2/12 Utah State (Fort Collins, CO)
While there is something of a rivalry between these two teams, this game’s importance goes beyond that. Utah State has a lot of hype coming into the season after winning a share of the Mountain West crown and the MWC Tournament a year ago. With the Aggies bringing back nearly everyone, including reigning Player of the Year Sam Merrill and promising big man Neemias Queta, this is a team with the potential to be a Top 25 mainstay throughout the year. Those hopes hinge on the health of Queta, who was injured during a FIBA match this summer. Assuming he doesn’t miss significant time, this home game against the Aggies could be Colorado State’s best chance at a marquee victory in the league. And if Queta can go, this could be the best matchup of big men that the conference has to offer. This is another game that could really help Nico Carvacho raise his draft profile. In all likelihood, Queta will be entering the NBA Draft alongside Carvacho next year, so both men will be looking to shine in this one.
2/29 Air Force (Fort Collins, CO)
The Rams will host the Falcons in the final contest of the regular season. Of course, this game holds all the attendant importance that any in-state rivalry game does. However, this one also falls into the same category as the Boise State game – a game that should have direct implications on the Mountain West leaderboard. There’s a great chance that Colorado State and Air Force are going to be close neighbors in the standings, likely somewhere between sixth and eighth position. However, if a few teams currently projected ahead of them happen to stumble, this game could potentially decide which team receives the fifth seed in the MWC Tournament. Note that the top five teams in the Mountain West receive a bye directly into the quarterfinals. One fewer game in what should be a contentious conference tournament would be quite the prize for either one of these two sides.
You may have noticed that I did not include Colorado State’s trip to the Cayman Islands Classic above. That’s not because those games aren’t important; it’s because there were simply too many different possibilities to choose from. So, let’s break that tournament down. The Rams will start off against a very worthy adversary in New Mexico State, whose recent run of WAC domination has earned them some serious cachet in the mid-major world. After that, they’ll take on either South Florida or Loyola Chicago. The Ramblers are led by head coach Porter Moser and will smother teams defensively. Speaking of defense, USF’s LaQuincy Rideau is one of the nation’s most talented players on that side of the ball. So, neither proposition is especially rosy for Niko Medved’s club.
Then, they will face one team from the other side of the bracket, which contains Nebraska, Washington State, Old Dominion, and George Mason. And though it is likely that Colorado State will end up matched up with one of the two Virginia schools, it would certainly be noteworthy if another Power 5 team landed on the Rams’ non-conference plate. So the Cayman Islands Classic is absolutely an important event for Colorado State this year.
The Border War games against Wyoming also merited consideration. But with the Cowboys potentially vying with San Jose State for the Mountain West basement, those games just don’t feel quite as weighty as they have in years past. There’s also an in-state game against Denver in the home opener, as well as two other Summit League opponents in Omaha and South Dakota State. All told, it’s a pretty decent non-conference schedule for the Rams.
Colorado State has a few good chances to grab important victories as they set out to improve on last year’s forgettable results. The program could also reap some benefits from the continued star turn of Nico Carvacho. If he remains in the national spotlight throughout the year and ends up hearing his name called in the NBA Draft, that could certainly be a recruiting boost for the Rams.
But Carvacho and company are out for more than just individual glory. How they perform in these games will be incredibly important for their season. Some good performances here could help Colorado State return to postseason play after staying home the past two seasons.
Andrew is a current USBWA member, covering college basketball for multiple outlets, including Mountain West Wire of the USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Busting Brackets of the FanSided Network. He also runs the Dieckhoff Power Index, a college basketball analytics system, and provides bracketology predictions throughout the season.