AUSTIN, Texas -- Tad Boyle's baby-faced freshmen are all grown up.
Colorado's head coach believes Xavier Johnson, Josh Scott, Eli Stalzer and Xavier Talton are ready for their first Big Dance.
The No. 10 Buffs play No. 7 Illinois, a team with three seniors in the starting lineup and five players with NCAA Tournament experience, in the East Region on Friday at the Erwin Center (2:40 p.m., TNT).
"No. 1, they're not freshmen anymore," Boyle said about the four true freshmen in the rotation. "They've got 30 games under their belts, plus a European trip. I don't worry about that so much.
"We've got to play Colorado basketball, whether we're juniors or seniors or freshmen or sophomores."
Scott has started 30 games this season and is averaging 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds.
"Awesome, exciting, kind of surreal," was Scott's reaction to CU receiving an at-large berth. "Definitely watching (the NCAA Tournament) when you're young and now being able to play in it, not many people get to say they do, especially as freshmen. I'm pretty blessed."
The 6-10 forward has averaged 4.6 points and 7.6 rebounds since returning from a concussion that kept him out of the lineup against Utah and Stanford at the end of February.
Scott will match up with 6-11 Illini forward/center Nnanna Egwu (6.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg).
"You don't know when you're going to recover because you can't physically see any swelling going down or anything like that," Scott said of dealing with a concussion. "All I can say now is I'm back."
Johnson has saved some of his best moments for big games.
The 6-7 forward had 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting during the home win over Arizona, 22 points on 7-for-7 shooting in the win over Oregon when Andre Roberson was out, and 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting in the win over Oregon State at the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.
Talton played 10 minutes in the third meeting with the Wildcats and finished with four points and two assists. Stalzer averages 1.4 points and 9.4 minutes.
"It's kind of an advantage to know what it's like to be on that stage," Roberson, a junior, said of being a part of CU's NCAA Tournament run last year. "There's also a nervous feeling as well, it's always there. The freshmen are just going to have a little more of it being their first time."
The two other members of CU's six-man 2012 recruiting class, Wesley Gordon and Chris Jenkins, are redshirting this season and getting their teammates prepared in practice as members of the scout team.
"I have real sympathy for the place they're in," Scott said. "Even the games I was out with my concussion, it really stunk to just be sitting there watching helpless, unable to do anything besides cheer your teammates on. As a competitor who loves the game, it's tough.
"That's what they do every single night, and then come to practice and play hard. I think there are very few things harder than what they're doing, other than maybe an injury. Because they're good enough to play this year in my opinion."
For sophomore guards Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie, playing in the NCAA Tournament is just something the Buffs do every March.
The starting backcourt wants to make sure the Buffs play their best basketball of the season this weekend.
"We still have a lot of potential as a team. That's kind of awkward to say with it winding down and potentially being our last game," Dinwiddie said. "We have so much growth and room to be better. We saw that in the Oregon game when we blasted them without Dre."
With no seniors in the starting lineup and more talent set to join the program next season, the Buffs' future is bright.
That doesn't mean this young team is just happy to be here.
"It's something as a team you look forward to. You want to be in the NCAA Tournament, you want to be on the big stage hopefully," Dinwiddie said. "If all goes as planned, we could make it to the NCAA championship, which is a dream of all of ours. We don't look at this as a personal stage, we just want to go out and win."
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