Dawn Madura/Coloradoa file photo
Dawn Madura/Coloradoa file photo
FORT COLLINS – No visitor has walked out of Moby Arena a winner since Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy led Southern Miss to a victory at the Rams’ ear-splitting, high-altitude auditorium back in November 2011.
The Rams went on to make an NCAA Tournament run, after which coach Tim Miles left for Nebraska.
In stepped Eustachy, a seasoned coach who’s taken three schools to the NCAA tournament and is in line for a fourth with the Rams on such a roll.
Colorado State’s 66-61 win over UNLV on Saturday extended its school-record winning streak to 24 consecutive wins at home.
“We know how important it is to win at home,” said guard Dorian Green, who was named the MWC player of the week on Monday. “Especially in our conference. If we want good things to happen this year, we have to win at home.”
The Runnin’ Rebels were the fourth ranked team to succumb to the “Moby Magic” during the streak.
Now comes the hard part for these Rollin’ Rams (15-3, 2-1 Mountain West) – taking that show on the road.
They visit No. 15 New Mexico (16-2, 3-0) on Wednesday night.
“It’s going to be a monumental task,” Eustachy said Monday. “I’ve been in there before, and I’m quite familiar with Steve (Alford) being at Iowa State when he was at Iowa. He just does a terrific job.”
The feeling is mutual.
Alford ranks the Rams “right near the top” of the Lobos’ list of top-notch opponents so far, noting “this is without question the best rebounding team we’re going to be matched up against. So, their toughness, their experience, those are all great concerns.”
The Rams start five seniors: center Colton Iverson, a 6-10 transfer from Minnesota; and returners Pierce Hornung at forward and Green, Wes Eikmeier and Greg Smith at guard.
“Any time you start five seniors, that’s extremely dangerous,” Alford said.
That seasoning showed up at the foul line Saturday night when the Rams made all 10 of their free throws in the final 3˝ minutes to pull away from the Rebels in a tight game that featured 14 lead changes, 10 ties and no room for error.
They also were clutch on the glass, where the Rams boast the nation’s top rebounding tandem in Iverson and Hornung.
“Our bench is going to have to help rebound. We might have guys sitting over there on the bench and the TV cameramen and everybody else on the floor trying to help us rebound against this team,” Alford said.
“Obviously, the emphasis when you play Colorado State is what you do on the backboard.”
The Runnin’ Rebels went more than seven minutes without a point during one stretch.
“It was the first experience for some of our guys with how physical Coach Eustachy’s teams are,” said UNLV coach Dave Rice. “It was hard for us to get a post catch, hard for us to drive the lane, and that’s credit to Colorado State and how tough and physical they are.”
The Rams reached the NCAA Tournament last year despite a 3-9 road record, and that’s not a formula they can count on again. In the four seasons Eustachy has guided schools to the NCAA Tournament – Southern Miss (2011-12), Iowa State (1999-00 and 2000-01) and Utah State (1997-98), his programs were 26-20 away from home.
This season, Colorado State is 2-3 on the road, losing close games at Colorado, San Diego State (in overtime), and Illinois-Chicago.
“Their experience quotient and talent are augmented by their toughness,” said Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich, whose Falcons were drubbed 79-40 at Moby Arena last week. “That comes from Coach Eustachy. He does a great job of getting those guys and just playing every possession very physical and tough. So, you’re not going to beat them in that area. And they’re talented. That’s a group that went to the NCAA Tournament last year and has won 24 straight games at home. So, for an opposing coach: talent, experience, play very hard. That’s not good.”
Colorado State leads a big group of up-and-comers that have made the Mountain West Conference one of the country’s best basketball leagues.
Despite losing perennial powers BYU and Utah in recent years, the Mountain West is ranked behind only the Big Ten and Big East in RPI ratings.
“It’s been a lot of fun because each year I think it’s gotten better,” Alford said. “Three years ago we didn’t think our league could get any better or tougher. And yet, I think our league has gotten deeper and tougher each and every year.
“And when you’ve had a lot of change-up with the landscape of teams leaving and the realignments with conferences I don’t think that’s very easy to do. Yet, our league has stayed not just good, but it’s gotten better. And I think that’s a great credit to the coaches in the league. I think it’s a tremendous credit to the players in the league.”
The Mountain West Conference looks like it will be loaded for years to come, too, which is why Steve Fisher was thrilled when San Diego State reversed course and announced recently that it was staying in the league.
“I’ve been in the Mountain West for 14 years. I’m the only coach that’s been here for this time,” Fisher said. “I have great regard for how good it is and how tough it is. Probably the best it’s been from top to bottom. I don’t think you could consider the outcome of any game an upset.”
Colorado State, Wyoming (15-2) and Boise State (13-4) have joined the traditional trio of power teams – New Mexico, UNLV (15-4) and San Diego State (14-4) as schools that have high hopes for a trip to the NCAA Tournament in a couple of months.
“There’s some leagues that are top-heavy and that can make it a really good league. But to make it a great league like we have, you’ve got to have good depth from top to bottom,” Alford said. “And we’ve got that. ... Every night in our league, whether you play at home or on the road, you’re going to have to play well to win.”
Dawn Madura/Coloradoan file photo