(AP) — Colorado State first-year coach Larry Eustachy is taking his fourth school to the NCAA tournament.
The Rams earned an at-large bid Sunday. They’re the eighth seed in the Midwest and will face No. 9 seed Missouri at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Thursday.
Eustachy took over from Tim Miles in April and led a senior-laden team to a 25-8 record.
Along the way, the Rams jumped into the rankings for the first time in 59 years and were runners-up to No. 15 New Mexico in the ultra-tough Mountain West Conference, which sent five teams to the NCAA tournament.
Eustachy also guided Southern Miss, Iowa State and Utah State to the NCAA tournament before coming to Fort Collins when Miles left for Nebraska.
“I think coaching is really overrated,” Eustachy insisted Sunday. “Particularly in this situation. All coaches are pretty good if they get into the tournament. Players win games. Coaches don’t win them.”
He’s got a good collection of players, with five senior starters.
Led by Colton Iverson and Pierce Hornung, the Rams are one of the nation’s top rebounding teams. Iverson also averages 14.7 points and point guard Dorian Green averages 12.8 although he’s playing on a tender ankle that he sprained last week.
“I plan on playing. I will be ready to go,” Green said Sunday.
Iverson transferred from the University of Minnesota.
“Coming to Colorado State has worked out well for me. It worked out for the best,” he said.
Wes Eikmeier (12.7) and Greg Smith (11.1) also average double figures in points for the Rams, who get 5.5 rebounds a game from Daniel Bejarano.
The Rams haven’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1989, when they beat Florida under coach Boyd Grant for what was their first tourney triumph in 20 years. They lost their opener in 1990 to Alabama, then lost to Duke in 2003 under Dale Layer and to Murray State, 58-41, last year under Miles.
They were rolling along until losing four of their last 10, including a heartbreaker to the Lobos last month that snapped their 28-game home winning streak. A semifinal loss to UNLV in the MWC tournament wasn’t enough to keep them from making the bracket for the second straight year.
That loss also serves as motivation.
“We didn’t play our best basketball,” Iverson said. “We have a lot to prove this week. The extra time off will help us. We could use the extra time.”
The Rams didn’t have to sweat it out. Theirs was the second pairing announced.
“The best part of the selection,” Hornung said. “We didn’t have to wait 30 seconds. Our food was waiting and it gave us time to go get it.”
“It was quick,” Green said. “We knew our name was going to come up at some point this year. We are just excited to have the opportunity to go to Lexington and play better than we did last year.”
Green didn’t like the seeding, however.
“I am disappointed,” he said. “We were better than an 8 seed.”
Eustachy said the Rams just have to prove it on the hardwood.
“I can’t question the NCAA. I think they do the best they can. Obviously, that’s where they think we belong,” he said.
“We have constantly been battling to get to where we are and what we are trying to get to. We have to win to prove them wrong just like everybody else.”