A week ago, the CBS Sports Network made a Really Big Deal out of the San Diego State-at-Colorado State basketball game. Which is the first time any sports network has made a Really Big Deal out of anything in Fort Collins in, like, forever.
It was also the first time the No. 24 Rams had won a game as a ranked team in 59 years. Really.
“The rankings don’t mean anything, but they do mean something in that your games get put on all the highlights,” said Doug Gottlieb, one of CBS’ top college basketball analysts who has his own radio show on CBS Radio (weekdays, 1-3 p.m., KFNZ 1320 AM) and co-hosts “Lead Off,” a sports wrap-up show that airs weeknights at 10 p.m. MT on the CBS Sports Network.
But here’s another reason CBS made so much of the Rams’ overtime victory over the Aztecs — a reason that’s a bit of a punch to the gut to a lot of local college hoops fan.
“The Mountain West is, frankly, a better conference than the Pac-12 and the West Coast [Conference] this year,” Gottlieb said. “It’s a really good league.”
Ouch, Ute and Cougar fans. The league you left behind is better than the ones you’re in?
Those are, perhaps, encouraging words for Aggie fans, what with Utah State headed for the MWC next season. But Gottlieb, who’s never shy about expressing his opinions, didn’t exactly go overboard in praising the Mountain West.
“I don’t think the teams at the top are as good as Arizona or Gonzaga, but their percentage of quality teams is better,” he said.
With the exception of Weber State, still battling for a Big Sky championship (a game out of first place), you don’t have to tell local basketball fans that this is a down year. Gottlieb at least gives Utah State a bit of a pass.
“They weren’t going to be that great this year anyway, but then you have those big injuries and it’s tough,” he said, pointing to the season-ending cardiac arrest suffered by Danny Berger, the season-ending knee injury suffered by Kyisean Reed, and the broken wrist that will keep Preston Medlin out 6-8 weeks.
As for BYU’s struggles in the West Coast Conference, “I’ve been surprised by how they’ve kind of under-achieved this year,” Gottlieb said. “I would have thought they’d be better.”
The Cougars, 9-4, trail Gonzaga (12-0) and Saint Mary’s (11-2).
And while giving props to the MWC, he didn’t disparage the WCC.
“That league’s a grind,” Gottlieb said. “And even though [the Cougars] have better resources than just about anybody in the league, you get out on the road and they kind of lock into what you do best.”
That said, he thought BYU’s home loss to San Francisco on Feb. 9 was “just kind of bizarre.”
If Gottlieb is right, the worst news is for Utah fans. The Pac-12 isn’t a great league, and he figures the Utes are “at least three years away” from being able to compete in it.
(Utah, 3-10, is a game out of last place.)
The Southern California native said recruiting in the Los Angeles area should be a top priority for Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak.
“Colorado has gotten a couple of the kids Utah needs to get,” Gottlieb said. “Spencer Dinwidde and Askia Booker — those should be Utah guys.
“Coaching changes will do that to you, but they’ve got to do a better job of recruiting Los Angeles, there’s no question in my mind.”
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.