ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Anything is possible in March.
The 11th-seeded Buffs were 10 minutes away from reaching the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
But Colorado's accomplishments during the 2011-12 season -- tying the program record for victories (24), winning the Pac-12 Tournament, making it to the Big Dance for the first time since 2003, advancing in the bracket for the first time since 1997 -- were unfathomable back in November.
Second-year CU head coach Tad Boyle had to replace 75 percent of the scoring from a team led by Alec Burks and Cory Higgins.
Not surprisingly, the Buffs lacked an identity and confidence early on, finishing seventh in the eight-team Puerto Rico Tournament. CU would have flown home from San Juan without a win if not for a furious second-half rally to beat a mediocre Western Michigan team.
"This win gives us confidence and that's important in college basketball," Boyle said at the time. "We're going to get mentally tougher for our upcoming games."
In October, CU was predicted to finish tied for 10th in the Pac-12's preseason media poll. The Buffs were in position for a top-three finish in their new conference until losing three of their final four regular-season games and settling for the sixth seed in Los Angeles.
"We need to challenge our guys," Boyle said after the 83-69 loss to Oregon State in Corvallis on March 3. "We need to get back and hopefully have a good practice or two."
The players responded with the most focused and intense on-court prep work of the season. CU rattled off four wins in four nights at the Staples Center to capture the conference tournament and earn the Pac-12's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
After Thursday's 68-64 second-round NCAA Tournament victory over No. 6 UNLV at the Pit, the Buffs were carrying the banner for the conference on the national stage.
"I think the Pac-12 got a bad wrap at the beginning of the year. We took some hard losses," CU senior Nate Tomlinson said. "But our boys are playing for what's across our chest, Colorado, and if the Pac-12 gets credit for that, fair enough."
The estimated 3,000 Buffs fans who invaded The Pit on Saturday night for CU's season-ending 80-63 loss to No. 3 Baylor were grateful after finally experiencing some madness at the end of the memorable journey for this team.
"Thank you seniors! Thank you seniors! Thank you seniors!" the C-Units chanted as the devastated Buffs schlepped off to their locker room while the Bears celebrated their advancement to the South Regional semifinals.
Boyle will replace Tomlinson, Carlon Brown, Austin Dufault and Trey Eckloff with a recruiting class that is ranked in the top 25 by the gurus. Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie, the highest scoring freshmen duo in CU history, are poised to move into leadership roles as sophomores.
Andre Roberson, the Pac-12's leading rebounder and shot blocker, will be a candidate for the conference's player of the year as a junior.
Jeremy Adams, Sabatino Chen and Shane Harris-Tunks will enter the offseason brimming with confidence after giving the team some quality postseason minutes off the bench.
"This was a great season and these guys are my brothers for life," Dinwiddie said. "The leadership of the seniors made an impression on all of us."
Three members of the Tad Five -- Lewis-Palmer forward Josh Scott, Sierra forward Wesley Gordon and Sterling point guard Xavier Talton -- are home grown talents who have led their high schools to top of the mountain in Centennial State hoops.
"All three of the Colorado kids we have coming in here can say they won a state championship in this building," Boyle noted recently at the Coors Events Center.
Xavier Johnson, a four-star prospect from Los Angeles, scored 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds on Saturday to lead Mater Dei into the Southern Section Division 1AA championship game.
The other member of the 2012 class, Chris Jenkins from Detroit, is a player Boyle said will come to Boulder with an Burks-like chip on his shoulder after being overlooked by Michigan and Michigan State.
"Our young guys, I love. The backups need to have great offseasons. And the new guys coming in have got to strap it on because we're going to be young next year," Boyle said. "We're going to have one senior (Chen) instead of four. It's going to be a different group, just like this year's was, but I expect us to get better as the year goes on.
"I'm as optimistic about Colorado basketball today as I've ever been. It's a testament to what this team has done the last two weeks to put us in this position."
Boyle still has a lot of holes to fill on next year's non-conference schedule, but CU will host Air Force and Colorado State at the Coors Events Center and will also travel to Wyoming.
The Buffs will participate in the Charleston Classic field along with Baylor, Boston College, Charleston, Dayton, St. John's and Southern Illinois. Anything can happen in November.
A rematch with the Bears would be a great way for the Buffs to earn a measure of revenge from Saturday's season finale and some early-season respect for the Pac-12 in 2012-13.
"We just all wanted to be great for these seniors. We just kept fighting and won four games in four days at the Pac-12 Tournament to get here. I'm very proud of them," Roberson said. "Even when you have a rough start to a season, you can never give up. Because you never know what can happen."