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Elusive March glory within reach for CU Buffs at NCAA Tournament

Fifth-seeded Buffs look to end first-round drought against Georgetown

BOULDER, CO - Feb. 27, 2021: ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
BOULDER, CO – February 27, 2021: Colorado’s Eli Parquet glides to the basket during the UCLA at Colorado Pac-12 game in Boulder on February 27, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

INDIANAPOLIS — Reaching the NCAA Tournament hasn’t exactly become an annual event for the Colorado Buffaloes under head coach Tad Boyle. But it has occurred at a rate unlike any other era in program history.

Claiming March glory, however, has proven far more elusive. On Saturday, the Buffs plan to change that.

In a marquee opportunity the Buffs have been building toward since the 2017 recruiting class arrived to help hit the reset button on the program, fifth-seeded Colorado returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016 in a first-round battle against 12th-seeded Georgetown at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

It is the fifth tournament appearance in Boyle’s 11 seasons — not including the one denied CU last year then the coronavirus pandemic canceled the tournament — but the Buffs have notched just one first-round victory during that span. That was in 2012, in the first tourney appearance for the Boyle-era Buffs. Since then, the Buffs’ shooting touch went cold in a first-round loss against Illinois in 2013. They were routed by Pitt in 2014 without Spencer Dinwiddie, and CU wasted a nine-point halftime lead in a first-round collapse against UConn in 2016.

Yet the Buffs go into Saturday’s showdown with their best seed position in the modern history of the tournament. And Boyle believes that if his club simply plays its game, and holds its seed line, the rest will take care of itself.

“The fact that this is the highest seed that we’ve ever had, we want to take advantage of that,” Boyle said. “We’re a number five seed for a reason. Now, we’ve got to play like a five seed. If we do that, we’ll be OK. But nothing’s given.

“The longer you do this, it’s something we talked to our team about this year, is you’re playing regular season games and your expectation is to be an NCAA Tournament team at the end of the year, you’re playing in November, December…you’re playing for seeding. We’ve now put ourselves in position to have a good seed. Now we’ve got to go out and take advantage of that seed and play well.”

As is always the case in the NCAA Tournament, the Buffs’ success will be determined amongst the individual matchups. Win those matchups, and CU will have a good chance of ending that first-round drought.

The Buffs own one of the top point guards in the tournament field in senior McKinley Wright IV, but the keys for CU’s success likely will be a couple matchups at the defensive end of the floor. Junior guard Eli Parquet, a Pac-12 first team All-Defense selection, is likely to draw the defensive assignment on Georgetown leading scorer Javon Blair, a senior averaging 15.8 points per game.

On the interior, Buffs forwards Evan Battey and Dallas Walton will be charged with slowing the trio of Qudus Wahab, Jamorko Pickett, and Denver South alum Chudier Bile. Boyle described Pickett, who averages 12.3 points and 7.4 rebounds, as a “Swiss army knife” for the Hoyas, given his ability to produce from different positions.

“We moved forward mentally, and now we have our sights focused on competing and doing well in this tournament,” CU senior Jeriah Horne said. “Obviously we’re trying to key in on personnel and try to get as familiar with them as possible. But I think what’s most important for us is going out there and playing our game of basketball. Playing together and just having fun. I think coming off the Oregon State (loss) we get back to playing Colorado basketball. And that’s playing for each other, that’s being unselfish, that’s just playing hard and leaving it all out there on the court. That’s what we’re really focused on.”

(12) Georgetown vs. (5) CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: Saturday, 10:15 a.m. MT, NCAA Tournament first round, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis.

BROADCAST: TV — CBS; Radio — KOA 805 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Georgetown 13-12; Colorado 22-8.

COACHES: Georgetown — Patrick Ewing, 4th season (50-46 at Georgetown and overall). Colorado — Tad Boyle, 11th season (232-142, 288-208 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Georgetown — G Javon Blair, Sr., 15.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.7 apg; C Qudus Wahab, So., 12.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg, .591 field goal percentage; G/F Jamorko Pickett, Sr., 12.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg; F Chudier Bile, G-Sr., 10.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg. Colorado — G McKinley Wright IV, Sr., 15.5 ppg, 5.6 apg, 4.3 rpg; F Jeriah Horne, G-Sr., 11.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, .421 3-point percentage; F Evan Battey, R-Jr., 10.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Sr., 8.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg.

WHAT TO WATCH: While winning four games in four days to win the Big East tournament, the Hoyas held three of those foes under 40 percent from the floor. CU’s occasional shooting slumps this season haven’t lasted long, and after going 6-for-19 on 3-pointers in a loss to Oregon State in the Pac-12 championship game, knocking down a few shots early should provide a huge boost to the Buffs’ confidence.

NOTES: The winner of the first-ever matchup between Colorado and Georgetown will face either fourth-seeded Florida State or 13th-seeded UNC Greensboro in the second round on Monday…Schwartz needs five points to become the 37th CU player to reach 1,000 career points…Georgetown is making its 31st NCAA Tournament appearance and last reached the Sweet 16 in 2007…Ewing appeared in 31 NCAA Tournament games as an All-American at Georgetown in the 1980s, averaging 14.2 points and 8.0 rebounds while leading the Hoyas to three Final Fours and the 1984 national championship…As a member of the Big East, Georgetown has played regularly at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse, posting a 6-2 record there. CU has never played at Hinkle…CU, making its 15th NCAA Tournament appearance, has posted a 9-2 record in neutral-court games since the start of the 2019-20 season.