The shock that the Colorado Buffaloes and Buff fans felt by not getting into the tournament feels like a lifetime ago. Even so, the only two things that can heal the wounds are time and an NIT championship. And one could be right around the corner.
When the Buffs take the hardwood tonight against the Alabama Crimson Tide, they will be playing in their first NIT championship since winning the entire thing in 1940. Prior to that they were in the first ever NIT championship, losing to Temple in 1938. As coincidence may have it, my wife's grandfather, Marty Trotsky, was on both of those teams and fondly remembers traveling by train from the mountains of Colorado to the bright lights of New York City. Admittedly he was more of a role player, Nate Tomlinson to Bob Doll's Alec Burks, but he has the hardware and memories of an NIT championship to brag as if he were the tournament MVP.
And now Burks, Tomlinson, Cory Higgins and Levi Knutson are trying to bring a championship trophy back to Boulder. In order to do so they will have to get by the Crimson Tide tonight at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
CU's NIT path has been smooth sailing thus far, but now that they're outside of the friendly confines of Coors Events Center, things start to get interesting. The Buffs won their first three games of the tournament by an average of 12.6 points per game. In those games, Burks is averaging 25.6 ppg, while Higgins is contributing 20 ppg and freshman Andre Roberson is pulling down 9.3 rebounds per game.
The Tide hasn't had too much difficulty coasting through to the NIT Final Four either. Their margin of victory in their three wins has been 15.3 points and sophomore Tony Mitchell has given the Tide 17.3 points per NIT game.
The winner of this game will be the team to control the tempo. On the season, CU is averaging 79.6 ppg, good for 13th nationally. On the other side of the coin, Bama's slow tempo nets 66.7 points per game, 235th nationally.
If Bama can dictate the tempo and force a half court game, they will put themselves in a position to win. If CU can get up and go, Burks and Company will be one step away from putting a team photo next to Marty Trotsky's 1940 squad in the CU trophy case.
The game tips at 7:00 p.m. MT and can be seen on ESPN2 with the winner facing off on Thursday against the winner of tonight's Wichita State-Washington State game.