For some, it was Northwestern’s win over Indiana.
For others, it was the Michigan game.
But some Wildcats fans needed to see it to believe it. So it took that special moment — 30 excruciating minutes into CBS’ Selection Show — to realize this would be the year Northwestern University went to its first NCAA Tournament.
“That was just crazy,” freshman Andrew Scherl said, describing Sunday’s dramatic reveal.
The Wildcats will play Thursday in Salt Lake City against Vanderbilt. The team landed the No. 8 seed in the West region.
That news prompted a roar of applause inside Welsh-Ryan Arena lasting more than a minute, ending only when the school’s pep band kicked in. Northwestern fans had gathered there to watch the Selection Show on the arena’s scoreboard, witnessing history in a sea of purple.
But later, reflecting on the team’s year, 2011 graduate Trent Stafford admitted, “I did not think it was going to happen.”
Before the announcement, the fans fidgeted in their seats. They monitored their cellphones and hung on every word as the brackets began to fill up. There were boos for Wisconsin, Duke, and especially Michigan State. Marquette won some applause from the crowd when it was picked for the tournament.
Stafford said afterward that he spent his college years enjoying Northwestern football more than basketball. It took him a little while to realize what awaited this year’s team. But he bought in faster than Pat Grayhack, a 2012 graduate who said it finally clicked “when they put the ‘8’ up” on the board. And Grayhack said he was “born into” Northwestern fandom.
Scherl, of Connecticut, and Walker Reinfeld, of Los Angeles, only had to wait until their freshman year to see the school’s basketball team make history. But Scherl said he’s really been waiting 20 years. And based on the team’s talent, he said he’s sure its success will continue.
That seemed to be the message Sunday from Northwestern’s coach, Chris Collins. Moments after he became the first head basketball coach to take the Wildcats to the tournament, he told the crowd at the arena he had found one word to sum up the moment.