March Sadness: Colorado’s Men’s NCAA Tourney Futility Spans 53 Years

Written By Ken Pomponio on 03/03/2022 - Last Updated on March 4, 2022
Colorado men's NCAA Tournament futility

March Madness?

Here in Colorado, March Sadness is more applicable.

Especially when it comes to the state’s men’s college basketball teams and NCAA Tournament success over the last half-century.

Colorado’s March Madness bettors need to realize as much as they prepare for the annual bracket racket.

Here are a few quick, cold hard truths:

  • Colorado’s five Division I men’s teams have never won a NCAA Tournament championship. The University of Colorado can boast of a National Invitation Tournament title, but that was way back in 1940 — the NIT’s third season.
  • In fact, CU, Colorado State, Air Force, Northern Colorado and the University of Denver have combined for only 30 Big Dance appearances total in the tournament’s 82 years. CU has accounted for 15 of those appearances and CSU 10. Air Force has made it four times and UNC once. DU is still waiting to punch its first Big Dance ticket.
  • Only half of those 30 Colorado school NCAA tourney berths have come since 1970. And just five of those 15 appearances over the last 51 tournaments have produced a win. That’s a paltry average of one Colorado men’s team tourney victory per decade during that span.
  • Overall, the five Centennial State men’s programs are a combined 15-33 all-time in the main March Madness bracket. Since 1970, that Big Dance record is just 5-15. The Buffs are 11-17 (3-7 since 1970), the Rams have gone 4-11 (2-5), the Falcons are 0-4 (0-2) and the Bears are 0-1.

Here are more startling statistics and morbid numbers to consider before firing up one of Colorado’s online sportsbook apps

Conference tourney titles have been few and far between

To have a shot at NCAA Tournament success, you first have to get there.

And punching a Big Dance ticket has meant either winning a regular season or postseason tournament title.

And therein lies the stumbling block for the Centennial State Five.

Since 1970 — as near as my research can certain — the CU, CSU, Air Force, UNC and DU men have combined for only five regular season tournament titles.

Under coach Boyd “Tiny” Grant, CSU finished first in the Western Athletic Conference in 1989 and ’90. 

DU, meanwhile, won the Sun Belt Conference regular season crown in 2005. The Pioneers also finished on top of the WAC standings in 2013 — their only season in the reconstituted conference.

UNC won the state’s only other regular season conference title since 1970 by soaring to the Big Sky Conference crown in 2011. That came in the Bears’ fourth season since moving back up from the Division II ranks.

That means CU or Air Force have gone 0-for-regular-season-conference-championships over the last 52 seasons.

CSU is currently enjoying one of the best seasons (23-4) in program history. But the Rams still will fall just short of winning their first Mountain West Conference regular season title.

Believe it or not, the Colorado school futility has been even worse in postseason conference tournaments. 

Try three total Division I postseason tourney titles. 

Those were won by CU in 2012 (Pac-12 fifth seed), UNC in 2011 (Big Sky top-seeded host) and  CSU in 2003 (MW sixth seed).

But that’s been it — in the last 53 seasons (and counting).

Big Dances have ended early

In the 1969 NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional semifinals, CSU upended CU 64-56 in Manhattan, Kan. The Rams went on to lose to Drake 84-77 in the regional final.

Believe it or not, that’s the last time a Colorado men’s hoops team has reached the Sweet 16/regional semifinals in the Big Dance.

That leads in to the most telling Colorado futility stat in this article.

It’s a tough one to swallow.

Of the 40 U.S. states with a current major conference or Mountain West Conference hoops school, Colorado is the only one without a men’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearance since 1970.

That’s none — as in zero — in the 51 tournaments contested since the 1960s ended.

In short, that means none of the five Colorado schools have been able to string together consecutive NCAA tourney victories in any of their 15 total Big Dance appearances since 1970.

As aforementioned, five Colorado representatives — CU in 1997, 2012 and 2021 and CSU in 1989 and 2013 — have notched first-round NCAA tourney wins since 1970.

But those March dreams died quickly for the Buffs and Rams in the next round. 

Colorado women’s teams have enjoyed more NCAA success

The five DI Colorado women’s teams have combined for more NCAA Tournament appearances (21-15) than their men’s counterparts over the last 50 years.

They’ve also enjoyed more Big Dance success.

CU (13), CSU (6), DU (1) and UNC (1) have accounted for the 21 Colorado NCAA appearances since the women’s tourney began in 1982.

The CU women have made it to the Sweet 16 six times in their 13 berths. They advanced as far as the Elite Eight on three of those occasions — all under Hall of Fame coach Ceal Barry from 1993-03.

The CSU women, meanwhile, made one Sweet 16 appearance in 1999. 

That team was led by All-American guard Becky Hammon, one of the state’s all-time greatest collegiate hoops players. Hammon, a former NBA assistant coach, is the current head coach of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces.

UNC is the Centennial State’s most recent NCAA Women’s Tournament representative, making the 64-team field in 2018.

Photo by AP / Charles Rex Arbogast
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Ken Pomponio

Ken is a fourth-generation Coloradan and career sports journalist with more than 30 years covering the gamut from the preps to the pros. A lifelong Front Range resident and son of 1960s Denver Broncos season-ticket holders, he is a long-time sports betting enthusiast whose insight and passion shine through in his coverage at PlayColorado.

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