The Colorado men's basketball team is beginning to concede the writing is on the wall.
Barring an unlikely run of four wins in four days at the Pac-12 Conference tournament in two weeks, the Buffaloes will not be going to the NCAA Tournament. The Buffs already were on thin ice for a potential at-large bid before heading to the Pacific Northwest for a two-game swing through Washington, and the losses to last-place Washington State in addition to Washington ended those hopes.
Sure, the Buffs pulled the four-wins-in-four-days trick at the 2012 Pac-12 tournament, but that was as a No. 6 seed on a team that featured two future NBA regulars in Spencer Dinwiddie and Andre Roberson.
Yet the two losses in Washington also made a potential consolation prize with an NIT berth much less of a given as well. With the final homestand of the regular season set to begin Wednesday night in a much-anticipated rematch against USC, the Buffs (15-12, 7-8) currently hold the No. 9 slot in the league with three games remaining.
"Last I checked, the winner of the conference tournament goes to the NCAA Tournament. So it is still out there to be had," said coach Tad Boyle, who is facing the prospect of missing the tournament in consecutive years for the first time in his eight seasons at CU. "We know — at least I know, and I haven't talked about it with the guys — an NCAA at-large bid is pretty much out of the question now after this weekend. The only way we're going to get there is to win the conference tournament.
"The NIT? Look, we'd better win some games because that's a hard tournament to get into. You just don't get into that. It's still an invitational tournament, much like the NCAA is. But I don't want to sell these guys short by talking about the NIT when there's still an NCAA Tournament bid to be had out there. We're just trying to win the next game."
The NIT features a 32-team field that grants automatic bids to any regular-season conference champion that doesn't make the NCAA tourney field. After that, drawing power is a consideration for the NIT selection committee. Given the array of national powers leaning toward NIT paths (such as Notre Dame) and the number of Pac-12 teams that might be in line for a bid ahead of CU, time is running out for the Buffs to solidify their postseason resume.
"Right now, we're hoping to end the season on a high note," redshirt freshman Dallas Walton said. "Just like coach says, it's our choice how we end our season. We can end it on a high note, or we can just get through the season and get ready for next season. Right now, especially for the seniors, we're planning on ending on a high note."
The Buffs have reached the NIT twice under Boyle, advancing to the Final Four at the end of his first season in 2010-11 after being one of the top teams omitted from the NCAA tourney. While that up-and-coming bunch used the NIT run as a springboard to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 2012-14, last year's NIT berth behind four fifth-year seniors (including soon-to-be NBA first-round pick Derrick White) was viewed as a disappointment. CU promptly suffered a forgettable first-round exit at Central Florida.