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Vanderbilt earns an NCAA Tournament invite, will play Northwestern Thursday

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The Commodores made history as the NCAA’s first 15-loss at-large invitee.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Florida vs Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Drew’s first season at Vanderbilt started with a 24-point loss. It will end in the NCAA Tournament.

The Commodores didn’t just sneak into the bracket, they made it all the way to a No. 9 seed. They’ll face fellow nerd school Northwestern on Thursday. The game will mark the Wildcats’ first trip to the NCAA Tournament.

The team made history Sunday, becoming the first program to ever earn an at-large bid to the Big Dance with 15 losses. Vandy’s bold non-conference schedule — the ‘Dores faced the NCAA’s toughest lineup, according to RPI numbers — and big wins over Florida (three times!), Iowa State, South Carolina, and Arkansas were enough to ensure the team’s opportunity to fight for a national championship.

Vanderbilt’s NCAA Tournament chances looked like a long shot just five weeks ago. The Commodores were 12-13 for the season after suffering a 20-point pasting at the hands of an 8-24 Missouri team. With a sub-.500 record, even the NIT looked like wishful thinking in the middle of February.

But Drew’s steady improvements took hold as veterans like Luke Kornet, Riley LaChance, and Jeff Roberson led the team to a resurgent finish, knocking off the Gators twice in one week and rallying all the way to the SEC Tournament semifinals. With Kornet standing out as a shot-blocking, three-point shooting center and LaChance providing leadership from the backcourt, Vanderbilt is a team no one wants to face in their bracket.