(CBS) Might this be the year Northwestern finally makes history?
The Wildcats are in the running for their first NCAA Tournament berth in program history, currently sitting at 18-5 on the season. Despite an 80-59 loss at Purdue on Wednesday night, Northwestern still has good positioning for March Madness.
“It’s an exciting time,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said on Thursday to the Spiegel and Parkins Show on 670 The Score. “For me really — and maybe you guys won’t believe me — but when I took the job, the NCAA Tournament to me was just a step along the process. Ultimately, my goal was to have a program that could be a postseason contender year in and year out.
“I viewed this as a great situation. The timing was right. I love this area, I love this school, being in the Big Ten and the things we have going on. To me, this is something that can be long-lasting if it’s done the right way. That’s kind of how we’ve approached it.”
Collins took over as Northwestern’s head coach in 2013, replacing Bill Carmody. The program has never reached the NCAA Tournament, nor has it ever been in consideration on Selection Sunday.
Collins, a Northbrook native who attended school at Duke, joined the Wildcats as head coach after a run as assistant coach with the Blue Devils.
Northwestern’s roster is loaded with juniors from Collins’ first recruiting class as head coach. Leading scorer Scottie Lindsey is expected to miss time with an illness, while senior forward Nate Taphorn is managing an ankle injury.
“You hear a lot of that chatter,” Collins said. “It’s been an interesting dynamic for me and my staff to kind of handle that the right way. We want to enjoy what we’re doing, we want to have fun with this process, we want to live in the moment. But we have to stay focused on what’s in front of us. We still have eight games to go and we still have a lot to accomplish.
“There’s another month left in the season. We’ve got a lot of tough games ahead of us. The moment you get distracted or the moment you lose focus on what’s made you good or what’s been your formula to win, it can come crashing down in a hurry.”
Northwestern has a week between games, with its next contest coming on Tuesday against Illinois at Welsh-Ryan Arena. For Collins and the Wildcats, each game becomes more meaningful for the NCAA Tournament stakes.
“I have been proud of the maturity our guys have shown during this time,” he said. “They are having fun, they’re enjoying the moment, but they’re a determined, hungry group, and they do still feel like there’s a lot to accomplish.”