Northwestern making first NCAA Tournament is wild, weird and wonderful

Northwestern, after 64 years competing in the Big Ten and 113 years of playing NCAA basketball overall, will finally experience March Madness for the first time.

So this is what it's like to get "selected" on Selection Sunday.

Northwestern,after 64 years competingin the modernBig Ten and 113 years of playing NCAA basketball overall,will finally experience March Madness for the first time in the 79th year of theNCAA Tournament. Trying to compare that to anything drought-relatedin Americansports, college or otherwise, is futile.

With a program-best23-11record that earned ita No. 8seed and a first-round date with Vanderbiltin Thursday's WestRegional game in Salt Lake City, Northwesternno longer will be mentioned with original never-beensWilliam & Mary, St. Francis (NY), Army and The Citadel.

MORE: Print your 2017 NCAA Tournament bracket here

It's been a wild ride watching theseWildcats, for a long timethe Reverse Kentucky, rise under already the best coach in their history,Chris Collins. From the Wid Ones to the Welsh-Ryan Rowdies to the Wild Side, this is crazy, something many of us other 'Cats fans thought we wouldn't see along as we livedand bled purple.

Two things needed to happen for it to happen now: The Big Ten had to be a little down and Northwestern needed to do a little overachieving. Collins accomplished this by recruitng the right players to execute his Duke Lightbrand of tough shooting, rebounding and defense. After trying so long in the "softer" way that included years in thePrinceton offense,it wasrefreshing to put together an actual legitmate winning lineup from strongbig man Dererk Pardontodo-everythingpoint guard Bryant McIntosh.

Much like Nothwestern having its magical runto the Rose Bowl in 1995— which this writer experienced as a student — the best part of this all is the unexpectedness. Our diehards don't come close to the numbers of traditional big state-school powers, but our passion and loyalty stack up against anyone. The difference is, with how much we expect hearbreak, it makes every breakthrough that much sweeter.

Chicagoland just enjoyed along-awaited championship moment with the Cubs in the World Series. That broughtjoy to millions over generations. The 'Cats meanwhile, joinedthe top 19 percent of Division I teams — essentially justmaking the biggest playoff field in sports.Unless we're the ultimate Cinderella and cut down the nets, there will be no banner for finishing in sixth place in the Big Tenand losing in the semis of the conference tournament.

But excuse us if we get loud about it. It's every Northwestern-educatedsports journalists' dream now to get mentioned with notable Northwestern sports journalists in every article about our sports teams doing well. Some of us settle for writing one of those artciles.

It's not enough that our once Wildcat-dominated Thursday night NBC lineup is represented on the current team with reserve walk-onCharlie Hall — the son of alums Julia Louis-Drefyus and Brad Hall. We'll be everywhere, writing, reporting and joking about it.

There's Stewart Mandel breaking down the brackets. There'sMIke Greenberg in the morning. There's Mike Wilbon in the early evening. There's Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers late at night. That doesn't mention all the other 'Cats you will hear, see andread fromthe biggest newspapers, magazines, websites and blogs.Around the clock, wall to wall, because many of us will do the talking, therewill be as much Northwestern talk as anything else in college basketball's biggestweek.

Also, just because Collins went to Duke, and just because we're another academically acclaimed privateuniversity doing well athletically, pleasedon't lump us in with Duke. We've got to do a lot more winning to get that kind of hate. Heck, we've seen Northwestern State make the tournament ahead of us, wearing purple, too, and beating a Big Ten team.

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We're new at this. We don't know whether this will lead to something consistently special, like the sustained success and respect we've got with Pat Fitzgerald and the football program. We just want to enjoy this, like everyone else, because we're not quite sure if will happen again in the next 79 years.

So give this to us, and give it up to the Wildcats. We promise won't take our first chance todance for granted. We'll embrace every bit ofthis weird, wonderful experience.

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