Big Ten

Holy meow! Northwestern makes first NCAA tournament in program history

Holy meow! Northwestern makes first NCAA tournament in program history

For the first time ever, Northwestern is going dancing.

This special season reached its most important milestone on Selection Sunday, when the Wildcats were announced as part of the NCAA tournament field for the first time in program history.

The packed house at Welsh-Ryan Arena erupted when Northwestern was announced as the No. 8 seed in the West Region. The Cats will take on No. 9 seed Vanderbilt on Thursday in Salt Lake City.

It's been a long time coming for the school that played host to the first-ever NCAA tournament back in 1939. The Cats weren't a part of that year's field, nor were they part of any field for the next 78 years.

But the day has finally come, even though we've known it was coming for a while now — wins at Wisconsin and then at home against Michigan seemed to seal the deal on two separate occasions. This has been an incredible season at Northwestern, and these Cats have already accomplished so many program firsts. They won 10 games during Big Ten play for the first time, and just this week in Washington, D.C., they advanced to their first Big Ten Tournament semifinal. They have won a program-record 23 games, a number that could get even bigger in the NCAA tournament.

Surely, though, no program first is bigger than this invitation to the Big Dance.

Head coach Chris Collins has done a remarkable job in his four years helming the program. The longtime Duke assistant personality, experience at one of college basketball's best programs and lineage — he's the son of former Bulls head coach Doug Collins — brought immediate excitement to a program that rarely experienced that emotion. He started his tenure with unprecedented recruiting success, bringing in some of the highest-rated recruits the program had ever seen.

In his first season, Collins led the Cats to eye-opening road wins at Indiana and Wisconsin, the latter boasting a team that made that season's Final Four. In his second season, the Cats won five of their last seven regular-season games and broke in star freshmen Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey. Last season, the Cats went 12-1 in non-conference play, the lone loss to a North Carolina team that ended up in the national championship game. You could see Collins building his program.

This season featured notable non-conference wins over Texas and Dayton, as well as some of those "quality" losses that always show up on NCAA tournament resumes to the likes of Notre Dame and Butler. Northwestern went on an impressive six-game winning streak during conference play that appeared the inverse of the long Big Ten losing streaks Collins' teams went through in his first few seasons in Evanston.

A bad stretch did strike. Lindsey came down with a case of mono, throwing a wrench into the Cats' flow, particularly on the offensive end. Northwestern lost five of seven, but one of the two wins came on the road against a ranked Wisconsin team, a monumental victory that seemed to punch the team's ticket to the tournament. As a few losses continued to pile up, plenty worried the Cats might've been floating to the wrong side of that tournament bubble. But a win against Michigan that ended in a court-length pass from Nathan Taphorn to Dererk Pardon for a buzzer-beating basket — a play similar to the famed Grant Hill heave to Christian Laettner in the 1992 NCAA tournament — erased any doubts and signaled this would be the year.

You could tell Northwestern arrived when CBS showed up for the regular-season finale against Purdue and put a rollicking Welsh-Ryan Arena crowd on national TV, with play-by-play man Jim Nantz calling it one of the best atmospheres he's seen in his illustrious career. The Cats might have even boosted their tournament seed with back-to-back wins in this week's Big Ten Tournament, including a Friday-night victory over Maryland in front of a raucous pro-Terps crowd at the Verizon Center.

McIntosh and Lindsey earned All-Big Ten honors this season, and Law was named to the conference's all-defensive team. Pardon figures to get those kinds of accolades soon.

It's been a mighty long wait for fans of Chicago's Big Ten Team. But this is a drought-busting year in the Windy City, right, Cubs fans?

For those who thought they'd never see it, believe it. The Cats are going dancing.

Big Ten to play conference-only NCAA football schedule 'if able'

Big Ten to play conference-only NCAA football schedule 'if able'

The Big Ten announced on Thursday that they will not play any non-conference games this fall, if they’re able to play at all.

The move comes after the Ivy League cancelled all fall sports earlier in the week.

In the statement the Big Ten said, “By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.

“In addition, the Conference announced that summer athletic activities will continue to be voluntary in all sports currently permitted to engage in such activities. Furthermore, Big Ten student-athletes who choose not to participate in intercollegiate athletics at any time during the summer and/or the 2020-21 academic year due to concerns about COVID-19 will continue to have their scholarship honored by their institution and will remain in good standing with their team.”

The Big Ten also said they’re prepared to cancel their fall sports entirely, if needed to ensure the health and safety of student-athletes.

This all leads to more questions as to how the Big Ten schedule will ultimately take shape. For instance, the first three games on the University of Illinois’s schedule are all non-conference games. Will more in-conference games be scheduled to replace them, or will the Fighting Illini simply begin their season on Oct. 3 with their first conference game against Rutgers?

All of that remains to be seen, as the conference said more details regarding the conference-only schedule will be released later.

RELATED: Northwestern football will not host Wisconsin Badgers at Wrigley Field

Northwestern football will not host Wisconsin Badgers at Wrigley Field

USA Today

Northwestern football will not host Wisconsin Badgers at Wrigley Field

Northwestern football will no longer host their game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Wrigley Field. The university announced the decision on Wednesday.

The Wildcats were supposed to play the Badgers at the Friendly Confines on Nov. 7. Although the university didn’t officially announce it, team's website says the game will be played at Ryan Field.

“This is a disappointing conclusion to reach, but absolutely the right one in our current environment,” said Jim Phillips, Northwestern’s Combe Family Vice President for Athletics and Recreation. “The uncertainty of football and baseball schedules, and the possibility of limited attendance, made this an easy choice to make for our student-athletes and fans.

“We’re grateful for our outstanding partners from the Cubs, and look forward to bringing the passion and pageantry of college football gameday to the city’s north side when we can do so safely and securely with a packed house.”

Northwestern initially brought college football back to Wrigley in 2010. Previously the last college football game at Wrigley was played in 1938. Since then, Northwestern has hosted both lacrosse and baseball games at Clark and Addison.

The university is still on track to kick off their season on Sept. 5 at Michigan State.

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