half.

Michigan came out with a better plan of attack, and CSU couldn’t get going. David Roddy and Isaiah Stevens, Colorado State’s two best players all year, didn’t have their normal juice. It was a disappointing end to an extraordinary journey.

Michigan 75, Colorado State 63

The season was over just like that and I couldn’t help but feel upset. The Road to the Sweet 16 was over. It wasn’t going to happen this year. CSU was close, but the ball didn’t bounce our way at the end, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.

The silver lining?

There’s always next season.

(A roster update and what to expect for next year will be coming soon!)