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Pope: A message to all you Ram fans out there

Friday night, I learned what big-time college basketball is all about.

As a self-proclaimed college hoops “aficionado,” I thought I’d seen some pretty cool stuff in 10-plus years of knowledgeably watching the game.

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Then I walked into the Thomas and Mack Center last Friday night. And I realized I hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.

What was supposed to be a neutral-court semifinal game between No. 20 New Mexico and Boise State was anything but. Instead, after walking through a red carpet-lined tunnel fit for a monster truck rally, I was greeted by a horde of screaming Lobo fans chanting “U-N-M!” as their team ran lay-up lines during pregame warm-ups. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

And before you jump to another team’s defense, yes I was at last year’s sold-out “Orange Out” win over San Diego State. And yes, I was also at this year’s near-sellout CSU-CU game at Moby Arena. Heck, I was even at this year’s CSU-Gonzaga game at The Kennel in Spokane.

Nothing compared to the atmosphere I walked into Friday night. After a basket late in the game brought Boise State back within two points, a respectable-sized group of Bronco fans began chanting, “Boise State, Boise State!”

What came next could only be described as an eardrum-shattering display of noise. Something that started with a few fans screaming at the top of their lungs instantly morphed into a sea of red-shirted UNM fans smothering their Boise counterparts with their famous, yet deafening “Everyone’s a Lobo” chant. All the sudden, UNLV’s home arena had been transformed into a Sin City version of “The Pit,” New Mexico’s home arena which is considered by many to be one of the toughest venues to play at in the entire country.

And then I thought to myself, why can’t this happen at CSU?

Sure, for pure number’s sake, there were probably more New Mexico fans in the arena than the 8,645 people Moby can hold. But it was the knowledge of the situation by Lobo fans that impressed me. Realizing a sudden change in momentum, those fans understood what their team needed – a boost. And that’s just what they gave them. Behind that raucous crowd, New Mexico went on to beat Boise State 70-67 before defeating No. 8 San Diego State in that same arena the very next day.

Now I know there’s a difference between the basketball program at Colorado State and the one down in Albuquerque. The Lobos won their third-consecutive conference title Saturday night, while the Rams boast just one conference championship, which they won back in 2003. New Mexico has won eight NCAA Tournament games compared to just three for the Rams. But that’s about where the differences stop.

Remember the aforementioned game between San Diego State and CSU last year? Despite everything that happened that night, one sentence from San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher is what stuck out to me. In no uncertain terms, Fisher stated that the only arena louder than Moby was the Phog Allen Fieldhosue at the University of Kansas. From a man who has coached in almost every notable venue in the country, that’s saying something.

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But this year, Moby Magic was nowhere to be found. Average attendance dropped by more than 1,500 people per game.  It was incredibly disappointing to see an arena regarded that highly quickly reduced to just another place to play. But the good news is, there’s a chance to redeem yourself when the Rams begin the 2014-15 season next November.

I have a simple message for you: Get to Moby. Often.

Next year’s men’s basketball team might be the greatest collection of talent in Colorado State basketball history. Yes, even better than the one who made it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament last year. The Rams have a legitimate shot to put three players on the All-Mountain West team as well as winning Conference Player and Newcomer of the Year honors. For the first time since the Mountain West Conference started in 1999, CSU has a team who is the odds-on favorite to win the regular-season title. You won’t want to miss that.

Not to be outdone, next year’s women’s team may be the best since Becky Hammon and Katie Cronin roamed the halls of Moby in the late 1990’s. Head coach Ryun Williams returns four starters and a cast of talented reserves along with another strong recruiting class. The crazy thing is, they could be even better than the team that finished 25-7 this year. You’ll want to be there.

The bottom line is this Ram fans. You, and you alone have the chance to turn Moby Arena into one of the premiere venues in college basketball next season.

So what are you waiting for?

Make us proud to be a CSU Ram.

Collegian Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.

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