We've known officially since yesterday and non-officially since forever that this will not be Northwestern's first year to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
However, Selection Sunday will still be a stressful one for the Cats: NU is distinctly on the NIT bubble. They're a talented team - pushing OSU to the limit yesterday shows that - but as last year's 20-win squad earning a No. 7 seed to the NIT shows, a weak RPI and a dearth of quality wins can keep a talented squad very close to missing the second-best tourney in the land. NU's win against Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament helped out a lot, but there's some definite questions about NU's ability to qualify thanks to some rough extenuating circumstances.
Northwestern Wildcats: 18-13, 7-11 in-conference, quality win vs. Illinois, RPI 86
There's a lot of semi-quality teams this year, so NU is surprisingly in better shape than last year's team which had two more wins, including W's over Purdue and Notre Dame. But there's a downside: 11 No. 1 seeds in conference tourneys that are guaranteed not to make the NCAA tournament lost their conference tourneys - meaning 11 NIT spots will go to these teams. Missouri State and UAB are likely to grab higher seeds, but the bottom of the bracket will be forced to hold College of Charleston, Vermont, Fairfield, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Coastal Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Murray State, Texas Southern, and Bethune-Cookman. That means the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds are reserved for those squads, as well as one of the four No. 6 seeds
That's a problem, because if NU is going to make the NIT, they're virtually guaranteed to be a No. 6 seed. John Templon from Chicago College Basketball has them as a six seed, as does The Bracket Project's NIT projection, while NIT-ology has NU as the fourth team out of the bracket.
We're not in an enviable position. We basically have to sweat this out, and most importantly, hope no more No. 1 seeds lose. (Root for Long Beach State, Kent State, McNeese State, and Utah State today.) I'd give NU a 60-percent shot of making the bracket as of right now, based on absolutely nothing.
Then comes the inevitable question: let's say NU misses the NIT and is offered a bid to the CBI - do they take it? Do they stoop that low? I was conflicted for a while. I've since decided I'm okay with it because I want Juice Thompson to keep playing forever. But that's just me.