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Here come the Rams, CSU is off to its best Mountain West start ever

Led by hot shooting, Colorado State looks like more than a middle-of-the pack squad

NCAA Basketball: Colorado State at San Diego State Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado State Rams were predicted to finish fifth in the Mountain West, but they are showing potential to be a little more interesting than just another middle-of-the-pack team.

The Rams are 8-2 as of publication and third in the Mountain West with a 5-1 record — the best start to Mountain West play in school history.

The team was supposed to open conference play against San Diego State, one of the preseason favorites, on Dec. 3 and 5. It was going to be a tough test and the Rams were guaranteed to be the underdogs, but that series got postponed due to COVID-19 cases in the CSU program.

But once the SDSU series finally started on Jan. 2, the Rams made history. CSU completed the largest comeback in Mountain West history by rallying back from a 26-point deficit and pulled off a 70-67 win against then-No. 23 SDSU.

“I wish I could tell you I had some kind of magic formula or whatever. I don’t know that we do,” Rams head coach Niko Medved said in an NCAA March Madness interview. “We just have a great group of young men. … These things don’t happen everyday, but I couldn’t be prouder of my group.”

The Aztecs returned the favor and split the series with a 78-65 result Jan. 4. CSU went on to pick up two wins against the UNLV Rebels, which wasn’t too unexpected because UNLV is a team that is struggling this season having lost to Big Sky squad Montana State and was coming off a month-long pause from playing.

UNLV got swept but definitely put up a fight against the Rams. The Rebels had a 13-point lead with under nine minutes remaining in the first game. The second saw nine lead changes and a lot of good shooting as the Rebels shot at 50% from the field while CSU shot 53.7%. The Rams were able to pull off the win thanks to 16 3-pointers, six of those coming from sophomore guard Isaiah Stevens.

Stevens finished that game with 22 points. Through both games of the series he averaged 23.5 points while shooting 50% from the field and 64.3% from beyond the arc. His performance earned him the MW Player of the Week honor on Monday.

The Rams have a good chance to add two more wins this week when CSU takes on the San Jose State Spartans on Thursday and Saturday. The Spartans are one of the weaker teams in the conference (and the NCAA) with a 0-6 Mountain West record and a 2-8 overall record — with zero wins over Division I teams.

The two following series will provide a bigger challenge as the Rams will have to face Utah State and Boise State, two of the stronger teams in the Mountain West. CSU has already shaken the Aztecs so maybe they can pull off another upset. What Medved told his team during the close UNLV games could be applied to any game.

“Sometimes you just gotta find a way somehow to scrap and claw,” he said.