Colorado and Colorado State have squared off in men’s basketball plenty of times. To be precise, 129 times, the most for the Buffaloes against any foe that wasn’t formerly a rival in the Big 12 Conference.
Despite all those matchups, something will occur on Thursday night that hasn’t happened in 43 years. Thanks to a two-season layoff from the rivalry, when the Buffs and CSU meet for the 130th time at the CU Events Center (7 p.m., ESPN2), CU will field a roster that doesn’t include a single player that has faced the Rams before.
“We’re pumped up. We know the history of the rivalry,” CU forward Tristan da Silva said. “We’re going to be excited for it. We’ve just got to get in the gym and get better, and get our best selves out there on the court on Thursday.”
The last meeting between the programs was a CU win in Fort Collins on Dec. 13, 2019, three months before the start of the COVID pandemic abruptly shuttered the end of the 2019-20 season. The ensuing three-year hiatus that struck the rivalry was not entirely planned.
CU and CSU were set to meet early in the 2020-21 season in Boulder, but the date was postponed due to COVID issues. CSU still owed CU a visit per the terms of their previous scheduling agreement, but the programs mutually decided last year to postpone the game by a year when they both were scheduled to play in the Paradise Jam in the US Virgin Islands (the teams were on opposite sides of the bracket and ultimately did not meet). Given the hiatus and CU’s personnel shuffling in the years since, Thursday’s matchup will be the first against CSU for every player on the Buffs roster.
That hasn’t happened since the teams met on Dec. 21, 1979, which marked the programs’ first meeting in 10 years. Since then, CU and the Rams have met every season except four — 1989-90, 1990-91, and the past two years. Thursday’s game is the final one under the two-for-one arrangement (two games at CU, one at CSU) agreed upon prior to the 2018-19 season.
“We haven’t had it, but it should still sting with us,” CU point guard KJ Simpson said. “Being in Colorado, being within the program, whatever happened in the past also impacts and follows us as well. It’s a big game for sure. Honestly, we’re just going to treat it like any other game. We’re just going to play our hardest and go out there and try to get that win.”
Although the Buffs have recorded a 4-5 start with losses in their first two Pac-12 Conference games, this week’s release of the initial NET rankings of the season reveals a CU team still very much in control of its own destiny. The Buffs opened at No. 64 (dropping to 65 on Tuesday), with all five of their losses (all but one away from home) considered Quad 2 setbacks. The Buffs are 1-0 in Quad 1 matchups, with the neutral-floor win against Tennessee (No. 4 NET) likely to carry a heavy weight for CU throughout the season.
CU is 1-0 in both Quad 3 and Quad 4 games. The matchup against the Rams, which on Tuesday was at No. 91 in the NET, will be a Quad 3 contest for CU.
No doubt, a Buffs team that has struggled with turnovers and can’t hit free throws, among other shortcomings, has plenty of improvements to make. But as the early NET data shows, CU certainly has not dug itself an insurmountable hole.
“Guys are in new roles this year than they were last year. Can they handle it? Can they be successful in those new roles? Right now the answer is no, in terms of winning games,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “But we are showing flashes. We were able to come back (at Washington on Sunday) and able to cut it to a one-possession game. We weren’t able to come back and win. And part of that is playing smart down the stretch.”