It’s becoming commonplace for Chicago sports teams to break historic droughts, and Northwestern University joined that growing list when they were selected to their first NCAA tournament berth in school history.
The Wildcats won’t have an easy road through the early stages of the tournament, as they’ll have to take on ninth-seeded Vanderbilt in the first round. If they are able to get through that game, they will likely have to face top-seeded Gonzaga in the second round on Saturday.
With Northwestern in the tournament and Chicago sports fans digging their purple and white gear out of their closets, fans will be looking to hold their own in bars and living rooms throughout the Windy City, and we have everything you need to know to look like a college hoops expert on Thursday afternoon.
Just How Long Was Northwestern’s Drought?
When headlines about Northwestern’s historic tournament bid come out, they don’t really do justice to just how long the team went without getting into the Big Dance.
The NCAA tournament first started in 1939 with eight teams, and so it took nearly 80 years for the Wildcats to finally get the invitation to participate. Out of all of the original NCAA Division I schools, Northwestern was one of only five that had not made the tournament, and they finally broke that streak on Sunday.
So Who Has the Longest Drought Now?
Much like the Chicago Cubs passing the baton for longest World Series drought to the Cleveland Indians last October, Northwestern now gets to hand the reins for longest tournament drought over to another school.
As things stand right now, four schools that have been in Division I since 1948 haven’t been to the NCAA tournament, and they now all share the distinction of longest drought. The U.S. Military Academy, The Citadel, St. Francis Brooklyn, and William & Mary have not appeared in the tournament yet, so they’ll all be hoping to get into the field like Northwestern has.
Chris Collins: The Man Behind the Busted Drought
The selection is the culmination of the work that head coach Chris Collins has put into the program since taking over before the 2013-14 season. In his fourth campaign at the school, Collins helped lead the team to their first winning conference record in nearly 50 years, and more importantly he helped end a remarkable tournament drought that had captured national attention for decades.
Collins’ road to Northwestern is one that many coaches have travelled down, as he served as an assistant coach under legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Collins worked at the basketball powerhouse for 13 years before getting the head job at Northwestern, and he helped the Blue Devils to a pair of national championships during his time in Durham.
In Collins’ four years at the school, the Wildcats have steadily improved and posted their second consecutive winning season this year as they picked up signature wins over ranked opponents in Texas and Wisconsin.
Which Players Should Fans Watch?
The Wildcats’ offense is led by a trio of scorers, including junior guard Bryant McIntosh. In 34 games with the Wildcats he averaged 14.4 points and 5.2 assists per game to help pace the offense, and he set career hights in points per game and free throw percentage this season.
McIntosh is joined in the backcourt by junior guard Scottie Lindsey, a native of Hillside, IL. Lindsey averaged 14.2 points per game this season, and he also averaged nearly a steal per game and made an impressive 84.4 percent of his free throws on the campaign.
The final member of the triumvirate is sophomore forward Vic Law, whose size helped him to 5.7 rebounds per game this season. He also averaged 1.1 steals per contest and chipped in with 12.4 points per game, giving the Wildcats an interior threat.
What Should Fans Expect From Vanderbilt?
While the Commodores are a lower seed than the Wildcats, Northwestern fans should know that Vanderbilt has faced a stern test to even get to this point. According to their strength of schedule, Vanderbilt had the most difficult slate of games in the entire country, with their opponents holding a winning percentage of .641 on the year.
Despite facing that insane schedule, the Commodores did a great job in getting some solid victories, including three triumphs over Florida in SEC play. They played Kentucky tough at Rupp Arena in Lexington, and they were also competitive against other tournament teams like South Carolina (whom they beat in SEC play).
Much like the Wildcats, Vanderbilt is buoyed by several scorers, with Matthew Fisher-Davis and Luke Kornet leading the team in points per game with 13.6 and 13.2 per contest respectively. Kornet is also a shot-blocking machine in the paint, averaging a pair of blocks per game, and he could be a big issue for a Northwestern squad that doesn’t have a dominant paint presence on their roster.