Dawn Madura/Associated Press file photo
Dawn Madura/Associated Press file photo
The buzz in the Colorado State University locker room was all about the basketball polls Monday, and that was even before the Rams learned they had cracked the rankings for the first time since 1954.
“We were all kind of wondering if Miami was going to jump up to No. 1 after all those upsets,” Rams senior forward Greg Smith said. “That was more of the discussion in the locker room. It wasn’t really about us.”
After the two-hour practice ended at 9 a.m., an exhausted Smith grabbed some breakfast and hit the books.
“Then my Twitter started blowing up. Everybody was saying, ‘We’re ranked! We’re ranked!’” Smith said. “People sent me links. That’s how I found out. Then, my teammates starting calling me.”
The Rams are 24th in both The Associated Press men’s basketball poll and the USA Today poll, their first foray into the rankings since March of 1954 – 20 months before Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy was born.
“It’s neat for our players and for our program. That’s exciting news for our guys, but we still have to play very difficult games” this week against San Diego State and Air Force, said Eustachy, ever the pragmatist, downplaying the polls.
“I think right now all of us are really excited,” Smith said.
Transfers Daniel Bejarano (University of Arizona) and Colton Iverson (University of Minnesota) “are the only two guys who have played on a ranked team,” Smith said. “They know how to handle it.
“But I think all of us that have been around here for a while are really just happy that we’re finally being recognized as being one of the best teams in the nation,” Smith said. “We’ve just got to go out and keep playing like it, starting (today).”
By the way, Miami, the object of the Rams’ early morning curiosity, rose to No. 3 in the rankings, behind only No. 1 Indiana and No. 2 Duke after a succession of impressive wins and losses by highly ranked teams.
The Rams (19-4, 6-2 Mountain West) will face preseason favorite San Diego State (18-5, 6-3) tonight at Moby Arena, where they’ve won 26 consecutive games.
Only Syracuse (37) and South Dakota State (27) boast longer home winning streaks.
“I was just talking with my brother. I was like, ‘Three years ago, would you ever be thinking that if San Diego State were to beat us that it would be an upset?’” Smith said. “It’s nice to have that target on our back. But now we’ve got to go out there and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Smith said the senior-laden Rams should have no trouble keeping all this national recognition from going to their heads, too.
“Honestly, we’ve got a lot of seniors,” he said. “We should stay pretty grounded because of our age. It’s only a label. Just a couple of days ago we were the 28th-best team. Miraculously, three days later, we’re the 24th-best team. We’ve just got to stick to what we’re doing, go out and focus and keep getting wins.”
Eustachy, who took over for Tim Miles in April and who’s in line to take his fourth school to the NCAA Tournament after guiding Southern Miss, Iowa State and Utah State there, said his focus is on the Mountain West race, where the Rams trail No. 19 New Mexico by a half-game for first place.
“New Mexico is clearly the team to catch, but there are other teams right behind them that have a chance, and I think that we are one of them,” Eustachy said. “It’s going to come down to who plays the best basketball in the second round of conference play.”
The Rams were ranked four weeks overall in 1953-54, rising as high as No. 18.
Making for a fitting storyline, the Rams will celebrate the program’s heritage by wearing pumpkin orange and alfalfa green uniforms with the Colorado A&M “Aggies” mascot written across their chests for today’s game against San Diego State, which is in third place in the tightening MWC race.
“I’m not a real ‘poll watcher’ .. But I am extremely aware of where (teams) are in conference,” Eustachy said. “Our goal is to win a championship. It always has been.”