#rushthetrip Day 14: A Year Late to Fort CollinsPosted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on February 20th, 2014
RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.
Rarely had it been as fun to be a Colorado State basketball fan as it was in 2013. The Rams won 26 games a season ago, including their first in the NCAA Tournament since 1989, and Moby Arena transformed into one of the most impenetrable – and unlikely — home fortresses in all of college basketball. With Fort Collins rallying behind them, CSU sold out three consecutive home games for the first time in program history, and despite a decisive loss in the round of 32 to eventual champion Louisville, the program may never have posted a finer season. Fun times, indeed. But for all the fanfare surrounding that team, my visit to peek in on this year’s team felt doomed to banality from the start. The state of Colorado has never exactly been a haven for college basketball, and with Larry Eustachy now guiding Colorado State through a rebuilding season after that banner 2012-13 campaign, things figured to be pretty quiet in Fort Collins.
And they were. Moby Arena was easily less than half-full for a visit from Boise State on Tuesday night, and a steady onslaught of Broncos’ three-pointers prevented the sparse crowd (and the Rams) from ever feeling a part of this game. While I could envision 9,000 fans fleeing the cold winter nights for the comfort of Moby’s Ram-green seats, the apathy of the scene stood in stark contrast to the home floor that we witnessed in Fort Collins a season ago. In all but the most basketball-crazed regions of the country, it’s an expected drop-off in support when 26-9 transforms into 14-13, which is where the Rams find themselves after Boise rolled to a 12-point victory. This doesn’t mean Colorado State – and its fan base – won’t be back in the near future (Larry Eustachy has proven more than capable of building a program), but here in 2014, Fort Collins has slipped off the college basketball radar.
The battle for Colorado will be an interesting one moving forward. Boulder and Fort Collins are less than an hour apart, and while neither CU nor CSU has ever resembled a basketball powerhouse, they are the two biggest programs in the state, and each now possesses a respected and accomplished head coach. Denver has been a mid-major program on the rise, and despite a disappointing season, is still a threat to earn the Summit League’s automatic bid. Northern Colorado made its first NCAA Tournament appearance three seasons ago, and Air Force frequently makes Colorado Springs a tricky road trip for Mountain West opponents. Before 2012, the NCAA Tournament had only once included multiple teams from the state, but the Rams and Buffaloes have been participants in each of the last two fields. College basketball has never been better in the Centennial State.
Former Louisville stalwart Chane Behanan may only be eligible for half a season next year, but a nationally-desired transfer’s decision to head west to Fort Collins bodes well for Eustachy’s rebuilding project. Also, in a pleasant deviation from the mass exodus of the 2013 offseason, the Rams have only one senior in the current rotation, so next year’s team should return intact and improved. Eustachy and Tad Boyle have proven that Colorado is big enough for two major college basketball programs. The first step for Colorado State will be to get back in the top half of the Mountain West and return to the NCAA Tournament, but the coming years should tell us whether winning at Colorado’s most prominent programs – both long overlooked — is actually sustainable. If it is, you can count me in for another trip to Moby Arena, sooner rather than later.
Next stop: Utah.