Brooks: 'Greedy' Buffs Draw Illini In First NCAA Game
"He who is greedy is always in want."
BOULDER - Then again, greed isn't so bad. And for a collection of overachievers it can be a very good thing.
Back in mid-November, coach Tad Boyle and his young Colorado Buffaloes worked up a significant reservoir of the stuff along the drizzly, dank South Carolina coast, unexpectedly winning the Charleston Classic.
When the Baby Buffs returned with it to the Rockies, Boyle found them - to quote the poet - "always in want." And Sunday afternoon in their coach's den, their want was rewarded.
Colorado will play Illinois in the NCAA Tournament on Friday (2:40 p.m. MDT) in Austin, Texas. The Buffs are a No. 10 seed, the Illini a No. 7. It is CU's 12th overall NCAA appearance, the second consecutive trip to the Big Dance, and the first time for back-to-back appearances by the Buffs on March's majestic college dance card in 50 years (1961-62/1962-63).
Before their successful stint in Charleston, Boyle conceded if this was an NCAA Tournament team he couldn't see it coming.
"I wasn't sure," he said after Sunday's early, anxious moments had passed. "I'll be honest with you, when I looked at our schedule before the season started, after Europe, I was thinking 15 to 17 wins - somewhere in that neighborhood. Less than that and I think we would have underachieved, over that I think maybe we overachieved, just because of our youth and our schedule early.
"What happens is, you win early like we did in Charleston, we beat some good teams and you start getting greedy. You want a little bit more and a little bit more. Once that happened, I think my expectations, our fans' expectations, everybody's expectations go up."
Boyle is very careful, very crafty not to hitch his expectations to those circulating outside the Coors Events Center. But this time, he might have found it difficult not to. He saw what his third CU team might be if it improved month to month, and by the final week of the regular season - that would be before an ugly home loss to Oregon State - he had seen indications that if it didn't repeat as Pac-12 tournament champions, it could be among the NCAA's 37 at-large entries.
And that's as much a tribute to his upgrade of CU hoops as was winning four games in four days last March in L.A.
"This is a hard tournament to get into," Boyle said. "We can't ever take this for granted. This is the first back-to-back NCAA Tournaments (for CU) since the early '60s - a long, long time ago . . . so in the modern era, the first back-to-back. We don't want it to be the last. I think it's a great step forward for our program to get an at-large bid. Obviously we'd rather win the Pac-12 Tournament, but the fact we didn't and we got in shows some respect (by the Selection Committee)."
That respect didn't show itself for what seemed a painfully long time Sunday afternoon. The CBS Selection Show went through a pair of 15-minute segments in announcing the Midwest and South brackets before "Colorado" flashed on the screen opposite Illinois in the East.
During their half-hour wait, Boyle and his upperclassmen were flashing back to two years ago in the same room, when a festive Selection Sunday watch party turned funereal when the Buffs were spurned. Angst built on this Sunday when Pac-12 champ Oregon, which had defeated Oregon less than 24 hours earlier, was relegated to a No. 12 seed in the Midwest.
"I was sitting next to Andre (Roberson, junior forward) and we were both getting nervous," Boyle recalled. "All the guys who were here two years ago . . . the rest of the guys don't have any idea, but those guys do."
The younger guys, however, were not sitting at ease. "I don't know if I can even describe it," sophomore guard Askia Booker said. "Your ears get hot, sweat starts coming down your head . . . you're looking at teammates and they're trying to keep themselves composed. It's hard, nerve-wracking. But once you're in, it's all joy."
Boyle's nerves had everything to do with Selection Sunday 2011, but he added, "The fortunate thing was this was a new year, new team . . . a whole new deal. Logically - and I'm a pretty logical person - it shouldn't have had anything to do with it. But emotionally, it's human nature. You know how it works. We're all scarred and sometimes you're afraid of reopening those old wounds."
They stayed closed and when the Buffs were in, with their opponent, date and destination, the Boyle den erupted in cheers.
"I'm happy for Andre getting to go back to Texas (he's from San Antonio)," Boyle said. "Austin is a great place to go this time of year, heck, anytime of year for that matter. We're very fortunate, and we're playing a team from one of the toughest conferences in the country."
Roberson, the nation's leading rebounder who showed few effects at the Pac-12 tournament from a viral illness that sidelined him for the previous two games, called returning to his home state "definitely great. It's a double for me. This is a great feeling, especially after what happened two years ago. We're going to go and show everybody why we're one of the best."
One of Roberson's personal goals this season is to advance to at least the Sweet Sixteen, and he believes "we can do that this year with the team we've got and the talent we have . . . I won't say we overachieved, but we had a lot of young guys. We started to rebuild and I definitely feel we did a great job this year."
Being seeded 10th was in the neighborhood where Boyle believed the Buffs might land - and he likes that spot.
"Quite frankly, I was hoping for a ten or eleven more than an eight or a nine," he said. "You face usually a No. 1 seed (if you win the first game) and sometimes that No. 1 seed, they try and keep them close to home. They really put a lot of stock in those No. 1 seeds and once it starts going down from there, the part of the country is less important.
"So I thought certainly with a ten or eleven seed, your first-round opponent is maybe a little bit better, but your second-round opponent - now, they're still going to be good, Miami is a No. 2 seed and won the ACC and the ACC Tournament - but you never know what's going to happen in this thing. That's what makes this tournament so special - the upsets. If a ten seed like Colorado beats a seven seed like Illinois, it's not really considered an upset. But if a fifteen (seed) beats a two, it's a major upset. Those eight-nine games are flips of the coin. We're just elated to be a part of it."
CU (21-11) and Illinois (22-12) have only played four games, with the Illini winning three. Their last meeting was in 1987 in Champaign, where the home team won 69-65. If the Buffs advance to the second round, they catch either Miami (Fla.) or Pacific; they've faced Miami once (a 73-66 CU win in Miami in 1957), but have never faced Pacific.
Illinois finished 8-10 in the Big Ten Conference and was ousted from the league tournament by Indiana 80-64. But the Illini defeated the Hoosiers 74-72 during the Big Ten regular season, as well as winning at Gonzaga 85-74 during non-conference play. Both Indiana and Gonzaga wound up as No. 1 NCAA seeds.
"They're a very good team from one of the best leagues in the country if not the best," Boyle said of Illinois. "They beat Gonzaga at Gonzaga and I don't think anybody else did that this year. They're a quality basketball team and we've got our work cut out for us. Whoever you play in this tournament, you're going to play somebody good."
Before Sunday's Selection Show, Boyle asked his coordinator of operations, Bill Cartun, to start compiling tape on eight or nine possible NCAA opponents. Illinois was on Cartun's list, so Boyle and his staff are a step ahead in that area. CU's Illini scouting report will fall to assistant Mike Rohn.
The Buffs' NCAA experience last March started and ended in Albuquerque, where they defeated UNLV before being sent home by Baylor. Boyle said the biggest lesson learned from that trip was to focus on one game, one opponent: "Not looking ahead is the biggest thing; there are no tomorrows."
Playing in the moment is paramount, just as living in it on Sunday in Boyle's den was excruciating.
"Everything you do as coach, and our players do, day in and day out in practice, all the jump shots, all the wind sprints, all the defensive drills - everything that we do kind of points to this day," Boyle said. "It's probably more important than it should be, but that's the world we live in. You can't bury your head in the sand. When it comes down to one day, one decision and it's out of your hands, it's nerve-wracking."
When the Buffs were officially in, their coach reminded them, "It's a heck of a lot easier when we win the Pac-12 tournament; there's a lot less drama in this room."
But that's next season's goal. A more immediate one awaits in Austin.