The only people who don’t think this is the golden age of CU basketball are those old enough to have seen the Buffaloes play prior to World War II. That’s because the recent run of success, which includes four NCAA Tournament appearances in the past five years, has been the best stretch for Colorado on the hardwood since the school won the Mountain States Conference title four times in five years; that heyday occurred from 1938-42.

In the modern era, there is nothing comparable to what Tad Boyle has done in Boulder. Prior to the head coach’s arrival, the Buffs had been invited to the Big Dance just twice in the previous four decades (1997, 2003); for the most part, the university was a perennial doormat in whatever conference they called home.

So seeing CU’s name consistently on the bracket every March is rather remarkable. What was once a rare happening is now a common occurrence; making the tourney is no longer a pipe dream. Colorado has become a consistently good basketball program, the type that plans on being a part of the madness on an annual basis.

But now, it’s time for the Buffaloes to take the next step. Simply getting to the NCAA Tournament is no longer enough; the days when participation ribbons were acceptable in Boulder have come and gone.

For the program to continue its upward trajectory, CU has to start being a factor when the field of 68 gets whittled down. To put it more succinctly, the Buffs have to actually win a game (or two) in the tourney; anything short of that should be considered a disappointment.

Why? Because simply getting to the tournament, only to get bounced in the first round, isn’t going to help Colorado basketball take the next step. In fact, a third-straight one-and-done might actually hurt the program; at some point, the NCAA Selection Committee could decide to let other school have a shot if CU repeatedly comes up short.

There’s already some evidence of people doubting the Buffaloes. Heading into the first round of the tourney, plenty of onlookers are questioning whether or not Boyle and Company can get the job done.

According to the overall seeding, Colorado finished the season as the 30th-ranked team in the country; they’ll square off against a UConn squad that checked in at No. 36. And they’re playing on a neutral court, at a location much closer to Boulder than Storrs. Yet when the Buffs take on the Huskies on Thursday morning, they’ll tip off as a 3.5-point underdog.

That sends a pretty clear message: People don’t think CU can make any noise in the tournament.

And there’s pretty good reasons to support that position. For the most part, that’s been the norm when the Buffs have gone dancing; picking against them has been good for people’s brackets.

In 2012, they secured a four-point win over UNLV to advance to the field of 32; but once there, they got torched by Baylor, losing 80-63. The next year, Colorado lost their first game, falling 57-49 in a game that seemed to feature a lid over the basket. Two seasons ago, the Buffs got embarrassed in their opening game of the tourney, falling 77-48 to Pittsburgh in a game that was a blowout from the opening tip. And last year, CU finished with a sub-.500 record and failed to make the tournament.

That’s trending in the wrong direction. But a win on Thursday morning, over a school that won the national championship just two years ago, would make flip the narrative. It would thrust CU into the spotlight, providing the kind of attention that helps attract star players, big donations and the other things that a program needs in order to be a perennial top-25 team.

And that’s the goal. At this point, that’s the next logical step for Colorado; it’s the only way that they can keep growing as a program, continuing to garner the attention of a fan base that is starting to get antsy.

Anyone who traveled to the Coors Events Center this season could see that the enthusiasm that had made playing in Boulder tough on opponents had started to slightly wane. The raucous crowds that once attracted ESPN’s GameDay crew were often sparse and quiet.

That’s because something that would have once been trumpeted was now taken for granted; 20-win seasons aren’t enough anymore. It’s time for the Buffs to reach the next level.

That means being consistently ranked, not just amongst the “others receiving votes.” That means producing players that go on to the NBA, with maybe even a one-and-done or two mixed in there. And that means winning in the NCAA Tournament, perhaps even advancing into the second weekend of March Madness.

Tad Boyle has done something in Boulder that most people thought was impossible; he’s transformed the Buffs into a team that is perennially playing in the postseason. But now, it’s time to take the next step; Colorado needs to prove that they actually belong in the big dance, something that can only happen by winning games once they get there.