The NIT bubble.
Being the No. 8 seed at the Big 12 Tournament and arriving here with a 15-15 record didn`t draw much attention as Colorado went through a crisp practice session on Tuesday at the Sprint Center that was open to the public.
A few hoops junkies in Kansas and Missouri attire showed up to scout possible future opponents, but there isn`t too much buzz surrounding Jeff Bzdelik`s young squad just yet.
Still, for a program coming off three consecutive 20-loss seasons and last-place finishes in the conference, the 2009-10 campaign has demonstrated that CU men`s basketball is headed in the right direction.
Especially considering the seven teams looking down at the Buffs in the Big 12 standings are expected to be included in the 65-team NCAA Tournament field to be officially selected on Sunday.
"It`s tangible evidence that we`re taking steps forward," said Bzdelik, who is in histhird season at CU. "Next year we need to finish higher than that. And if we do, then there`s a good chance we`ll be going to the dance. We just need to keep showing improvement."
The Buffs need a victory today in the opening round against No. 9 Texas Tech at the Sprint Center (10:30 a.m., Altitude) in order to be considered for the 32-team NIT field, which will be assembled late Sunday after the NCAA picks the cream of the college basketball crop.
Welcome to March mildness.
"You never know?" Bzdelik said when asked if beating the reeling Red Raiders for the second time in four days would be enough to get the Buffs into postseason play. "I will say this, we play in the No. 1 RPI conference, in which seven teams are going to the NCAA Tournament. And we`re eighth.
"All we can do is take care of what we can control and that is trying our very best to get ourselves a win (today). That`s what we can control. In football and the BCS, those football coaches ... you finish .500 and you`re going to a bowl."
CU finished the regular season with three consecutive wins, including a 101-90 victory over Texas Tech on Saturday at the Coors Events Center.
According to the Big 12, this will be the fifth time that teams who met in the regular-season finale meet again in an opening-round game. The previous four times, the loser of the previous game prevailed at the conference tournament.
"They`re going to play a lot harder. It`s not going to be like last game. They have something to prove," Cory Higgins said. "At the same time, we have something to prove, too. Because we didn`t play that well. ... I think you`re going to see a lot more intensity from both teams."
CU outscored the Red Raiders 53-35 in the first half before giving up 55 points in the final 20 minutes.
"I saw a slogan on a shirt the other day that said, 'My better is better than your better,'" Bzdelik said. "I`m sure coach (Pat) Knight feels that they can play better and there are some things that we could have done better, too.
"We played pretty well and won the first half, and they played pretty well and won the second half. We just had a little bit bigger cushion."
Alec Burks scored 24 points to become the top freshman scorer in CU history and was named the Big 12`s Freshman of the Year after averaging 16.8 points and a team-high 4.8 rebounds during the regular season.
Higgins dropped 30 points on the Red Raiders. The junior guard is the reigning Big 12 player of the week and a third-team, All Big-12 selection.
CU`s dynamic wing tandem always shows up ready to play.
The Buffs -- who are 9-0 when four players score in double figures -- need Marcus Relphorde and the role players to show up big in order to make any noise at the Big 12 Tournament.
"It`s going to be tough, they`re going to be playing with confidence," Knight said. "They`ve won three in a row and we`ve lost seven in a row. I think from a confidence factor they have the edge."
The Red Raiders (16-14, 4-10) have some veteran stars who have hurt CU in the past.
John Roberson (14.4 ppg) is the program`s all-time assists leader, Mike Singletary (14.9 ppg) scored 43 points in an upset of Texas A&M at the Big 12 Tournament last year, and Nick Okorie (10.8 ppg) scored 34 points at the Coors Events Center on Saturday.
"You kind of wipe the slate clean and get your guys motivated that anything can happen," Knight said. "With the NIT, I don`t know what our chances are since we`ve had a bad three weeks. But we`re in a great conference, and I think we deserve it."
Which sets this up as perhaps an unofficial NIT play-in game. A loss and the bubble will burst for the Buffs.
"We know that we can play with anybody," Bzdelik said. "We just need to keep getting better."