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Klee: Next step for NCAA-bound Buffs: Win in March

By Paul Klee Updated: March 17, 2014 at 10:27 pm 0

BOULDER — The Selection Sunday celebrations are shorter now, with far less pomp and pageantry. Tad Boyle's Buffs won't strain a shoulder patting their own backs.

"We're starting practice at 1:30," Boyle said sternly Monday as his players streamed onto the court at Coors Events Center.

As in, thanks for coming out, folks. But this is CU's third-straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Hold the ticker-tape parade as we go to work.

Considering the regularity of these postseason trips, I asked Boyle: Is there a next step for CU basketball?

"Absolutely there's a next step," he said. "The next step is advancing."

"There's no better way to earn respect than winning games in March," Boyle added.

This is the correct answer, from a coach who seems to have all the answers when it comes to resurrecting Buffs basketball. The first time CU has reached three straight NCAA tournaments also marks the first time it will wear the home jerseys as the higher-seeded team. No. 8 Colorado meets No. 9 Pittsburgh on Thursday in Orlando, Fla.

The next step is more difficult than the last one. Instead of beating a bunch of teams trying to reach the NCAA Tournament, the Buffs must beat teams actually in the field.

"We've won 23 games so far? That's a lot of games," point guard Askia Booker said of the next step. "We want to get to that point where we're winning 27, 28 games."

Pittsburgh presents a good matchup for Colorado. Their program philosophies mirror the other; Pitt coach Jamie Dixon emphasizes defense and rebounding, while Boyle has made those skills the mission statement in Boulder. The team that defends and rebounds better will win and advance to face No. 1 overall seed Florida on Saturday.

If Colorado or Pitt scores in the 70s, consider that a March Madness upset.

"We're trying to get farther than we did last year," CU sophomore and Colorado Springs native Josh Scott said. CU is 1-2 in its past two NCAA appearances.

As they opened practice Monday, the Buffs wouldn't admit the toughest truth about this season. When future NBA guard Spencer Dinwiddie succumbed to a knee injury in January, expectations for this season were adjusted. Surviving the Pac-12 and simply reaching the NCAA Tournament became a worthy goal.

Anything greater - A tournament win? Maybe two? - will be exceeding the expectations that had to be tweaked when their best player went down.

The NCAA selection committee showed great respect for a CU team that went 9-8 without Dinwiddie. The No. 8 represents the highest seed in program history.

Bless the Buffs for earning their position in the field. Curse the committee for showing the consistency of wart soup.

The selection committee butchered this bracket as if using a spoon to filet a trout. After analyzing the seeds and selections in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, it's worth wondering: Who's running this clown show - George Costanza?

It can't be anyone who actually watched this college basketball season. The errors range from penalizing unbeaten Wichita State (by naming Louisville to an adjacent 4 seed), to giving Massachusetts a 6 seed (the same as its seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament) to snubbing Wisconsin-Green Bay in favor of North Carolina State.

According to ESPN's RPI, Green Bay had two chances to beat top-25 teams. It won one, against No. 1-seed Virginia. North Carolina State had eight chances. It won one.

Once again, the committee was so patently disrespectful to teams from outside the power conferences, I'm eager to see if New Mexico, Dayton and Harvard will be forced to play their tournament games on 12-foot baskets. Or without sneakers.

It's a misconception the committee punished the likes of Louisville (a 4 seed), Kentucky (9) and Oklahoma State (9) with lower seeds than they deserved. They actually punished the higher-seeded teams that must face those gifted rosters earlier than they deserved.

New March, same story: the commissioners and ADs who comprise the selection committee have too much else on their plate to build a reasonable bracket.

A win or two in the South bracket would be another step for CU.

Its roster now is quite familiar to the big stage, and the Buffs seem to be approaching this trip like a veteran bunch. Hours after the bracket was released, Scott, the enjoyable sophomore from Lewis-Palmer, took jabs at his coach. He joked Boyle is "a superstar" around campus.

"He's the only one that has a Twitter name, #RollTad," Scott said.

To raise their star, the Buffs must roll to a win or two in March.

Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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