Examining Colorado State’s path to an NIT Championship

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Gian Clavell and Emmanuel Omogbo. Credit: Cary Edmonson, USA TODAY Sports.

In the most remarkable year during the Larry Eustachy Era, Colorado State’s regular season and conference tournament ended in the same disappointment, losses to the Mountain West kings, the Nevada Wolf Pack.

The first loss meant missing out on a regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Their second loss, 79-71 on Saturday night, meant no NCAA Tournament for Eustachy and his young men from Fort Collins.

Instead, the Rams were picked as a No. 4 seed in the National Invitation Tournament. That means, the “Moby Madness” isn’t over yet, fans.

On Tuesday night, your Colorado State Rams men’s basketball team host Charleston, at 7 p.m. MT. Yes, there is one more chance for fans to watch sensational seniors Gian Clavell and Emmanuel Omogbo play in person.

The 23-11 Rams host the Charleston Cougars (25-9) of the Colonial Athletic Association. Similar to CSU, the Cougars lost in their conference title game and their head coach, Earl Grant, was named CAA Coach of the Year. Eustachy was named Coach of the Year in the Mountain West while Clavell was Player of the Year due to his phenomenal performances night-in, night out.

Clavell is one of the purest scorers in Colorado State basketball history, while Omogbo fits Eustachy’s style of play well, grinding out double-doubles for a new MW record with 13 in conference play alone. Besides the seniors, sophomore point guard Prentiss Nixon has grown greatly — especially in his scoring — this season, while redshirt freshman Nico Carvacho has been a bully in the paint when he has his game going.

Other x-factors J.D. Paige, Anthony Bonner and Braden Koelliker each enjoyed solid tournament performances, and now they’ll get to find more valuable playing time in the NIT.

Last time Colorado State played in the NIT, they lost in the first round in 2015. The team, led by Daniel Bejarano and J.J. Avila, was devastated when they weren’t chosen to play in the NCAA and played poorly to begin the NIT, losing to South Dakota State even though the Rams were a No. 1 seed.

They look to best that this season against Charleston on Tuesday night.

If the No. 4 seed Rams win Tuesday, they’ll play the winner of No. 1 Cal (21-12) and No. 8 CSU Bakersfield (22-9) on Mar. 16-20. If the Rams win and CSU Bakersfield wins, Moby Arena would host a second game. If Cal wins, the Rams would play in Oakland.

Colorado State’s third-round game would be against the best of No. 2 Houston, No. 3 BYU, No. 6 UT Arlington and No. 7 Akron. CSU and BYU used to be rivals in the old WAC from 1967-1999 and the two playing each other would re-ignite that rivalry.

Keep looking down the line, and if the Rams can win their first three games, and if No. 1 Syracuse wins their first three, the Rams and Orange would meet in the tournament’s semifinal game in Madison Square Garden on March 28.

That would mean John Gillon — formerly of CSU — would get to play the Rams and Larry Eustachy.

Then, somehow, if both Colorado State and Colorado were to get to the championship game, they’d play one another. The Buffs, a No. 5 seed, are on the opposite side of the NIT bracket from CSU, so the only way they could play is in the championship, sadly.

The entire bracket is posted below:

Something else to keep an eye on; there are some experimental rules being used in the NIT this year. That includes breaking the game into four, 10-minute segments which reset team fouls. But, teams can only be called for four fouls per segment before the other team is awarded two free throws.

Here’s a look at all the new rules:

Colorado State practices this afternoon ahead of their NIT opener against Charleston Tuesday night with 7 p.m. MT tip-off.

Students can pick up tickets at the McGraw Center for only $4. For the public, tickets went on sale here at 8 a.m. MT today.

To win the NIT, all Colorado State has to do is win five straight games. Besides Syracuse and Cal, there are other solid teams in the tournament, like Illinois and Illinois State, Iowa, Clemson and more, which won’t make winning it all a cakewalk.

Still, fans get their hope as the “Magnificent Seven” get to play at least one more time together in front of their home crowd.

Notes: 

  • Colorado State is 6-8 all-time in the NIT.
  • The Rams have lost in the first round six of those times.
  • Though, in 1999 they made it to the quarterfinals.
  • And in 1988, the Rams went to the semifinals before losing, and then winning the third place game over Boston College.

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