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Historic opportunity at hand as CU Buffs face Florida State in NCAA Tournament second round

Buffs seek program's first berth in Sweet 16

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MARCH 20: Evan Battey #21 and Jeriah Horne #41 of the Colorado Buffaloes react to a play against the Georgetown Hoyas in the first round game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse on March 20, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MARCH 20: Evan Battey #21 and Jeriah Horne #41 of the Colorado Buffaloes react to a play against the Georgetown Hoyas in the first round game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse on March 20, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS — Even after thrashing Georgetown on Saturday, the Colorado Buffaloes still are receiving scant attention outside their NCAA Tournament bubble in Indianapolis.

That, of course, is fine with the Buffs, who have embraced, and reveled in, their underdog status.

In Florida State, CU head coach Tad Boyle sees somewhat of a kindred spirit — a program that has sustained a competitive track record but that nonetheless gets consistently overshadowed by its more glitzy conference rivals. Either the fifth-seeded Buffs or fourth-seeded Florida State will be impossible to ignore after Monday, when the teams collide in the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line.

The Buffs, who could do no wrong in a 96-73 first round win against Georgetown, are seeking the program’s first Sweet 16 berth.

“It’s hard to say an ACC team is under the radar,” Boyle said. “But to me Florida State is one of the better teams, year in and year out, that really nobody talks about at a national level unless they get to a Sweet 16 or Elite 8. Well-schooled, hard to score on. This year’s team, probably more than Florida State teams in the past can really shoot the ball and score the ball from the perimeter at a very good rate.

“Good offensively, good defensively, athletic. They pose a lot of challenges. But we’ve played against good teams all year.”

Following Saturday’s win, CU Buffs McKinley Wright IV and Jabari Walker relayed to the media how the team used the pre-tournament praise being heaped upon Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas as motivation, as Georgetown was a popular pick to pull the classic No. 12 seed-versus-five seed upset after rolling through the Big East tournament.

The Buffs instead ran Georgetown out of the gym. Yet on Sunday morning the ESPN College Game Day crew, while discussing the Pac-12’s surprising 5-0 start going into Sunday’s play (6-0, if you count Oregon advancing after Virginia Commonwealth was forced to withdraw due to coronavirus issues), the talking heads gushed about the Ducks, UCLA, and USC with nary a word about the Buffs.

CU went 5-2 this season against those teams and owns seven straight wins against USC. None of those three teams advanced to the Pac-12 title game, as CU did. The Buffs own the highest NET ranking, and highest tournament seed, among the Pac-12’s five entries. Yet national respect apparently will not arrive unless the Buffs keep winning.

“There’s a feeling amongst our league, certainly of our coaches and maybe even our players, but I know our coaches feel like our league is a lot underrated and disrespected, so to speak,” Boyle said. “The only way to combat that is to come to a tournament like this and win games, and hopefully continue to win games and put multiple teams in the Sweet 16. Now we can talk about that respect being deserved.”

Florida State survived a rugged first-round date against 13th-seeded UNC Greensboro, advancing with a 64-54 win. The Seminoles committed 15 turnovers and went 0-for-9 on 3-pointers, but still produced an impressive overall field goal percentage of .521 (25-for-48).

“They’re a team that’s pretty similar to us in a lot of aspects,” CU senior D’Shawn Schwartz said. “They’re really deep. We’re pretty much evenly-matched with size in our starting lineups. They’re a long, aggressive team. We’ve got to make sure we take care of the ball, I think that’s the most important thing.”

(5) CU Buffs men’s basketball vs. (4) Florida State Seminoles

NCAA Tournament second round

TIPOFF: Monday, 5:45 p.m. MT, Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Indianapolis.

BROADCAST: TV — TBS; Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Colorado 23-8; Florida State 17-6.

COACHES: Florida State — Leonard Hamilton, 19th season (377-227, 577-437 overall). Colorado — Tad Boyle, 11th season (233-142, 289-202 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright IV, Sr., 15.4 ppg, 5.8 apg, 4.4 rpg; F Jeriah Horne, G-Sr., 11.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Jr., 10.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Sr., 9.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg. Florida State — G/F MJ Walker, Sr., 12.5 ppg, .436 3-point percentage; F RaiQuan Gray, R-Jr., 12.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg; G Scottie Barnes, Fr., 10.6 ppg, 4.1 apg, .505 field goal percentage.

WHAT TO WATCH: The Buffs are unlikely to be left alone enough to knock down 16 3-pointers as they did against Georgetown. Even with that outside barrage, CU posted a 32-24 edge in paint points and likely will need a similar advantage to top the Seminoles.

NOTES: This will be the Buffs’ third second-round appearance in the modern era of the NCAA Tournament. CU lost to North Carolina in the second round in 1997 and fell to Baylor in the 2012 second round…Wright is set to make his 130th career start, which will tie Austin Dufault for No. 2 in CU history. Cory Higgins is the all-time leader with 131 starts…Backup point guard Keeshawn Barthelemy has quietly given CU quality minutes of late. In the past three games, Barthelemy has gone 5-for-7 with a 3-for-5 mark on 3-pointers. He also recorded four assists in just 11 minutes against Georgetown…Florida State is playing in its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament and the eighth under Hamilton…The Seminoles have advanced to the Sweet 16 six times, including during the two most recent NCAA Tournaments in 2018 and 2019…The winner will play either East Region top seed Michigan or eighth-seeded LSU in the Sweet 16.