Hoopsters offto a fast start

Dec 27, 2005 3:42 AM

As the New Year approaches and college basketball conference play begins in earnest, the state of Colorado is enjoying arguably its greatest success ever.

Colorado is off to its best start since the 1989-90 campaign, compiling an 8-1 record that includes four straight wins.

Colorado State is 9-2 straight up and 6-2 against the spread prior to beginning Mountain West Conference play.

Air Force is even better at 10-1, including a perfect 6-0 home mark. The Falcons’ lone setback was to nationally ranked Washington, 85-74.

The lone disappointment among state Division I schools is Sun Belt representative Denver. The Pioneers are 5-5 after jumping out to a 5-1 start.

Granted a number of those early victories were against the usual "cupcakes" that all major schools place on their schedule to pad their victory total prior to the real season.

We’ll take a glance at the early conference schedule for each and assess the Big Four’s chances at a good start.

Colorado (8-1 SU, 7-1 ATS)

Three games, all wins, caught our attention. The Buffs trounced perennial national power Utah 76-52, winning as a 10-point favorite. Other impressive results were victories over TCU (77-59 as a 6½-point favorite and Ivy League power Penn (78-60) as a 3-point dog at the famed Palestra in Philadelphia.

Forecast: Dartmouth and Savannah State should be comfortable wins before the Big 12 schedule opens with giant tests at Texas (Jan. 7), Kansas (Jan. 11 in Boulder) and Missouri (Jan. 14 in Columbia). If the Buffs can avoid getting swept, the schedule is favorable the rest of January.

CSU (9-2 SU, 6-2 ATS)

The Rams handed Colorado its only loss, a 83-82 thriller as a 1½-point favorite in Fort Collins. State also handled Auburn 77-67 as a 7½-point chalk and beat Pepperdine by 15 as a 13-point fave. The lone setback was at Kansas State by just four points.

Forecast: The Rams face the toughest task of the quartet, with four of their opening five MWC games on the road. The first matchup at San Diego State (Jan. 4) is vital when considering the games that follow — Jan. 7 at New Mexico, Utah (Jan. 14 at home), at UNLV (Jan. 18) and TCU (Jan. 21 in Fort Worth). If the Rams open 3-2, they could hang in the title hunt all year.

Air Force (10-0 SU, 4-0 ATS)

The Falcons have turned their home court in Colorado Springs into one of the toughest places for opponents to play. Air Force is unbeaten in six home outings and suffered its only defeat at nationally ranked Washington, 85-74. The Falcons own a 75-53 upset victory as a 3-point dog against Miami, Fla.

Forecast: The opening MWC slate is promising for the Falcons, with home games against BYU (Jan. 5) and San Diego State (Jan. 7) along with a matchup against Wyoming in Laramie. After that comes two more home games against Utah and New Mexico so a 4-1 league start isn’t hard to imagine.

Denver (5-5, 3-5 ATS)

The Pioneers played Colorado State tough, losing by just six. However, the past two weeks has been a struggle. Losses to North Dakota State and South Dakota State won’t exactly earn respect points among the college basketball fraternity. The 22-point setback to Stanford as a +10 dog most experts would label as predictable.

Forecast: The Pioneers play their first five games in January without having to leave the state. Sun Belt Conference teams visiting Denver include New Orleans (Jan. 5), Louisiana Lafayette (Jan. 7) and Florida International (Jan. 14). Obviously a strong start in these home games is imperative to erasing a poor December.