Schnepf: Dufault, Buffs focused on Big Apple, not Big DanceThe support Austin Dufault heard from Digger Phelps, Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas sounded nice. But it didn’t diminish the shock Dufault and his Colorado basketball teammates felt Sunday night when they learned they were not selected to play in this week’s NCAA tournament.
By: Kevin Schnepf, The Dickinson Press
The support Austin Dufault heard from Digger Phelps, Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas sounded nice. But it didn’t diminish the shock Dufault and his Colorado basketball teammates felt Sunday night when they learned they were not selected to play in this week’s NCAA tournament.
“Colorado shocks me,” said Phelps, one of three ESPN basketball commentators who ripped into the selection committee Sunday evening.
“You look at Colorado,” yelled Vitale. “There is no way in the world they should not be in this tournament.”
“VCU and UAB … no,” Bilas said referring to Virginia Commonwealth and Alabama-Birmingham receiving at-large bids. “The two teams that should’ve gotten in first were Virginia Tech and Colorado.”
Three years ago at this time, Dufault was nonchalantly watching the same selection-show banter from his home in Killdeer. Now that he is the 6-foot-9 starting center for Colorado, he was anxiously watching Sunday’s selection show from the home of his head coach.
Dufault, his teammates and about 150 Colorado boosters crammed around the TV expecting good news.
“We all thought we had a pretty good chance especially with the little late run we had at the end of the season,” said Dufault, who helped the 21-13 Buffaloes win five of their last seven games.
They sat and waited until the very last announcement. Even then, they had high hopes knowing that game was scheduled to be played in nearby Denver.
When St. John’s vs. Gonzaga appeared on the TV screen, the houseful of Buffalo boosters were stunned.
“We sat there in silence,” Dufault said. “Then we started asking ourselves, ‘Is that the last bracket?’ We were in complete shock.”
Then came the outcry from Digger, Dicky V and Bilas.
“It was good to hear all the support, but at the same time, you knew all the uproar wasn’t going to get us in the tournament,” Dufault said.
Instead of preparing for the school’s third NCAA tournament appearance in the last 42 years, Colorado now prepares for tonight’s NIT home game against Texas Southern.
With the post-selection shock now worn off, Dufault was thankful that his team was still playing. After losing 22 games Dufault’s freshman season, Colorado now has a chance tonight to tie a school record with 22 wins.
The Buffaloes are only the fifth team in school history to win 20 games.
“Being a part of that transition from going to 22 losses to 22 wins is pretty special,” said Dufault, who has been forced to learn the college game quickly ever since leaving his Class B playing days at Killdeer.
The former North Dakota Mr. Basketball played a lot as a true freshman — being forced to guard the likes of Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin, the same Blake Griffin who soared over a car to win this year’s NBA slam-dunk contest.
As a sophomore last year, Dufault was forced to move from his wing position to center. He had to guard the likes of Kansas’ Cole Aldrich.
“It was tough … I never played center in my life before,” said Dufault who, because of a preseason injury to 6-11 sophomore Shane Harris-Tunks, is still playing center this year.
But with first-year coach Tad Boyle’s motion offense, Dufault finds himself playing the perimeter at times. He’s averaging 22 minutes, 7 points and 4 rebounds per game.
“It’s been a fun year,” Dufault said. “But winning always helps.”
Even if Colorado is not going to the Big Dance. If the Buffalos win three straight NIT games — possibly all at home — they could be playing a semifinal game in New York City.
“The NCAA tournament is everybody’s dream and I really feel terrible for our seniors,” Dufault said. “But having a chance to play in Madison Square Garden is a pretty good tradeoff.”
Schnepf is the Sports Editor of the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.