CSU basketball can change culture in NCAA tournament game with Louisville

spring 2013 mugs 2-2The next time you sit down to watch a Colorado State basketball game at a neutral location, look for the green in the stands.

Look for how many fans make the trek out to Lexington, Ky. Saturday night when the Rams take on Louisville.

Momentum is everything in college basketball and teams that travel well in neutral court games tend to perform better than ones that don’t.

The problem is that CSU basketball fans don’t want to travel to follow the Rams, that’s because of a culture that tends to lower fan turnout at road games.

All that can change Saturday.

The Rams will face off against the Louisville Cardinals Saturday night with nothing to lose. The Cardinals are playing with everything to lose as the NCAA tournament’s number one overall seed playing in front of basically a home crowd.

An upset by CSU would change everything.

When I think back to the 15,000 plus Lobos fans that showed up to the New Mexico – UNLV Mountain West Conference Championship game in Las Vegas last week, I can’t help but think that a large part of the reason most of those fans showed up is because of the basketball culture that exists at that school.

Those Lobos fans made turned a game that occurred in the friendly confines of the Thomas and Mack Center a nightmare for UNLV as New Mexico fans nearly doubled those from UNLV and were the loudest I have ever heard.

CSU coach Larry Eustachy has said time and again that the culture around his team is slowly starting to change this year, and the victory Thursday night against Missouri went a long way to accomplishing that goal.

Last year when the Rams traveled to Louisville, Ky. to play Murray State, the Rams have said that they were really just happy to be in the tournament, a kind of apathy that has the ability to spill over to fans.

On Thursday night against Missouri, the Rams went into the game with a different mindset.

“We weren’t excited to be here,” Eustachy said after the game. “We intended on winning the game and I think that’s a big difference.”

It’s a factor of confidence that CSU now has, confidence that may help them deal with the environment they will be faced with on Saturday.

“This is what we want to do at this point, now we’re starting to do it,” senior forward Greg Smith said. “This is great to see all our work paying off and we’re trying to get a win on Saturday.”

Getting that win could further not only what Eustachy and the Rams want to do this year, but also can arouse legions of Rams fans and turn CSU into a basketball school.

Saturday’s game against Louisville is more than just a game for CSU, it’s an opportunity.

It’s an opportunity to play a game in prime time on national television, on CBS— not CBS Sports Network, but the actual CBS, a place the Rams have not been featured on all year.

It’s an opportunity to bask in the national notoriety the Rams can attain by simply giving what the tournament selection committee believes is the best team in the nation a tough game.

But more importantly for CSU is that the game gives them a chance to change the culture around CSU basketball within its fan base simply by its actions on the court.

And that’s something that no amount of “Bold New Era” signs can ever achieve.