If you watched No. 20 Colorado State beat Colorado last night, you may have witnessed the best team in CSU basketball history.

Last week, this Rams team led by Niko Medved went into the Hall of Fame Classic and first beat a decent Boston College team before blowing out No. 8 Creighton to win the tournament.

Those wins led to a No. 20 ranking by the Associated Press, and set the stage for the Rocky Mountain Showdown versus a strong CU team who was ranked themselves a week ago.

Colorado State’s grit helps them to 88-83 win over CU

Even considering the Creighton game, there was even more pressure on the Rams to beat the Buffs. That’s because CSU was without starting big man Patrick Cartier, sixth man Jalen Lake played with a broken finger, and Isaiah Stevens was stifled in the first half.

Stevens is far and away the star of this team. He’s Colorado State’s leading scorer (17.9 PPG), but even more impressive are his nation-leading 8.3 assists per game. On Wednesday night, the matchup of Stevens vs. KJ Simpson of Colorado was a focal point, and the taller Simpson affected Stevens’ ability to score.

In the first half, Stevens only had two points. But he played through the adversity and found his teammates for six assists. Joe Palmer led the team in scoring at halftime with 11 points, and Lake wasn’t far behind with 9 of his own as Colorado State led by 15.

The Rams role players gave the team a cushion offensively, and it was team defense and nine turnovers forced that frustrated the Buffs. In an extremely physical game, CSU battled tough against a bigger CU squad.

In the second half, Stevens came alive on the offensive end. He scored 18 of his 20 points after the break, making 5-8 from the floor and 7-8 from the free throw line. Nique Clifford, playing against the team he transferred from, scored 9 in the second half, including the run-out dunk to seal the win.

During the last two minutes, CU pressed CSU, resulting in the Rams having to call a timeout and turning the ball over once. But still, thanks to Stevens’ composure, Colorado State was able to fight through that test and hold on to win.

CSU is more than just Stevens, they’re a complete team

This Rams squad relies on Stevens to score, sure. But even more important is his ability to facilitate teammates and allow them to score with ease.

To wit, Colorado State’s 53.5% shooting is third-best in the nation. That’s largely due to Stevens passing to set up easy buckets.

Joel Scott, the DII Player of the Year last season, is certainly benefitting. The athletic, 6’7″ forward is currently second on the team with 14.3 points per game and he’s tied for the team lead in rebounds (6.6 RPG).

The aforementioned Clifford has been better than advertised for the Rams. He’s averaging career-highs in points (13.4), rebounds (6.6), and field goal percentage (61.7%) among other stats. Clifford can get to the rack or pull up and shoot it, and he seems to be getting better as the year goes on.

Cartier is the fourth Rams player to average double figures (10.5 PPG), but he’s nursing an injured back right now. Lake and Palmer provide punch off the bench, and Rashaan Mbemba has held his ground with Cartier out.

Simply, this team doesn’t have to rely on one or two guys to carry the load offensively. It’s a group effort every night, and Stevens’ unselfish play is contagious, as everyone is willing to pass to the open man.

Best Colorado State team ever?

OK, we’re only seven games into the season, but the Rams already did something incredible by beating No. 8 Creighton.

That was the first time since 1984 CSU beat a top-10 team.

Besides that, Medved’s Rams are ranked No. 20 right now, and the’ve only been ranked three other times. Those were 2012-13, and 2014-15 under Larry Eustachy, and then in 2021-22 under Medved.

Keep in mind the 2012-13 Rams—with Dorian Green, Greg Smith and Co. from Nebraska—not only made the NCAA Tournament but they won against Missouri before being knocked out by eventual champion Louisville.

Two years ago, with David Roddy and Stevens, the Rams were the highest seed they’ve ever had, at 6. Unfortunately for that squad, they were upset by No. 11 Michigan in their first game.

So, why is this team better?

They’re easily the best offensive team compared to those other great teams, averaging 85.1 points per game. It’s the most-ever in team history and it’s good for 29th in the country.

It’s not just the scoring, but the Rams shooting percentage is among the best in the nation, and they’re also No. 7 in assists per game (20.4).

This Colorado State team isn’t one star making things happen on his own. Because Stevens is the star and plays point guard—passing to whoever is open—it’s a true team in every sense of the word.

That translates to the defensive end, too. These Rams are active, aggressive, and pester opponents. Forcing 13.9 turnovers per game is helping CSU win because they’re cashing in on those opportunities.

Of course, there are still ways this 2023-24 team can improve over the course of the season.

The 2012-13 team was all about rebounding, and they were much better than this one on the boards. This year’s squad has a glaring weakness when it comes to rebounding, and they can focus on improving there.

And while CSU is playing well defensively, allowing only 68.6 points per game, the 2021-22 team was a bit better there (66.0). However, if we’re talking point differentials, this year’s team is a +16.5, while the others were +7.3 and +9.2, respectively.

One other statistic points to this being the best Colorado State basketball team: Their SRS score. Currently, CSU’s Simple Rating System score is 22.67. The other NCAA Tournament teams were 11.51 and 13.60. SRS takes into account point differential and strength of schedule. Currently, The Rams SRS is 10th-best in the nation.

Next up for Colorado State (7-0) is a tough contest against Washington (4-2) at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, NV. The game tips off at 5 p.m. MT on Saturday, Dec. 2 and can be seen on CBS Sports Network. Washington has an SRS of 18.48, which is 27th.