It’s really happening. According to all of the major bracketologists, Northwestern is going to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Of course, Wildcat fans know better than to take anything for granted until the moment their team is officially announced as a March Madness participant for the first time ever on Selection Sunday. Even so, the consensus of experts who predict the field of 68 is that those fans can rest easily over the next eight days regardless of what happens in Northwestern’s regular season finale against Purdue.
ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan has been posting a bi-weekly “Bubble Watch” breakdown since early February. The first three editions had Northwestern in the “Work left to do” section. Following the Wildcats’ road win over Wisconsin, Brennan moved them to the “Should be in” section, where they stayed for another three updates despite losing three of four games. Still, even with a solid resume devoid of bad losses, no Northwestern fan felt safe after the Wildcats collapsed against Indiana last Saturday.
Wednesday night’s thrilling, historic victory changed all that. In his final update on Friday, Brennan moved Northwestern to “lock” status. In introducing the Big Ten section of the article, he repeated it five times just to make sure he knew what he was typing.
Northwestern is a lock. Northwestern is a lock. Northwestern is a -- what's that? Oh, sorry. We were just, you know, breaking it in. Complex as the English language can be, it's not often you get to use four words that have never once been written in sequence before. It's daunting, right? We just wanted to make sure we had them all lined up and ready to go: Northwestern is a lock. The Wildcats are not going to be a high seed, and they're not going to win the national title; they're nothing more than a solid, average power conference college basketball team. Yet because they've never managed to clear that modest threshold before, the fact that they are certain to go to the NCAA tournament, even at this late date, carries a significance no Bubble Watch lock has ever carried before. History has its eyes on the Watch. One more time: Northwestern is a lock.
The rest of the experts agree. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports actually said he thought Northwestern would be in even without beating Michigan.
Even if the Wildcats are all but in, we still have things to talk about. What will their seed be? Where will they play? Let’s take a look at where the bracketologists see Northwestern playing.
ESPN: 9 seed
Joe Lunardi has the Wildcats heading west to take on Virginia Tech in Salt Lake City. It would be the 8-9 matchup in the West region, with the winner set to take on Gonzaga.
CBS Sports: 8 seed
Palm has Northwestern playing in Salt Lake City too, but likes Chris Collins’ squad as an eight seed. His projected opponent for the Wildcats is USC, and Palm also has Gonzaga as the one seed awaiting the winner.
USA Today: 9 seed
Shelby Mast sees Northwestern heading the opposite direction. Her latest bracket predicts the Wildcats going to the Villanova-led East Region for a rematch with Virginia Tech from last year’s Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
SB Nation: 9 seed
Chris Dobbertean also forecasts a Northwestern-Virginia Tech first round matchup, but has it taking place in the Midwest region with Kansas as the one seed.
All 109 of the brackets on Bracket Matrix include Northwestern in the field with an average seeding of 9.05. Almost all of them have the Wildcats as an 8, 9 or 10 seed, although 3 different brackets have them as an 11 and one site, bracketmarch.com, has Northwestern as a 7 seed.
One more win against Purdue or a Big Ten Tournament opponent couldn’t hurt though, right?