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Rams face powerhouse Duke

Colorado State will be a huge underdog tonight against Duke in the Huntsman Center.

Then again, what else is new.

The Rams have been underdogs in all five of their past five games — starting with their previous trip to the Huntsman Center just two weeks ago tonight. CSU (19-13) won four of those five games — including the win at Utah when they trailed by five points with under a minute to play and three straight in the Mountain West Conference tournament.

Of course, the Rams were underdogs in their MWC games, but this is a bit different. The competition level just increased several notches. No offense to Utah, Wyoming, BYU, and UNLV, but Duke is, after all, Duke — simply the best college basketball program of the past 15 years.

"Certainly it helps us to have been here (in the Huntsman Center) a couple of weeks ago and (it helped us) to get a big win against the Utes," Colorado State coach Dale Layer said. "But I don't know if that outweighs the eight high school All-Americans they have."

The Blue Devils, who were briefly ranked No. 1 this season after opening the season 12-0, enter tonight's game (approximately 8 p.m. tipoff) on their own roll. Duke (24-6) beat Virginia, North Carolina and North Carolina State to claim their fifth consecutive ACC tourney title on Sunday. The Blue Devils are young — starting two freshmen and a sophomore with three more freshmen getting significant playing time. Dahntay Jones, a 6-6 senior forward, leads the team, averaging 17 points and 5.4 rebounds. Freshman guard J.J. Redick, a 3-point specialist, averages 14.9 points while point guard Chris Duhon runs the team expertly, averaging 9.1 points and 6.7 assists.

While the Blue Devils are the decided favorites, they say they aren't taking the Rams lightly.

"(Colorado State is) a good team in a good conference and they won their conference tournament," Jones said.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski agrees. "The Mountain West had the sixth highest RPI and they are the champions. They won their tournament."

Colorado State, which survived a seven-game losing streak in the middle of the MWC season, is led by 7-foot center Matt Nelson (16.9 ppg) and 6-8 forward Brian Greene (13.9 ppg).

"All season we knew we had a team with enough talent to get here," said Greene. "The win over Utah in the Huntsman Center helped us a lot. It gave us a lot of confidence to beat a ranked team on the road."