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CSU hoops to play difficult non-conference schedule for 2017-18

After a 21-win regular season and a deep Mountain West Tournament run that still left Colorado State out of the field of 64, the Rams are bolstering their 2017-18 non-conference schedule in hopes of gaining marquee wins.

The Rams’ non-conference schedule is highlighted by a road contest against Oregon on December 9th. The Ducks are in the midst of a 42-game home winning streak, the longest active streak in the NCAA.

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Oregon is coming off of one of its best seasons in program history in which it won 33 games and made it all the way to the Final 4. The Final 4 appearance is only the second in Ducks’ history and first since 1939.

Nico Carvacho dunks against Utah State defender Quinn Taylor helping the team to a 69-52 win Feb. 7 (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

Though Oregon was ever so close to a national title last season, they are losing their top five scorers from last season. Dylan Ennis and Chris Boucher graduated while Tyler Dorsey, Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell each made the decision to leave Eugene early in order to pursue an NBA career. The five players combined to average 64.3 of the Ducks’ 79 points per game during the 2016-17 season.

The Oregon matchup is one of the highest caliber non-conference games the Rams have scheduled in quite some time. But, CSU also will play four other 2016-17 NCAA Tournament teams. Two of the teams, Florida State and Arkansas, collected a win in March Madness.

The Rams and Seminoles will play at a neutral site in Jamaica in early December. Florida State finished last season with a 26-9 record. The Seminoles picked up a win as a three seed in the NCAA Tournament over Florida Gulf Coast before losing to 11-seeded Xavier in the second round of the West Region.

The Seminoles are saying goodbye to leading scorer Dwayne Bacon as well as Jonathan Isaac and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who each scored over 10 points per game. While Florida State can expect some regression next season, they are compensating for their key departures by adding M.J. Walker and Ikey Obiagu. Walker and Obiagu are both listed in ESPN’s Top 100 incoming freshmen. The Seminoles are also adding three other four-star recruits.

CSU plays Arkansas in early December, adding to a tough couple of weeks as winter hits in Fort Collins. The game against the Razorbacks kicks off a home-and-home series between the two schools. Arkansas will host the Rams next season and CSU will welcome the Razorbacks to Moby during the 2018-19 season.

Arkansas was on the cusp of a signature win over the eventual National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels in the Round of 32 last season. However, a late run by the Tar Heels stopped the Razorbacks’ Sweet 16 aspirations dead in its tracks. Nevertheless, Arkansas has an impressive incoming recruiting class highlighted by the 45th overall player in Dan Gafford and 56th overall player Khalil Garland. Though the Razorbacks lose Dusty Hannahs, their best player from the 2016-17 campaign, they are poised for another March Madness run.

Unlike the previous three teams mentioned, the other two NCAA Tournament teams the Rams will square up with next season are mid-major programs, Winthrop and New Mexico State.

Winthrop is one of three 26-win teams from last season that CSU plays during their non-conference slate. Winthrop collected a signature win over Illinois last season and earned a 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament before dropping a tightly contested game to Butler 76-64. The Rams will play Winthrop as part of the same preseason tournament that they play Florida State in.

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New Mexico State put together one of its best seasons in program history last season. The Aggies won 28 games and were invited to March Madness as 14 seed. New Mexico State is familiar with the Mountain West. The Aggies beat Air Force and New Mexico last season and also lost to CSU 64-61 in a barn-burner at Moby. The Rams’ victory over New Mexico State to open the 2016-17 season actually ended up being CSU’s most significant win of the season according to the RPI. The Aggies finished the season with an RPI of 60. The next best team CSU beat last season was Colorado, which had an RPI of 98.

The Rams have also announced eight other non-conference games for the upcoming season. CSU will host Colorado after picking up an upset victory in Boulder last season. In addition, the Rams will play Long Beach State, Sacramento State, Texas State, and Arkansas-Fort Smith at Moby. Finally, CSU will play Missouri State on the road in the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge. The Rams are 3-3 all time in MW/MVC Challenge contests. The Rams will finish up non-conference play against Tulane and Northwestern State.

Collegian sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.

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