FORT COLLINS, Colo. —
Coach Tim Miles has flipped on the basketball switch at Colorado State.
He'll be rewarded tonight when No. 9 BYU visits and his Rams play before a packed arena. His supporters are hungry.
Miles has the personality of a TV show host. He tweets to his Twitter followers during halftime of games. He's promised his son Gabe, 6, if CSU wins a championship, he's buying him a parrot. He's as positive as a car battery terminal. But more importantly, his act has convinced his Rams they are winners.
"He's the real deal," according to BYU and Orem High alum Rulon Stacey, CEO of the Poudre Valley Health System in Fort Collins. Rulon was president of The Ram Club, at the same time his brother Dr. Darrell Stacey, a former BYU team physician, was president of BYU's Cougar Club.
Although Rulon is known in Fort Collins as one of the biggest CSU supporters, it's also known in town that he is a huge BYU fan. He used to help KSL sportscaster Paul James on broadcasts when the Cougars came to town.
"For the past several years, Tim has been working to build the program," says Rulon. "It's been a challenge, but he is so clearly gifted in basketball knowledge and (has a) persuasive personality that the entire community was willing to be patient and wait for his plan to work."
Stacey says Miles is so personable and likable, people often don't understand exactly how good he is at what he does.
"You will find he is simultaneously funny and engaging — just fun to listen to."
Stacey guarantees, "Everyone in the CSU locker room, without exception, believes they can beat BYU."
BYU coach Dave Rose believes Miles has all the players he needs to be very good. And it shows.
When the Rams ran UNLV out of the Thomas & Mack earlier this week, it established a wake-up call for the rest of the conference. The Rams are inching towards a title chase and NCAA Tournament berth. No, not New Mexico, not UNLV — it's the Rams who are cruising for a third MWC spot in the NCAA tourney, if it's offered.
CSU certainly has the attention of BYU's players. The Ram win over UNLV hit them like somebody dumped an ice-filled drink cooler on their collective heads.
"We know how tough it is to win down at UNLV, so we know they're a much-improved squad," said BYU guard Jimmer Fredette. "They have been playing great of late. They have found out who their players are and how they are going to play. They are a tough team, especially at home. I know there is going to be a great crowd."
The Rams' spanking of the Rebels in Las Vegas may have been the best thing Rose could have asked for to get his squad focused for tonight's showdown in Moby Gym.
This is not a Ram team of past years.
"I would say that our team is resilient," Miles told reporters on a MWC conference call this week. "They have been able to persevere in some really difficult circumstances. Whether it's getting behind in a game and finding a way to come back and win, or being competitive and giving themselves a chance to win. They have been resilient in terms of scheduling, too. We've had an odd schedule with some games, then big layoffs, followed by a stretch with a lot of games in a short period. Our kids have stayed resilient and found a way to be successful in those environments."
This matchup is intriguing.
Miles' team features a great inside-out game. He's got a great slasher and finisher in Travis Franklin, a tough post player in 6-foot-9 Andy Ogide and consistent 3-point shooters in Dorian Green and Adam Nigon. The Rams hustle. They have chemistry. They share the ball and play hard on defense.
The Rams lead the league in shooting — .497 from the field — and are the best 3-point shooting team in the MWC at .374. If Miles can get his squad to hit 3s at home while the Cougars don't, they have a great chance for an upset of No. 9 BYU.
On the other hand, the Cougars' transition game is so efficient, and they play so fluidly without turnovers, they are a team that can be outrebounded and outshot and still win.
The Rams may be more accurate from the Cougars from behind the arc, but BYU has taken 109 more 3-pointers and made 44 (132 points) more from that range. It is the getting-that-many-more chances in a game of up-tempo basketball where the Cougars excel.
So it should be entertaining.
Tonight's game is expected to be the first sellout in Moby Gym for the Rams in eight years.
I like Miles. He is one of the best interviews in the league, win or lose. He has manners. He is respectful, patient, funny and doesn't take himself all that serious when he's describing himself, his team or his program.
If the Rams are this good, and it seems they are with wins over UNLV, Mississippi and Southern Mississippi, then this game should be far more competitive than it's been of late. They've played 11 of 18 games away from home and it's made them tough and confident.
The Rams were a combined 1-24 against UNLV and BYU before they embarrassed Lon Kruger's squad this week.
To be successful tonight, Miles' squad must overcome a painful string of recent beatdowns by the Cougars. In going 0-8 against BYU, CSU has lost by an average margin of 24.4 points and a whopping 30.6 in the last five. The Cougars lead the MWC in average scoring margin (18.2 ppg).
College basketball guru Ken Pomroy predicts BYU has a 76 percent chance of defeating the Rams today. His score is 84-74.
We shall see.