The No. 15 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament is the Northern Colorado Bears, who will take on the second-seeded San Diego State Aztecs in the first round in Tuscon. Northern Colorado will be making the first NCAA Tournament bracket appearance in the school's fifth year of postseason eligibility since moving to Division I. The Bears are led by first-year head coach B.J. Hill, who rose to the job after his former boss, Tad Boyle, took the head coaching job at the University of Colorado.
Northern Colorado is an outstanding shooting team, both at the charity stripe and from beyond the arc. The Bears shoot just under 39 percent from three-point range as a team and have five players at 38 percent or better. Northern Colorado shoots 77 percent from the free-throw line as a team. The Bears were 4-24 and ranked last in RPI just five years ago in 2006-07.
Record: 21-10, 13-3 Big Sky Conference
Key wins: Feb. 19, 2011 at New Mexico State, 82-80: After going 1-4 in games decided by three points or less, the Bears held on late to beat a quality team from the WAC.
Feb. 28, 2011 at Idaho State, 77-74: Northern Colorado held off a pesky conference foe on the road to maintain its grip on the regular-season conference title.
March 9, 2011 vs. Montana, 65-60: The Bears came from behind to clinch their first NCAA Tournament berth.
Key losses: Dec. 12, 2010 at Illinois, 86-76: After falling behind by 19 at halftime, Northern Colorado rallied in the second half and made the Illini uneasy late at Assembly Hall.
Jan. 29, 2011, at Weber State, 72-71: Weber State guard Scott Bamforth hit a 40-foot buzzer beater to hand the Bears their first conference loss. Lessons learned from the loss helped the Bears to win their next four games decided by three or less.
Player(s) to watch: Devon Beitzel, a senior guard who was named the Big Sky MVP this season and is averaging 21.4 points per game. His game has been compared to BYU star Jimmer Fredette. Beitzel shoots better than 38 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line, a place he's been 216 times this season.
Northern Colorado profile by Jordan Freemyer of SB Nation Denver.