There were tears in Syracuse, head-scratching about Duke and more than a few double takes at Wichita State.
At Northwestern, they simply celebrated.
On a Selection Sunday that was more about minor quibbles than pure outrage, Northwestern’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament in program history stole the headlines — reminding hardcore fans and casual bracket-fillers alike that March Madness really is that time of year when anything can happen.
The forever also-rans from outside of Chicago knew they’d see their name pop up when the brackets were released, but when they did, they partied anyway.
Group hugs. Selifes. A huge sigh of relief and a celebration for a Big Ten program that’s always been big on smarts, short on hoops.
“I’m used to being part of all the `firsts’ here,” said senior Vic Law. “I was Coach (Chris) Collins’ first recruit. That belief that we all had — that vision that me and Coach Collins shared — was that this would be different.”
Action in the tournament begins Tuesday with opening-round games, and things get into full swing Thursday. The Final Four starts April 1 in Phoenix.
Defending champion Villanova was the tournament’s top seed, the first time a defending champion has earned that honor since Florida in 2007, when the Gators went back-to-back.
Joining Kris Jenkins and `Nova on the “1” line were Kansas, North Carolina and Gonzaga.
A few more notes and notables from Selection Sunday:
SYRACUSE: Orange coach Jim Boeheim said his players were crying when they didn’t see their team’s name come up during the selection show. Syracuse had an 18-14 record, nearly identical to its mark last year, when the Orange made it into the field to a chorus of protests. Syracuse responded by making a run to the Final Four. Boeheim: “I think our team was a little bit better than we were last year going into the tournament. We had the ability to win.” Instead, they’ll try to win in the NIT.
DUKE: Some bracketologists moved Duke into the `1′ position over North Carolina on the strength of the Blue Devils’ four-win-in-four-night run at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. Not so fast, said selection committee chairman Mark Hollis. He said Duke began the week as a No. 4 seed and never really moved into consideration as a 1. Duke moved up until it ran up against two teams that took both their regular-season and tournament titles — Arizona and Kentucky.
WICHITA STATE: In the latest Associated Press poll, Wichita State is ranked 20th. If rankings equaled seedings, that would make the Shockers no worse than a No. 4. Imagine their shock when their name showed up with a “10” by it. “I’m just glad they didn’t forget about us,” coach Gregg Marshall said. The Missouri Valley Tournament champs won 30 games. About that AP ranking, Marshall said: “Somehow, 20 divided by four equals ten. But that’s OK. That’s the way it’s been for a long time. I don’t know what we’d do if we were a really good seed most of the time.” Seeded first in 2014, the Shockers ran into a Kentucky team that was surprisingly seeded eighth, and lost in the second round.
BRAIN BOWL: No matter how the game ends up, the guys from Northwestern and Vanderbilt will probably turn out OK. The West Region’s 8 vs. 9 matchup pits two of the strongest academic schools in the country. Said Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips : “Maybe at halftime we’ll compare SAT and ACT scores.”
UNDERAPPRECIATED: Oregon slipped to a No. 3 seed, in large part because of the season-ending injury to shot-blocking star Chris Boucher. Middle Tennessee State, with 30 wins and most of the roster back from the team that beat Michigan State last year, is a 12 seed — possibly a couple slots too low and setting up No. 5 Minnesota for a tough opening game. Baylor looked like a 2 on most lists but slid to a 3, in a flip-flop with Louisville.
MATCHUPS-PLAYERS: Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski vs. South Dakota State’s Mike Daum. Karnowski is one of the biggest and craftiest big men in the country — a, 7-foot-1, 300-pound force on the inside. Daum is the highest-scoring player in the tournament, at 25.3 points a game (with 8.2 rebounds).
COMING IN HOT: Teams carrying the longest win streaks into the tournament: Vermont (21 games), Princeton (19), SMU (15), Wichita State (15), Kentucky (11 games), Middle Tennessee State (10).
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