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Northwestern Makes NCAA Tournament For The First Time

Mar 13, 2017
Originally published on March 22, 2017 9:46 am
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

March Madness has officially begun. Yesterday, the NCAA announced the field for this year's men's basketball tournament.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Here's what that announcement sounded like at the University of Kansas when the Jayhawks found out that they got a number one seed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Clapping).

CORNISH: A polite clap. For contrast, what it sounded like at Northwestern when the Wildcats found out about their number eight seed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Cheering).

SIEGEL: The difference between tepid applause and a gymnasium full of screaming fans? Well, this is the 28th consecutive tournament appearance for Kansas. It is Northwestern's first tournament appearance ever.

CORNISH: Jay Sharman was there to celebrate.

JAY SHARMAN: This is what the other side feels like.

CORNISH: Sharman has been a Northwestern fan ever since his freshman year back in 1991. He says he went to all the basketball games and even tried out for the team as a walk-on. As an alum, he ran a Northwestern sports blog.

SIEGEL: Sharman says that as a Wildcat basketball fan, it was always that one stat you couldn't possibly forget.

SHARMAN: Everywhere we went, every telecast we've ever seen of national repute, they would mention Northwestern's never been to the NCAA tournament. And so that was our unique calling card.

SIEGEL: There are a few other teams in less competitive conferences that have also missed out every year since the tournament began 78 years ago. But Northwestern is in the Big Ten, a major athletic conference.

CORNISH: So you'd expect them to be at least occasionally good. Here's how Sharman puts it in perspective.

SHARMAN: We're in Chicago. And so the Cubs breaking through and winning the World Series is an obvious parallel. But I heard someone say imagine the Cubs during those 108 years never once going to the playoffs. That's really what it's like.

SIEGEL: The last few weeks had been stressful for Sharman and his fellow Northwestern fans as the team teetered on the bubble, poised to barely make or barely miss the tournament.

SHARMAN: The inevitable fatalist in us saying not an if, but how we're going to not make it this year.

CORNISH: But on Sunday, it happened. The 77-year drought is over. And Jay Sharman was in the arena to hear Northwestern's name finally called.

SHARMAN: Isn't that what life is about, having that hope, having that belief? Hang on to that. Don't ever lose it because when you do break through, it is one of the sweetest feelings as a fan you can imagine. I saw grown men crying last night in the arena when they announced it.

SIEGEL: Northwestern plays its first NCAA tournament game this Thursday in Salt Lake City. Jay Sharman will be there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ETTA JAMES SONG, "AT LAST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.