Cliff Grassmick/The Daily Camera
Cliff Grassmick/The Daily Camera
NIWOT – Tad Boyle casually leaned back in his comfortable recliner, taking sips of soda as the NCAA pairings were unveiled on the television screen.
The Colorado coach hardly looked the least bit tense.
Turns out, he’s simply good at masking his emotions.
“I was sweating,” Boyle said.
Not for long, though. The Colorado players assembled in his living room soon erupted in cheers when the Buffs were announced as a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
That’s quite a change from two years ago, when Boyle hosted a watch party, only to have his team left out of the field.
That somber feeling had the Buffs squirming in their seats until the selection show disclosed their matchup. Colorado will face seventh-seeded Illinois in Austin, Texas, on Friday.
At 21-11 and with four wins over top-25 teams, it was hard to leave Colorado out. But the team had been in this position before, just to feel the sting of disappointment.
Colorado junior forward Andre Roberson almost didn’t show up at the gathering since Boyle’s place was almost a house of horrors to him.
Two years ago, Roberson thought the team definitely was in the field.
“But I was young and new at this, didn’t know the ropes,” said Roberson, who just recently returned to the court after missing time with a viral illness.
This time, he felt cautiously confident.
“We had a lot more success this season, so I thought for sure we were in,” he said.
But as the selection process dragged on, Roberson’s stomach began to sink.
Conference rival Oregon as a No. 12 seed? That couldn’t be good for the Buffs, Roberson thought. UCLA as a No. 6 seed? Again, not good.
“I had flashbacks to two years ago,” Roberson said. “I was really nervous.”
Angst soon turned into elation, though, with Roberson instantly jumping out of his seat to hug Boyle when his team made the field.
“What a great feeling,” said Roberson, who’s from nearby San Antonio and expects a throng of friends and family to make the trip to Austin to watch him play. “I’m glad we weren’t left out.”
The Buffs will return to the court Monday to prepare for Illinois, a team they really don’t know much about just yet.
Here’s a quick glance: The Illini are 22-12 in coach John Groce’s first season after replacing Bruce Weber, who was fired after the team missed the tournament last season. Illinois features explosive guard Brandon Paul, who averages nearly 17 points a game.
“Heck of a player,” Boyle said.
The admiration was mutual.
“They play teams like UCLA day in, day out,” Paul said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The two teams don’t have much history, meeting just four times with the Illini holding a 3-1 advantage. The last time the two met on the court was Jan. 31, 1987, in Champaign, Ill., with Illinois winning, 69-65.
The winner will face No. 2 seed Miami (27-6) or No. 15 seed Pacific (22-12).
“Quite frankly, I was hoping for a 10- or an 11-seed more than an eight or a nine because there you’re faced with a No. 1 seed,” Boyle said. “I thought certainly if you have a 10- or an 11-seed, your first-round opponent is a little bit better. Your second opponent is still going to be good, obviously Miami is the No. 2 seed, and they won the ACC and the ACC tournament, but you never know what’s going to happen.”
Back in early November, Boyle hardly believed this was a team that could make the NCAA Tournament. Given their youth, he figured they were likely a 15-win squad, maybe 17.
They beat Dayton, a then-ranked Baylor squad and Murray State to win the Charleston Classic to start the season, giving the team loads of confidence.
Along the way, the Buffs knocked off top-25 teams such as Oregon, on the road and at home, and Arizona.
“What happens is you win early, beat some good teams, you start getting greedy. You want a little bit more and a little bit more,” said Boyle, who’s turned in three consecutive 20-win seasons at Colorado. “Once that happens, my expectations, our fans’ expectations, everyone’s expectations go up.
“I think this is a great step forward for our program.”
Maybe even putting the program back on the basketball map?
“That’s one thing coach Boyle wanted to do, get this program known nationally and get this respect,” Roberson said. “We’re gaining a lot of respect.”
AP Writer David Mercer in Champaign, Ill., contributed to this report.