NIWOT, Colo. — When "Colorado" flashed across the television screen announcing the Buffs first appearance into the NCAA tournament since 2003, the entirety of those crammed into coach Tad Boyle's living room — players, boosters, fans — cheered and applauded with excitement.
But Boyle remained seated, smiling, but not nearly as jubilant as the rest of the group.
Of course, he already knew the Buffs were going to the dance. They'd punched their ticket by beating Arizona 53-51 in the final of the Pac-12 tournament. But it wasn't that knowledge that kept him so reserved. It was the fact that the exultation in that room should have been felt a year ago when those same players, boosters and fans watched the entire selection show and never heard Colorado's name called.
"They didn't invite us to this party," Boyle said of this year's selection. "We're crashing it."
Colorado was more deserving of a bid a year ago. The Buffs were 21-13, had wins over No. 8 Missouri and No. 5 Texas and had star talent like Alec Burks and Cory Higgins. Even though the Buffs lost to Kansas in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament, Boyle was so sure their resume was strong enough that he organized a watch party at his home so everyone could be together when their selection was announced. But after an hour of watching other teams snatch slots that should have been reserved for the Buffs it became evident that Colorado was being left out.
Colorado's rebuff was one of the most talked about snubs in the country especially after teams with lesser resumes earned at-large bids. And it became Boyle's rally cry as his team won its way to the semifinals of the NIT.
"When you go through what we went through last year it becomes personal," Boyle said. "I'm more angry now today about our team last year not getting in than I was last year. I am. And it's personal because of the young men that you're coaching and what it means to them. Everyone else is looking at programs and, oh it's just a name on the screen, but for me it's personal."
The night before Saturday's Pac-12 title game, Boyle texted the six players who left after last season - seniors Cory Higgins, Levi Knutson, Marcus Relphorde, Javon Coney and Trent Beckley and early NBA draftee Alec Burks — and told them the team was dedicating the championship game to them. He told them that if the Buffs won it would be vindication for what happened a year ago.
"I'm more proud to be Pac-12 tournament champions than I am of going to the NCAA tournament because it's diminished a little bit in my eyes because of subjectivity of teams getting in and not getting in," Boyle said. "That's not to say you can always make a case. Last year was hard for me, we had holes in our resume last year, but when you compare ours, we were a darn good team and we deserved to be in. There's no question in my mind. So, it gets personal. But again, we played our way in this year so we don't even have to worry about that or talk about that."
Colorado hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 1997. That year, the Chauncey Billups-led Buffs beat Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers before losing to Dean Smith's North Carolina Tar Heels in the second round. Thursday's first round game against UNLV in Albuquerque will be Colorado's first against a ranked opponent and the first step to what Boyle thinks will be some national respect for the program.
"I don't feel like we've earned the respect we deserve yet," Boyle said. "We got a lot of work to do on that — nationally. These last four days have helped that, but again the perception of our league isn't great nationally, so I don't know if we've climbed on anybody's radar saying Colorado basketball is for real now. We've got to go prove that and we have a chance to do that Thursday."