NIT Colorado St Memphis Basketball (copy)

Colorado State guard Isaiah Stevens (4) and guard Kendle Moore, right, take instruction from head coach Niko Medved, center, in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Memphis in the semifinals of the NIT, Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

FORT COLLINS — If the wild scene at Moby Arena on a season-opening Tuesday was any sort of preview, Colorado State’s going to be on the hunt for a new men’s basketball coach soon.

Not soon-soon, but six months soon.

Because CSU coach Niko Medved deserved the standing “O” he got before the Rams swamped Oral Roberts 109-80 in front of a stoked crowd. What he’s done in Fort Fun is cool enough that I stuck CSU at No. 25 on my AP Top 25 ballot. What he’s done is exactly what the program needed after the Larry Eustachy era, so let’s shoot AD Joe Parker a standing ‘O’ for that, too.

“That was a lot of fun,” Medved said afterward with a huge smile.

And if all goes according to plan in 2021-22, Medved will be coaching elsewhere in 2022-23, because this is where things get weird for a successful mid-major program. You want to be good, duh, but then you lose your coach. You don’t want to stink, but at least you’ll keep your coach. It's backwards, but a lot of things are.

These Rams won’t stink. These Rams have lead guard Isaiah Stevens, who I’m picking to win Mountain West player of the year. And they have David Roddy, another preseason all-conference pick. They’re deep, mature and talented enough to live up to the expectations that come with being chosen to win the Mountain West. And then the Big 12, Big 10 or Pac-12 will come calling for Medved, because that’s how these things work.

But that’s for later, not for now. For now, CSU looked like a squad that can do things few CSU squads have done before — like win the Mountain West, something it has never done. You know about Stevens and Roddy, the BMOCs, and now the Rams are tossing out former bench players who can put up 30. John Tonje, a forward, stepped in for 31 points, a game-high.

“Tonight it was a lot of the other guys” instead of Stevens and Roddy, Medved said.

What leaps off the court for the Rams is how they’ve assembled a locker room full of solid dudes. That’s an underrated quality these days, and the way the Rams hustle into the huddle and help teammates off the court counts for something. It allows you, for example, to square up with an established squad like Oral Roberts, lose one of your best players for a while, and still coast.

When Roddy left the court clutching his lower back with 2 minutes left in the first half, you might as well have flipped on the fire sprinklers inside Moby Arena. The mood got cold right quick. Roddy later returned to the game midway through the second half. He got a standing ovation, too, then dunked in traffic to prove he was OK. These Rams are a likable bunch, and I’ll wager a guess Moby Arena finds itself full more often than not. 

Oral Roberts sounds familiar to anyone still reading this. Oral Roberts returned much of the roster that beat Ohio State and Florida to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, then it added transfers from the SEC and Big 12. Solid team. Proven team. Team with a target on its back after reaching the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. And CSU rolled ‘em out of the gym.

Was there a little extra spunk knowing Oral Roberts lived the March that CSU wants to live?

The score was 100-70 with 3 minutes left. One team was a March sensation, one can be.

"We want to be the Rams," Tonje said.

There’s going to be a lot of movement in coaching circles after this season. Boosters and ADS hesitant to make moves during the COVID crunch will open back up for business, buoyed by the return of ticket sales, and good jobs at big-money outfits will open up. And if all goes according to plan, CSU’s going to open its own coaching search.

But that’s for later. For now, Colorado’s best college basketball team is here in Fort Collins. And as the coach put it, that was a lot of fun.

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at paul.klee@gazette.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

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