The first NCAA Tournament was held in 1939 with Oregon knocking off Ohio State to win the tourney. That first NCAA Tournament championship game happened to occur in Pattern Gymnasium, the home (at the time) of the Northwestern Wildcats. Flash forward over seventy years later and while they hosted the first NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats have yet to appear in the NCAA Tournament.
While Northwestern isn't the only team to be held out of the big dance, most of the remaining teams include mid-majors that have a considerably more difficult path to the tournament, as well as a number of teams with considerably fewer years eligible for the postseason.
In those 75 seasons since the first NCAA Tournament the Wildcats have only had a winning record in 17 seasons, with about a fourth of those happening since the 2008-09 season. And while the NCAA Tournament originally was quite limited in size, it's still included at least 48 teams since 1980, with that number hitting 64 teams back in 1985. So while the lack of a tournament bid might have made some sense in the earlier years, it's almost became a painstakingly difficult feat to accomplish the ineptitude Northwestern has pulled off.
Enter Bill Carmody, hired into the program in 2000 and the latest coach to come and go without getting Northwestern over the hump. While Carmody could never get the Wildcats to the tournament, he did manage four straight NIT bids and five winning seasons in Evanston, but the continued search for a coach to lead them to the next level ultimately led to his dismissal. Even more frustrating for Northwestern was their NIT years, where Northwestern would flirt with a bubble bid, only to lose a head scratcher in typical fashion. Look no further than 2010 when a 20 win squad dropped two of their last three regular season games...to a 11 win Penn State team (their second loss that year to the Nittany Lions) and a 10 win Indiana squad. There's disappointment and then there's missing the tournament because you can't beat bottom dwelling conference foes in the last two weeks of the season.
So that leads to the question of will Northwestern ever make the NCAA Tournament? Ultimately the answer is yes, they'll have to sooner or later. It's simply unlikely that a power conference team will never get there, so the question becomes if the team will get there under current head coach Chris Collins.
One year in and 14-19 isn't exactly impressive but Collins was essentially forced to spend his debut season using a set of players meant for an entirely different offensive system. The former Duke assistant has done a nice job of luring in talent, landing the 54th best recruiting class in 2014 and currently having a top 50 class for 2015. It's going to be a year or two before he's in serious contention for a bid but the lack of success here means the program should at least be relatively patient with Collins. And while Northwestern is hindered by tougher academic standards than most schools, being a Big Ten team and located in the metro-Chicago area should be a plus.
That leads us to the question, will Northwestern make it to the NCAA Tournament at any point during Chris Collins' tenure? And if not, what does Northwestern have to do to finally get there after all these years? I'm curious to see what some of your guys opinions on the issue are so leave a comment below.
They've got to make it eventually...right?