LAS VEGAS — The Colorado Buffaloes will gather as they always do these days, seated six feet apart and masked for safety.
There will be no surrounding party for friends and family, no outside media recording what is certain to be a jubilant reaction when the Buffaloes see their name on the screen. Like everything else during college basketball’s pandemic season, Selection Sunday will be unlike any of the previous four the Buffs have celebrated under head coach Tad Boyle.
For this year’s Buffaloes, focused on their task-at-hand approach in March, that’s just fine.
Regardless of how the 23rd-ranked Buffs’ appearance in the Pac-12 Conference tournament championship game unfolds against Oregon State late on Saturday night, CU is in line for its highest seed at the NCAA Tournament in program history. In a year featuring empty arenas and daily coronavirus testing, celebrating a historic Selection Sunday amongst themselves will be just another step in the process.
The selection show airs on CBS on Sunday at 4 p.m. MT. Depending on Saturday’s result, the Buffs should be in line for a seed somewhere in the four to six range. In the national-seeding era of the tournament, the Buffs have never been seeded better than sixth, which they were after winning the Pac-12 tourney in 2012.
The Buffs have been seeded eighth twice (2014, 2016), ninth once (1997), and 10th twice (2003, 2013). The Buffs will travel directly to Indiana once their business trip in Las Vegas is complete.
“This (USC) win was an NCAA Tournament-level game. A second round or even a Sweet 16-type game,” Boyle said. “That’s what (Friday) was. Two teams that were very efficient and battled and made big-time plays. This was a high-level basketball game, and we made an extra play.”
Though the Buffs still had unfinished business on Saturday night, the late drama during the first two games at the Pac-12 tournament could help the Buffs get prepped for whatever unfolds this week in Indiana.
In the first round against Cal, the Buffs held off a late charge from the Golden Bears by getting three key buckets from three different players, beginning with the D’Shawn Schwartz post-up 3-point play that got Cal star Matt Bradley fouled out of the game. McKinley Wright IV hit a key shot clock buzzer-beating jumper to put the Buffs up seven points with a little more than 2 minutes remaining. And an Eli Parquet-to-Evan Battey layup gave CU a nine-point cushion with 65 seconds remaining.
It was more of the same against USC, as the Buffs took control with a 10-0 run late in the second half before surviving a furious Trojans rally thanks to Schwartz’s winning tip dunk with 3 seconds remaining.
No one knows what kind of noise the Buffs will make at the NCAA Tournament. Regardless, so far in March they have shown they are ready for the pressure-packed stage.
“The big thing for our team is we don’t panic,” Boyle said. “We don’t get our heads down. It was two nights in a row with Cal (Thursday) and USC (Friday) where they made some big-time shots down the stretch. Part of that, you might look at your defense. Part of that is they just made great shots.”