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Keeler: Leave CU Buffs, KJ Simpson, Tad Boyle out of NCAA Tournament? March Madness, indeed!

Dropkick me through the goalposts of life for even typing this, Ralphie, but the best defense for the Buffs and the NCAA Tournament rests by paraphrasing … Scott Frost.

Yeah, yeah, I know. That one.

Ain’t big-time college sports without a little old-fashioned politicking, right? Nine outta 10 stuffed suits would have the Buffs (24-9 as of Saturday morning) punching their ticket to Bracketville after that gutsy win over Wazzu late Friday, with or without the automatic bid from the final Pac-12 tourney as we knew it. Then again, if we’ve learned anything from decades of scars, it’s to never assume anything with the Big Dance party-planning committee on Selection Sunday. Let alone common sense.

But to the esteemed wingtips who have us all by the basketballs this weekend, I would seal Tad Boyle’s case by asking one simple question:

If your job depended on playing either CU or Indiana State in order to keep said job, which team would you rather face? Right now?

It ain’t the one with KJ Simpson in the backcourt, I can promise you that. Or the one with Cody Williams, future NBA gazillionaire, coming off the bench. Or the one that had won eight straight, five of those coming on road or neutral floors, entering Saturday night’s conference championship game against Oregon.

“At that point, there’s no excuses,” Simpson, the best college guard most of America’s never heard of, told reporters in Vegas after dropping 18 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four 3-pointers on Utah in a Pac-12 tourney quarterfinal win Thursday evening.

“The moment we make an excuse, that’s when stuff will start to go bad for us as a team and as a group. I think we’re all just all bought-in as (far as) team basketball and playing together and playing for each other.”

You want hot? Before Friday’s win over Wazzu, among major-conference peers, only Houston (10-0), UConn (9-1), Purdue (9-1), Saint Mary’s (9-1) and South Florida (9-1) had won more of their last 10 games than CU’s eight.

You want substance? The Buffs went into Saturday evening ranked No. 24 in the NET, one of the NCAA’s top metrics when it comes to comparing at-large candidates for the Big Dance. Context: Since the NET was introduced for the 2018-19 season, no team with a ranking of No. 28 or better has failed to get their tickets punched to Bracketville.

You want pathos? The Buffs have been running with a limp for months, a MacGyvered roster held together through injuries by duct tape, guts, and the sheer force of Tad Boyle’s will. Four of those aforementioned, gotta-have-it, late-season victories came without the services of Williams at all.

Skeptics will point to a 4-5 record in Quad 1 games and howl at the moon, but that’s more about the Pac-12 going out with a whimper than the size of the fight in Boyle’s dawgs. Flags for March are planted in November and December, and yes, CU got a lot of its worst work out of the way early.

But since Boxing Day, the Buffs are also 7-4 in games against teams ranked among the top 70 in the NET, 3-3 away from Boulder. Over that same span, CSU — which has largely been considered a lock to crack the NCAA field for months — is 5-6 in those same top 70 tests since Dec. 26. And 1-5 away from Moby before Friday evening.

Besides, are you gonna tell CU center Eddie Lampkin Jr. no? To his face?

“What’s crazy is,” Lampkin told the Pac-12 Network immediately after double-doubling Utah to death, “(that) I’m really a pass-first big.”

Speaking of passing, Simpson did Shedeur Sanders proud with 6:04 left in the Utes game. The Buffs guard dropped a cross-court dime from about seven feet in front of one baseline, on a rope, to a target six feet in front of the other. A laser fired straight from the Death Star that knifed through a sea of Utes defenders and hit a racing Lampkin, in stride, as he galloped into the lane. The pass had so much mustard on it that it grazed the CU big man’s fingertips before he was able to recover, secure it and set himself for an easy layup.

“I ain’t gonna say my weight,” Lampkin told the Pac-12 Network crew. “But you ain’t never seen nobody (that big) run the floor like that.”

America needs to see this guy. They need to see Simpson. They need to see Tristan Da Silva, pure silk when it counts. They need to see Williams, a potential NBA lottery pick with a game smoother than an Isaac Hayes ballad, on college basketball’s biggest stage. While they can.

And Lampkin? If you don’t love Big No. 44, who plays basketball the way Fred Flintstone used to bowl, a defensive lineman’s frame with a pillow-soft touch, you don’t love the game, brother.

With 2:24 left in the CU-Utah quarterfinal, a win-or-else elimination tilt, big, bad Lampkin barged ex-Buffs center Lawson Lovering out of the way for a putback that pushed the CU lead to 70-55. He then made a rock-a-bye-baby motion with his arms, cradling the Madness, as the Sin City crowd chanted his name.

That moment put everything — the Utes, the game, the Buffs’ Bracketville bona fides — to bed. Because if it didn’t, the committee’s going to have one heck of a tap dance on its mitts Sunday explaining why.

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