The Vanderbilt Commodores open the NCAA Tournament on Thursday with a game against the Northwestern Wildcats. You might not have heard about this, but this will be Northwestern’s first NCAA Tournament game ever. And unlike some teams that haven’t made the NCAA Tournament before (like, say, Northern Kentucky, which is in its first year of being eligible for the Division I tournament), Northwestern has been trying for a very long time. Like, they were a founding member of the Big Ten back in 1896. That’s a long damn time! Hell, since Vanderbilt’s first tournament appearance in 1965, the Commodores have never gone more than 14 years between tournament appearances. It’s been a long ... one year since we last made the tournament.
This is also the sixth time that Vanderbilt and Northwestern will meet on the hardwood, with the Commodores sporting a 4-1 record against the Wildcats, and it’s the first meeting with the Wildcats since December 3, 1992, when Eddie Fogler’s Commodores beat the Wildcats 86-66.
We sat down with Zach Pereles of our sister SBN blog InsideNU to ask a few questions about the Wildcats. His answers are below.
1. Let's get this out of the way first, and we promise this is the only question on the subject. This is Northwestern's first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. How did that even happen? Are you just happy to be here or are you expecting to win a game or more?
Well, a lot of heartbreak and bad recruiting would be the best answer. The Wildcats simply never had the talent to compete, and even when Bill Carmody's Princeton offense and 1-3-1 zone came to town, the Wildcats couldn't quite get there. Carmody squeezed every ounce of talent out of his players — he was never much of a recruiter — and the progress was obvious: The Wildcats at least became a relatively consistent NIT team. That set the stage for Chris Collins, who has recruited very well and has finally put them over the hump. Northwestern won't be happy to just be there, though; the Wildcats will look to make more history with its first ever NCAA tournament and then more.
2. After starting the season 18-4, Northwestern went 5-7 down the stretch. What changed, and is it something that will be the case again in the tournament?
The biggest thing that changed was Scottie Lindsey getting sick. He missed four games and then wasn't close to 100 percent for the three weeks after that. In fact, we didn't really see Lindsey at 100 percent until the Big Ten tournament, when he scored in double digits in every game and looked much closer to his normal self on both ends. Lindsey's absence left NU without its best offensive player and also squeezed the rotation down to seven players, so the guys who were playing were exhausted. I think Northwestern will be closer to that 18-4 start in the dance.
3. We notice that the Big 10 ranks 30th of 32 conferences in the number of free throws per field goal attempt. The SEC is second in this category. Do Big 10 teams just not foul or do the officials just not call them?
The Big Ten is perfect in every way and never fouls.
4. Northwestern is 12th in the US News and World Report Best Colleges Rankings, and Vanderbilt is 15th. What do we have to do to increase our USNWR ranking to get on par with a school like Northwestern?
*Using my best Medill voice*: The Medill School of Journalism. My sister is actually headed to Vanderbilt for her freshman year this year, so if Vandy wins, we're even, and if Northwestern wins, she'll never hear the end of it.
5. What kind of alcoholic beverage is recommended for watching Northwestern basketball?
Everclear is a good way to start. But if you're actually trying to make it through the entire game, I'd grab some red wine, because, you know, we're classy, and we want everyone else to know that we're classy.
(Ed. note: GOOD GOD THEY REALLY ARE THE BIG TEN US)