At around 5:04 p.m. CST, Greg Gumbel made the announcement Northwestern fans have been waiting to hear for over 78 years. The Wildcats, in the West Regional, the last to be revealed, were given a No. 8 seed and first round matchup with No. 9 Vanderbilt on Thursday in Salt Lake City.
Hundreds of fans went to Welsh-Ryan Arena for the program’s official watch party and, after Northwestern was officially included in the 68-team field, athletic director Jim Phillips and Chris Collins addressed the media. Here are some of the highlights:
- “Just a spectacular day. It brings a campus and a community together like no other. I’m happy for everyone associated with this Northwestern family.”
- Phillips said the program gets 350 tickets and most are distributed to players, coaches and donors. He advised fans use seconardy resale sources to buy their own tickets.
- On putting his faith in Collins: “You don’t ever truly know, you just go off your instincts and your research. I just had a great connection with Chris immediately. I still have a good connection with Coach K. To me, institutional fit is very important. The only area he lacked was head-coaching experience.”
- On having the support of the Chicago area: “This market is a pro market, but I know from experience that this community loves its teams.”
- On whether he was nervous as the show dragged on and Northwestern wasn’t called: “No. I think our resume spoke for itself. There was some debate and then we stamped it with the win against Michigan.”
- On Northwestern’s underdog status: “Everybody loves Cinderella stories. That’s the beauty of sport, you root for the underdog, the team that seems to be on the rise.” Phillips, a Chicago native, talked about parallels to the Cubs’ World Series win.
- Phillips joked about the academic qualifications of Northwestern and the Wildcats’ opponent: “Maybe at halftime we’ll compare SAT or ACT scores.”
- On what the win could mean going forward: “I think it’s going to be a tidal wave of very positive things. We have 19 sports and 504 student-athletes, but you better have anchors in football and basketball because they’re the emotional and financial anchors of the department.”
- The Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein asked Phillips if Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew was a candidate for the Northwestern job. Phillips’ response: “That’s a question I’m not going to comment on.”
- On his feelings during the long wait: “I think it was more anxiousness than anything. When I saw Wisconsin as a No. 8, it raised my eyebrows a bit. That made me wonder what seed we were going to get.”
- On Marquette (coached by former Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski) potentially matching with Duke in the second round: “With the coincidence of Wojo going against Coach K, I thought we might go to Greenville against North Carolina.”
- “It seemed really hot in that building.” Agreed, Chris, agreed.
- On his pitch to his recruits: “I really wanted this group of guys to do it because I was in their living rooms, asking them to believe.”
- “You don’t get many chances in life to be a part of something historical, something that had never been done...I hope this is just the start of something we can do over the longterm.”
- “Now, it’s time to get to work. We have to get back on the practice floor tomorrow.”
- On his relationship with Bryce Drew: “Bryce and I are very good friends, we’ve known each other for a very long and our dads were both coaches. I got a chance to watch them a handful of times and they’re great.”
- On former Northwestern players: “To be honest, I’ve reached out to a number, with the first one being Drew Crawford. He was the most important recruit to all of this, because he could have left when I first got here. Him being the leader on that first team was huge for our program...When Sanjay was a freshman, Drew Crawford was his brother and Sanjay hung on everything he said.”
- On the adversity his team faced: “Right off the bat, not having Aaron was a tough blow to our team. Then, we had to go without Pardon for eight games and then to lose Scottie, you get kind of a gut punch the next day.”
- On when he knew this team could be good: “It was the Butler, even though we lost. I have so much respect for who Butler is, and I knew that was a game to test us.”
- On the difficulties of the tournament, Collins quipped: “The hardest part is getting in, just like Northwestern.”
- On how this tournament selection was different than his at Duke: “This was the most special. For me, I’m still a little kid at heart and I think that’s one of my strengths. That’s why you come to a place like Northwestern, to see all those fans and have my family and players there, you can’t top that.”