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NCAA bracket 2017: No. 8 Northwestern will play No. 9 Vanderbilt on Thursday

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The wait is over. For the first time in program history, the Wildcats are going dancing.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Grab your dancing shoes. For the first time in program history, Northwestern is headed to the NCAA Tournament.

The Wildcats (23-11, 10-8 Big Ten) will face the Vanderbilt Commodores (19-15, 10-8 SEC) in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. CT. The game will be part of the West Region.

Northwestern has already set a program record for regular season wins as well as conference wins. The Wildcats got off to a strong start, going 11-2 in the non-conference with the two losses coming by a combined six points: They fell by two at Butler on a buzzer-beater and led in the final minute before losing by to Notre Dame 70-66 in the finals of the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, New York. But the non-conference portion also gave Northwestern several opportunities the team took advantage of. In the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Wildcats defeated Wake Forest in Evanston. They also defeated Atlantic 10 regular season champion Dayton at the United Center.

Northwestern then produced a strong first half of Big Ten play, reeling off six straight wins after a 1-2 start, a stretch that included big wins over Iowa and Indiana. After that stretch, though, Scottie Lindsey suffered an illness that cost him four games, and the Wildcats lost six of their final nine. It was the wins they got, though, that still gave them a boost: Without Lindsey, the Wildcats went to Madison and defeated then-No. 7 Wisconsin. Then, with Lindsey back in the lineup, Northwestern got the one final quality win that most experts agreed put them safely into the field, and it came in the most dramatic of fashions: A full-court pass from Nathan Taphorn found the arms of Dererk Pardon, who banked it in to beat Michigan at the buzzer, 67-65.

As the No. 6 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, Northwestern dispatched Rutgers in the opening round to dispel any notions of falling back onto the bubble. Then the team beat Maryland in the Terrapins’ backyard to advance to its first ever Big Ten tournament semifinals. The run ended with a loss to Wisconsin.

And now, Northwestern has made history once again.