The Colorado Buffaloes at least know this much: Nothing will get any easier from here.
Despite making regular postseason appearances at different levels throughout the nine-season tenure of head coach Tad Boyle, the Buffs' track record early in those postseason tournaments has been frustrating, to say the least, since CU reached the Final Four of the NIT in 2011.
The Buffs followed that NIT Final Four appearance with four NCAA Tournament berths over the next five seasons, but advanced out of the first round just once. CU also bowed out quickly in the 2017 NIT with a first-round loss at Central Florida. Sure, the Buffs managed a first-round win in the CBI in 2015, but the experience in that third-tier tournament was so underwhelming that Boyle has said repeatedly the Buffs won't accept that sort of bid again under his watch.
With only one player on CU's active roster with postseason experience going into Tuesday's NIT first-round match against Dayton — junior forward Lucas Siewert played 15 minutes in that 2017 NIT loss at UCF — the 78-73 win against a hot-shooting Flyers team was an eye-opener for the bulk of the Buffs' rotation. By making the necessary plays late to knock off a fundamentally sound team that shot .545 overall, Boyle hopes his young roster got a taste of what the remainder of the tournament will look like.
Fourth-seeded CU will enjoy one final home game Monday against eighth-seeded Norfolk State, which upset top-seeded Alabama Wednesday night.
"Our guys now know that the NIT, you're playing against some really high-level teams," Boyle said. "Dayton is a high-level team. Whoever we play next...it's going to be a high-level team. There's nothing like experience. You can't talk about it as a coach. They have to experience it for themselves. (Tuesday) was a great step in the right direction in terms of their confidence. Now we live to see another day."
The short-handed Buffs took Wednesday off to recuperate while the next step of the NIT journey cleared. After playing three games in three days last week in Las Vegas, several CU players again logged heavy minutes Tuesday night. Between Evan Battey and Lucas Siewert going to the bench with two first-half fouls, and Tyler Bey missing a chunk of the second half with a leg injury, point guard McKinley Wright and fellow sophomore guard D'Shawn Schwartz picked up the slack, playing about 38 minutes apiece while sharing the team lead with 19 points. Freshman guard Daylen Kountz also played 28 minutes, his second-highest total of the season and his most in about two months.
Following Tuesday's game, Boyle said Bey would be re-evaluated Wednesday in hopes of clarifying his status for the second round. Bey seemingly avoided a serious injury when his left leg was rolled from behind with a little more than 12 minutes remaining against Dayton, though he clearly was not at 100 percent when he returned to the floor.
"Same thing we've been doing all year — just come together at practice and get back to who we are, which is defending and rebounding," Wright said. "I think we're good against anybody. So no matter who we play, we'll be ready."