The Selection Show on CBS was barely underway when the Colorado Buffaloes kicked into celebration mode.
On Sunday, CU (23-11) was selected as one of the 68 teams to participate in the NCAA Tournament. The Buffaloes will be the No. 8 seed in the South Regional. They will square off against Pittsburgh (25-9) in the second round on Thursday in Orlando, Fla. The game is set for an 11:40 a.m. MDT tip, and it will be broadcast on TBS.
"I don't know much about Pittsburgh," sophomore Xavier Johnson said. "We're just hoping for the best. They're a good team, we're a good team. It should be a battle. Every game is a battle from here on out. We just have to keep playing hard and win."
For the first time in program history, the Buffs have earned an NCAA Tournament spot in three consecutive seasons — all under the direction of fourth-year head coach Tad Boyle. Overall, this will be CU's 13th trip to the Tournament, just the fifth since 1969.
In the past few years, the Buffs have had to sit and wait a while to hear their name — or not hear it at all. In 2011, they sat in Boyle's living room for an agonizing hour and watched 68 other teams get invited, while they were a surprise snub. Last year, CU's name didn't pop up until the fourth segment of CBS' show.
On Sunday, the Buffs were the third team to show up on the screen — just two minutes into the show. That set off a loud celebration in Boyle's home, where the team and other athletic department personnel gathered on Sunday afternoon.
"I love going to plays, but I'm not into drama," Boyle said. "I like to know where we're going and who we're playing and we found out right away. That's a good thing. Last year, I know we were in the fourth segment of the four. To have it come up as early as it did this time, it's a relief."
Overall, CU is the No. 32 seed in the tournament. The No. 8 seed in the regional is CU's best in the five trips it has made to the Tournament since the field was expanded to 64/68 teams in 1985. The Buffs will wear their white home jerseys in the tourney for the first time in the modern era.
"The No. 8 seed I think shows respect for our program, respect for our league and what these young men have done," Boyle said.
It also shows respect for what the Buffs have done in the second half of the season.
After losing star point guard Spencer Dinwiddie to a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 12, the Buffs went 1-4 in the next five games.
Led by Askia Booker, Josh Scott and Johnson, the Buffs are 8-5 since then, including impressive wins over fellow NCAA Tournament teams Arizona State and Stanford.
"I'm not amazed," assistant coach Jean Prioleau said of the team rallying late. "It's a testament to what coach Boyle does and what we preach day in and day out. That's what college basketball is about. That's how you build programs. You build it not off of one person, you build it off of 13 guys or 15 guys or however many guys you have on your roster and you go from there. That's what we did and that's what we stuck with. When you do that, things like this can happen."
Now that it has happened, the Buffs are quickly turning their focus to Pittsburgh.
"We have to get right to business and we know who we're playing and we're going to prepare," Booker said. "The reason why I'm not cheering and standing up is because I know how serious it gets. Last year we lost the first game to Illinois — a very winnable game. We didn't come out and take care of business and I don't want that to happen this year."
CU has never played Pittsburgh and didn't have much reason to watch the Panthers throughout the season. But, Boyle said CU's success will be determined on how well it plays its own game.
"The one thing I've liked over the last two or three weeks, since that Arizona loss at home and the Utah loss on the road is our commitment on the defensive end and our energy on the defensive end," he said. "As a coach, if that is there day in and day out, game in and game out, you're fine, because you give yourself a chance to win. If that's not there, this team is not good enough to overcome being mediocre on defense. We've got to be great."
Doing those things got the Buffs here, and they are eager for the challenge ahead. And, it didn't really faze them that No. 1 Florida — the top overall seed in the field — awaits them in the next round, if the Buffs get there.
"I love it," Booker said. "When Florida's name popped up, I wanted our name to pop up. It doesn't really matter who we play, man. If you think you're the best, you have to play the best in the country. Whoever that is you have to face them and show the world you can beat them and you can compete."