(CBS) For the first time in program history, the Northwestern Wildcats are NCAA Tournament-bound.
Northwestern earned its first bid Sunday, when a Welsh-Ryan Arena full of fans erupted in celebration upon the selection show announcement that the Wildcats (23-11) earned an eight-seed and will face the ninth-seeded Vanderbilt Commodores (19-15) on Thursday in Salt Lake City.
All along, coach Chris Collins has preached that this is a journey, a long climb to bringing Northwestern to national relevance. Making the NCAA Tournament is the long-awaited first step.
Next up for the Wildcats: winning a tournament game. As for that quest, Northwestern has a 45 percent chance of beating Vanderbilt on Thursday, according to fivethirtyeight.com’s analysis. Beyond that, the Wildcats have a 7 percent chance of reaching the Sweet 16 — a path that would likely mean beating the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs — and a 2 percent chance of reaching the Elite Eight, per fivethiryeight.
And Northwestern’s mathematical odds of reaching the Final Four, the championship game and winning it all? Less than 1 percent in each case — or miniscule odds, as you’d expect
Villanova is the tournament favorite, with fivethirtyeight.com listing the defending champions with a 15 percent chance to repeat. Gonzaga follows at 14 percent, and Kansas is at 10 percent.
Regular-season champion Purdue is the Big Ten team that’s expected to do the most. The Boilermakers are tabbed with a 51 percent chance to go to the Sweet 16, 11 percent to get to Final Four and 2 percent chance to win the title.