March 10, 2011
He called Colorado, which will join the Pac-12 next year, and Nebraska, which is leaving for the Big Ten, "the two weakest basketball programs" in the Big 12. He went on to say of the team's departures: "I think it makes the basketball league stronger."
As the final seconds of Thursday's quarterfinal game between Kansas State and Colorado ticked down at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, a mere 2 1/2 hours from the Missouri state capitol, Nixon had to be cringing.
On Missouri soil, Colorado upset Kansas State 87-75 and solidified its spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.
"I think the word that comes to my mind after this game is just pride," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said in the postgame press conference. "Pride in Colorado basketball. Pride in what we represent, and most importantly pride in these young men, because they battled tonight."
Pride might be what Boyle is thinking, but for the rest of us, shock might be more appropriate. It's not that this Colorado team didn't show flashes of awesomeness throughout the year. It beat Missouri, Texas, Kansas State -- twice -- and took Kansas to the wire. But few thought the Buffs, who barely escaped their first round game against Iowa State, had enough horses to take down a Kansas State squad that came into the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country.
Colorado is going to the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament for the first time ever. It was 0-9 in quarterfinal games and even though it had beaten Kansas State in the two regular season meetings, no one thought the Buffs would finish the trifecta.
I'm sure Kansas State coach Frank Martin didn't even have to say anything to his team in the locker room. He just threw out that angry caveman stare of his and heads immediately went down in shame.
Now, instead of looking forward to a rival rematch of Kansas and Kansas State, we have Kansas and Colorado, which actually, now, has just as much intrigue. Unless you're a Kansas fan, you're cheering for Colorado. It's human nature to cheer for the underdog, and Colorado is it. It has two great scorers in Alec Burks and Cory Higgins and several complementary players who seem to provide just enough to get the Buffs through.
Kansas hammered Colorado when the two teams played back in February, but the meeting before that Colorado lost by just four.
But the bigger picture, for Colorado -- and even Kansas State -- is the NCAA Tournament. Both teams are in, but where will they be seeded? Kansas State's early exit could net them a 7, 8, or even 9 seed on Sunday. Colorado could end up in the same range depending on what happens Friday.
"We wanted to make a statement when we came here, we came here to win it, so there's a lot left," Higgins said. "I hope it (solidifies our NCAA Tournament bid), we just beat a top 10 team, I feel like, three times this year. So I hope that that solidifies us. If it doesn't, I don't know what does."