Top 5 This Week

Related Posts

Keeler: CSU Rams flipped switch against Virginia. And made NCAA Tournament Selection Committee look like morons.

DAYTON, Ohio — Turns out the Nuggets aren’t the only ones who can flip a switch.

“We feel like we can compete at that (Power 5) level as well,” CSU point guard Isaiah Stevens told me as we sat inside the Rams’ locker room at UD Arena early Wednesday morning, picking the bones out of a 67-42 flogging of Virginia in an NCAA Tournament First Four tilt.

“And we play with a chip on our shoulder. We’ve got a lot of guys in here who maybe have been undervalued, under-recruited …

“Mmm-hmmmmm!” a voice interrupted.

It was Joe Palmer, CSU’s Captain Headband, the transfer and former Division III standout. He grunted, playfully, as he plopped down in the locker stall next to us.

Stevens continued.

” … and overlooked, in so many ways.

“So, yeah, man, it’s not new to a lot of these guys. (We’re) just going out there and competing.”

See what you did, NCAA Tournament Selection Committee? You didn’t just poke the bear this time. You ran into the cave, booped the big grizzly on its snoot and tap-danced on its tootsies.

“We definitely took it a little personal,” CSU wing and former CU Buff Nique Clifford said of the committee slapping the 25-10 Rams with a spot on the 10 seed line and shipping them out to Dayton. “We felt like we were better than the seed we got but we were super-grateful to be a part of the tournament.”

That’s because they were better. Like, a lot better.

The Selection Committee intimated after the brackets came out that they were trying to send the non-San Diego State schools from the Mountain West some kind of message. Only the message that came through was that apparently no one on said committee had bothered to watch more than 16 minutes of CSU basketball until the Rams showed up in Dayton to hand the ACC its tuchus.

The public address announcer even introduced Rams coach Niko Medved to a crowd of mostly curious strangers as “Nick” Medved, for pity’s sake.

“We felt we had an opportunity to win here (Tuesday), but that’s a Hall-of-Fame coach over there, that’s an incredible program, one I have an unbelievable amount of respect for,” said Medved, whose squad high-tailed it for Charlotte in advance of a meeting with 20-12 Texas on Thursday in the next round of the Big Dance. “And so I didn’t see this coming this way at all.”

Oh, he knew. These weren’t the Rams who sleep-walked through much of a nasty Mountain West slate. No way. These were the green and gold piranha who swam to Kansas City in late November and tore Creighton to shreds.

Those Jays are now a No. 3 seed, while CSU gets banished to a play-in game? What a clown show.

“Even when we were in front, their physicality bothered us,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett confessed. “They sort of lowered their shoulder and moved our guys and they scored right at the paint.”

If you took the jerseys off both rosters, it would’ve been hard to tell which kids played for Medved and which ones cashed NIL checks from an ACC bank account. CSU outscored the Hoos 36-20 in the paint, and by an 18-4 margin down low in the first half.

“I think we’re undersized, more undersized than most teams,” offered CSU power forward Joel Scott, a former Lewis-Palmer High standout who dropped 23 points and 11 boards on Virginia and swung his 225-pound frame around like a Baby Barkley. “So I think physicality plays a huge role in a lot of what we do, trying to just establish ourselves and establish those paint touches and easy kickouts.”

Once Scott found he could consistently leverage good looks in the paint, this baby was over. CSU pounded the Hoos down low like they’d discovered an open wound that hadn’t healed yet, then kept ripping away at the stitches, one thread at a time.

“(Scott’s) strength was real,” Bennett said. “And we looked a little bit rattled, to say the least.”

They looked lucky to be there at all. After watching CSU limit an overmatched Cavs offense to just 14 points in the first half on 17.2% shooting, St. John’s coach Rick Pitino probably chucked one of his Nikes at the nearest television set.

“When we found out they weren’t bringing extra help, that played into our advantage,” explained Stevens, who notched four assists and six boards. “I felt like, and we just kept attacking it… you know, they run what they run, they do what they do, and it’s worked for them for such a long time. We were just able to find a small chink in the armor and that’s all.”

Only it’s not. Texas? Stevens can’t wait. He grew up playing AAU ball in the Lone Star State against ‘Horns guard Max Abmas.

“We’re a high-level team and I think (the Virginia game) just kind of showed it,” Scott said, “and (this) was our night.”

It might be their weekend. Saint Nick’s Rammies were designated by NCAA’s peanut gallery as the “last at-large team in” for the 2024 field, but only one side on Tuesday night truly looked the part. And it was the one in orange that couldn’t hit the broad side of The Barn at Raccoon Creek.

Want more sports news? Sign up for the Sports Omelette to get all our analysis on Denver’s teams.

Popular Articles