A postseason run like the one the Colorado Mines men’s basketball team is on would have been unthinkable, or at least unlikely, just a decade ago.
“No coaches would have put us in that situation,” Pioneers coach Michael Zeman said of the PacWest matchup against Angelo State on Saturday in Bakersfield, California. “I don’t think any of our ADs or presidents would’ve thought it would happen.”
Mines went 8-17 in 2007-08, the year before Zeman took over. He has one year remaining on his contract and will be in his sixth season at Mines.
The 19-12 Pioneers (32-6) feature more seniors and depth than in their history, and have reached the quarterfinals by winning every round of the conference tournament. They will take on the No. 3 seed Angelo State (28-7) with a chance to play next Friday in the semifinals.
Mines is hosting its tournament for the third time in school history. The Pioneers lost to Southern Utah in the 2008-09 quarterfinals, a game in which Zeman took his players out of the building early for discipline reasons.
“They were kind of taking things a little too seriously in there that game,” he said. “That might have had something to do with it.”
The teams already met in the regular season, as Angelo State won 75-60 at home. Some of the Pioneers, especially their big men, were affected by the heat and humidity in that game.
“We had to step it up as far as our physicality against them,” he said. “We were tired.”
Mines led 28-27 at halftime and held the visitors to 42.4 percent shooting in the second half, including 0 for 14 from 3-point range.
The Pioneers have seen the game played at San Francisco-Northern California’s Kezar Pavilion, the home of the San Francisco 49ers, and will play Angelo State in the neutral site, Cal State Bakersfield’s Turner Arena. Zeman is aware of the Spectrum at Spectrum, the home of the Utah Jazz, but will not change his philosophy or style of play because of the venue.
“You have to go through Division I teams,” he said. “It’s not anything different for us.”
Last year, Colorado Mines was tournament runner-up in the PacWest and made it to the semifinals for the first time in school history. The Pioneers lost to conference champion Cal State Bakersfield, 75-69. That marked the second straight year Zeman took the Pioneers to the quarterfinals only to lose to Cal State Bakersfield.
This year, Zeman is embracing the challenge of making it all the way.
“A first time in any way,” he said. “We’re at a new level, getting this far, not just for our program, but the league.”
On the court, Colorado Mines has been impressive. The Pioneers have won eight of their last nine games, but the first two losses were to Cal State Bakersfield and then-conference champion Seattle University. They defeated the Huskies at home to close the regular season with the best record in school history.
The Pioneers have four players averaging in double figures in scoring and six averaging 8.7 or more rebounds.
Zeman is happy about what the near future holds for his team.
“This is an exciting time,” he said. “We had our detractors a year ago, people doubted our season, whether we could be this deep. They said, ‘you guys wouldn’t make it to the end.’
“But look at where we are right now. Now, we have a chance to do something.”
This season, Zeman’s teams have gone 9-5 against PacWest opponents. Next season will be his sixth year with the Pioneers. He says this team would be successful even if he retired after this season.
“We’re going to have some holes to fill, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “This group has had a ton of growth and has really improved and turned the corner in a lot of areas, not just on the court, but off the court. There are a lot of things for me to be pleased about.”