On Sunday afternoon at the Boyle residence, the CU men’s basketball team awaited the news that they had secured a spot at the NCAA Tournament—but their name was never called.
As a No.1 seed at the National Invitation Tournament, the Buffs get another chance to prove their worth. The prevailing opinion at the Boyle house, though, was that Colorado was robbed of a deserved spot in the Big Dance.
Family, friends, alumni and reporters started to fill the Boyle residence an hour before the selection show, trying not to celebrate before the news was official.
“Right now we’re just a little anxious,” said senior Levi Knutson before the announcement. “We’re playing our best basketball right now, so we’re just trying to carry that momentum into the tournament.”
Knutson was referring to the NCAA Tournament, unaware that that momentum would have to play out in the NIT instead.
At 4 p.m., the Buffs took their seats in front of Boyle’s TV. The seniors—Levi Knutson, Marcus Relphorde, Trent Beckley, Javon Coney, and Cory Higgins—filled the front row, while Boyle sat in a chair to the left.
The coach and his guests watched the selection play out, growing more and more anxious at every commercial break.
“It’s gonna be a long half hour,” Boyle said.
They watched as Northern Colorado, Penn State, Missouri, Kansas State, Texas A&M, and USC secured their spots. After each announcement of a bubble team, the Buffs cringed. It would come down to the wire.
As the sportscasters announced the final round, someone shouted “This is it!” The players cheered, leaned forward with wringing hands, and waited for the news. They even saw a video of themselves on the screen.
One by one, the final slots filled. Colorado was out.
Cory Higgins put his head in his lap. Trent Beckley’s eyes watered. Most, including Boyle, just stared at the screen.
An uncomfortable feeling filled the room, and nobody spoke except the sportscasters on TV. For several minutes, the Buffs watched the post-selection breakdown, as the anchors expressed their own shock at Colorado’s fate.
Boyle muted the TV and stood up.
“I’m sorry, guys,” Boyle said. “I’d like to talk to the team in the basement real quick.”
The players slowly rose and followed their coach into the basement, while reporters and other guests talked with each other in shock.
Boyle returned several minutes later without his team.
“That’s the second-hardest meeting I’ve ever had to make in my life, and the hardest impromptu,” Boyle said. “I think we’ve got to let this sink in.”
Although the Buffs had several impressive conference wins, including one against Texas and three against Kansas State, Boyle said he thinks Colorado was discounted because of early non-conference losses against teams like Georgia, Harvard, New Mexico and Indiana.
“The reason we didn’t get in is because of losses in November and December,” Boyle said. “More weight was put on those… our team got better as the year went on.”
Boyle said the team’s graduating seniors took the news the hardest.
“I feel bad for five seniors… that aren’t going to get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament ever again,” Boyle said. “How they respond is going to be critical to how we play these next couple weeks.”
As one of four No.1 seeds in the 2011 NIT, the Buffs will return to the Coors Events Center to play No.8 Texas Southern on Wednesday night.
“We’ll use this to our advantage and see if we can… get a championship in another form,” said Athletic Director Mike Bohn. “It will be a challenge to keep that Coors magic going.”
Boyle said his team needs to bounce back in order to finish out the rest of the post-season.
“The way we’re playing right now, I think we’re one of the top 68 teams, but we’re not in the tournament,” said Head Coach Tad Boyle after the selections had been made. “We have to make a statement in the NIT. Otherwise, talk is cheap.”
Senior Cory Higgins was one of the few players who eventually returned from the basement to talk to the media. He was disappointed in the selection results, but he said his team would use that emotion as fuel for the NIT games.
“I thought we were gonna get in the whole time, and when it didn’t happen, there weren’t any words… but we can’t dwell on it,” Higgins said. “We have to go back to work and get back on the right track.”
Despite coming up short, Higgins said he still sees his senior season as the best yet.
“I’m gonna remember the guys the most, especially the seniors,” Higgins said. “We’ve been through thick and thin.”
Bohn said Colorado fans should not forget about the team’s successful season in the face of bad news.
“The important thing is not to take away from the great wins we did have,” Bohn said.
It won’t be easy for the Buffs to regain their positive energy, but Coach Boyle said his team has learned to stay strong.
“The biggest challenge is going to be to respond emotionally to this,” Boyle said. “But the thing that our team has done all year long is we’ve responded to challenges.”
A sign above the kitchen in Boyle’s home reads, “Never, never, never give up.” The Buffs may have to show their worth at the NIT, but they certainly won’t be giving up.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Caryn Maconi at Caryn.firstname.lastname@example.org.