In the past, the annual naming of teams chosen to participate in the NCAA men's basketball tournament has been the equivalent of famine in these parts. And while getting two teams into the field may not qualify as a feast, it's definitely a wonderful change of pace. Now comes the next question: Do the CU Buffs and the CSU Rams, both of which wound up as eleven seeds, have a chance in hell of getting past the first round? Short answer: Yes, but it won't be easy.
Last year, the CU Buffs had a gut-shot of a selection Sunday, becoming one of the year's most notable snubs. But in 2012, fortunately, the squad dispensed with the suspense by squeaking out a win over Arizona in the Pac 12 tournament championship, earning an automatic bid.
In contrast, the Rams wound up as a bubble team -- one whose invite was dependent on the whims of the notoriously fickle selection committee. What pushed the squad over the top? Obviously, quality wins over UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico played a big part. But so did their presence in the Mountain West conference.
There's irony in that, since the Mountain West's perceived weakness as compared to power conferences like the Pac 12 has worked against its members in the past. This year, however, the MWC has won the admiration of basketball aficionados nationwide, even as the Pac 12's reputation has cratered. Indeed, only one other school from the latter conference collected a ticket to the Big Dance, and that outfit -- Cal -- was insulted by being required to participate in one of four play-in games. Only a victory in that contest will result in entry to the traditional field of 64.
Of course, neither Colorado representative was supposed to get this far. The Buffs, having lost stars Alec Burks and Cory Higgins last year, were supposed to suffer through a transition season, especially given their entry into the Pac 12. And the Rams were quite simply on no major prognosticator's radar. But thanks in large part to remarkable coaching jobs by helmsmen Tad Boyle and Tim Miles, they both overachieved in a major way.
Can they continue to do so? Well, CU will play UNLV, which is hardly invincible; as noted above, the Runnin' Rebels fell to the Rams earlier this year, and also faltered in the Mountain West tournament, to New Mexico. Granted, the Buffs lost to CSU, too, in a 65-64 hearbreaker (or thriller, depending upon your loyalties) circa November. And UNLV has plenty of talent, as emphasized by CBS Sports' Seth Davis, who thinks the team has the stuff to make a deep tourney run -- possibly Elite Eight deep. But the Buffs' Carlon Brown and Andre Roberson are playing at a very high level right now, and the fact that they'll be competing in Albuquerque means a sizable number of Colorado boosters will likely attend. CU arranged for a slew of the Buffs' super fans to be present at the Pac 12 tourney, as well, and the energy they brought shouldn't be dismissed.
The Rams, on the other hand, will face off against Murray State, an outfit that qualifies as something of a mystery. The Racers boast the best win-loss percentage of any of the invitees, including top seed Kentucky: a gaudy 30-1 mark. But because they're in the Ohio Valley Conference, their competition hasn't exactly been pedigreed. They're either the real deal or pretenders -- and while most of us lean toward the former conclusion, based largely on the astonishing play of talented point guard Isaiah Canaan, the latter prospect can't be ignored.
Most observers expect the Buffs and the Rams to be one and done. But March Madness is all about surprises, right?
Look below to see a video of CU Buffs fans who traveled to the Pac 12 tournament and a clip of CSU boosters storming the court after defeating UNLV, which was ranked in the top twenty at the time.
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