Strike 3: The “resumé” isn’t as important as the trophy.

Colorado State’s road to a Mountain West men’s basketball championship runs through San Diego, Albuquerque, Reno, Laramie, Las Vegas and several points beyond. That, more than what’s a “quality” win or loss, should be the focus for the nationally ranked Rams. The quest should be for the school’s first Mountain West conference regular season title EVER, and it rests on their ability to win big games away from the very friendly confines of Moby Arena.

It won’t be easy.

In 25 years, even with guys like Nico Carvacho, Colton Iverson, Andy Ogide and David Roddy leading the way, Colorado State has still never been able to win the conference regular season title, finishing second twice. Larry Eustachy’s 27-win CSU team in 2015 finished third in the MW, and then got KO’d by Wyoming in the conference tournament. The only time CSU has earned a MW tournament title and automatic bid to the postseason was when Dale Layer’s team pulled off an improbable run in the 2003 MW tourney.

This year’s Rams, with superstar point guard Isaiah Stevens leading the charge, has been a fixture in the national ranking since knocking off Boston College and eighth-ranked Creighton in a tournament in Kansas City back in late November. But they still have a lot of work to do if they want to go where no other Rams team has gone before.

So far, they’ve been outstanding at home, as expected (including a win over a very good Colorado team at Moby) and very good on neutral floors, posting wins over three power programs in BC, Creighton and Washington. But they couldn’t close the deal in their first true road test at 13-1 Utah State, and still have road games to play at last year’s Final Four participant, San Diego State, in the pit in Albuquerque, at a very good Nevada team in Reno, and the always tough venue in Las Vegas. The fact of the matter is every road game in the MW will be difficult.

And they all count equally in the MW standings.

It’s certainly not a given that CSU runs the table at home, but if they can protect their home court for the rest of the season, they will still realistically need to steal at least a pair of road wins from title contenders like Nevada, San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV. And that’s making the dangerous assumption that they simply handle business in places like Fresno, Colorado Springs and Laramie.

Nothing is going to come easy, including home games against the Aztecs, Wolfpack, Utah State Aggies and the rest. But it will be life on the road that determines if Niko Medved’s best team can get that elusive first MW crown.

Most CSU followers are focused on the team’s tournament “resumé” instead of what really matters, which is winning the MW regular season title. Do that, and the “resumé” takes care of itself. Lofty national rankings and getting a good seed for March Madness is important, but there’s still something special about winning a championship. Something you worked all season for – a glistening new trophy to add to the trophy case – especially one that you’ve never won before.

If CSU is going to take the next step to becoming a perennial national “name” program that’s always going to be in contention for not just national rankings and high seedings, but also for the valuable national respect that comes with that, then at some point, winning the conference championship becomes a must.

Is this finally the year?