Big Ten

Northwestern pulls out first NCAA tournament win in first NCAA tournament game

Northwestern pulls out first NCAA tournament win in first NCAA tournament game

SALT LAKE CITY — Pat Fitzgerald was in the house, standing on his seat and leading a stadium-wide chant of "Let's go Cats!"

This building probably hadn't been that loud since Stockton and Malone. At least it hadn't been that purple.

Northwestern fans were out in full force for the program's first-ever NCAA tournament game, which ended up as the program's first-ever NCAA tournament win, a 68-66 defeat of Vanderbilt.

The victory advanced the Wildcats to the Round of 32, where they'll take on top-seeded Gonzaga on Saturday here in Utah.

It wasn't quite as easy as it looked when Fitzgerald was playing the program's ultimate cheerleader, when Northwestern grabbed a 15-point lead in the second half. Vanderbilt closed that big gap almost instantaneously and took a few late leads, but the Cats hit the requisite free throws down the stretch and barely pulled out the two-point win.

After Vandy took a 66-65 lead with 18 seconds left, a Commodore incredulously fouled Bryant McIntosh and sent him to the free-throw line to get the lead back for the Cats. Vandy missed a go-ahead 3-point try at the other end, and Northwestern sweated out the win.

McIntosh was sensational, scoring a game-high 25 points. He got help from big man Dererk Pardon, who scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Pardon hit six clutch free throws down the stretch. Scottie Lindsey also scored in double figures with 14 points.

If Northwestern was nervous playing in its first-ever NCAA tournament game, it sure didn't look like it early. The Cats started out real well, hitting six of their first 10 shots — and getting seven early points from McIntosh — as the Commodores couldn't do a thing offensively, making just three of their first 13 shots and at one point going more than four minutes without a point.

Northwestern had a couple nine-point leads in the early going, but Vandy kept chipping away, getting a few 3-pointers and bunching points together to get the lead to three, later two and later one. But Lindsey hit a couple big 3s to turn one-possession gaps into two-possession gaps. Northwestern closed the half on a 9-3 spurt to pull away from a one-point lead, getting McIntosh's third 3-pointer of the first half and four straight from Lindsey.

Northwestern shot 56 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes, with McIntosh and Lindsey combining for 25 points. The team went 5-for-7 from 3-point range. The Cats also had a 16-10 edge in points in the paint. Vandy scored 11 points off eight Northwestern turnovers, though the Commodores were a frigid 34.6 percent from the field.

The Cats got a couple McIntosh buckets to start the second half and take their lead to double digits for the first time on the game. Northwestern actually looked primed to run away with the game and hide when Nathan Taphorn buried a 3-pointer off Gavin Skelly's missed free throw, cranking the Cats' lead up to 15 with under 14 minutes to play. But that lead disappeared in a hurry, as Vandy answered with 12 straight points to get within three.

Northwestern created a tiny amount of breathing room from there, but Vandy quickly closed that gap, too, and was within two inside of five minutes to play thank to another long-distance 3. A couple Pardon free throws got the lead back to five, but with under three minutes to go, Lindsey was whistled for a foul on a 3-point shot, giving Vandy three free throws to get within a point. Pardon countered with two more free throws, and after Vandy split a pair at the other end, the Commodores splashed in a go-ahead triple inside of a minute and a half to play.

McIntosh answered with a floater that snatched the advantage back for the Cats, but after Vic Law missed the front end of a 1-and-1 that could've extended the lead, Vandy cashed in with a go-ahead layup. The game was on Pardon's shoulders at the free-throw line on the next trip down the floor, and he hit a pair to put Northwestern back in front. But Vandy again answered with a go-ahead bucket, only to foul McIntosh after he received the inbounds pass. McIntosh hit two free throws to give Northwestern a one-point lead, and Vandy missed a go-ahead 3-point try at the other end, the Cats grabbing the win.

The victory was the fifth since 1985 for a first-time tournament team playing as a No. 10 seed or better. Northwestern will take on top-seeded Gonzaga on Saturday for a shot at a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings


See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?