Northwestern left out of NCAA field

Updated: March 11, 2012, 10:25 PM ET
By Scott Powers | ESPNChicago.com

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern's dancing shoes will remain in the closet as the Wildcats were shut out of the NCAA tournament again Sunday, extending their streak to 74 consecutive seasons without a bid.

The Wildcats will play in the NIT for the fourth consecutive season.

"We're obviously, the staff and team, disappointed that we weren't selected [for the NCAA tournament], but it's the fourth year in a row we're playing in the postseason," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "You have to move forward. You have something to play for.

"When they were freshman, they were so excited to play in the NIT and sophomores, too. Last year, sort of the last couple weeks we knew we weren't going to be in [the NCAA tournament] and got the NIT bid, and we were happy. I think it just says something about this class of seniors that now they're really disappointed not to get a NCAA bid. They've come a long way."

Northwestern, a No. 4 seed in the NIT, will host No. 5 Akron at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Akron was 22-11 overall and won the regular season MAC East title with a 13-3 record. The winner will play either No. 1 Washington or No. 16 Texas-Arlington.

The Wildcats held onto a slim hope of seeing their school's name for the first time in the program's history during the NCAA selection show on Sunday after going 18-13 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten this season. Northwestern was ranked No. 59 in ESPN's RPI ratings and was 1-10 against top-50 RPI teams.

"I didn't really have much of a gut feeling one way or the other," Carmody said of his team's NCAA chances. "It was still in my stomach about the last game we played. Could you have done this? Could you have done that? Substitute here? That kind of stuff. I'm still thinking about that more than the selection actually."

The Wildcats' quality wins included Seton Hall on a neutral court, Michigan State at home and Illinois and Iowa on the road. They didn't have any losses outside of the RPI top-100 teams.

Northwestern's demise this season was its inability to win close games. It lost seven Big Ten games by five points or fewer, or in overtime. Those defeats included twice to Michigan and once to Ohio State.

The Wildcats' tournament chances took a further hit when they lost in overtime to Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday. ESPN bracketlologist Joe Lunardi had Northwestern in the tournament prior to that loss.

Sunday marked the 12th time under coach Carmody the Wildcats failed to make the NCAA tournament. They've gone 178-189 overall and 66-136 in the Big Ten during his tenure. Northwestern has had a winning record the last four seasons and been to three consecutive NITs, which is a school record. The Wildcats reached the NIT quarterfinals last season.

Northwestern will graduate John Shurna, the school's all-time leading scorer, but will return four starters and five of their top seven players next season, providing reason for optimism.

"This class is going to have the most wins in school history, and the junior class is probably going to top that," Carmody said. "I think things are looking good. It's just that I don't think we've ever been in this situation before where you actually got down to that last day, so I think things look pretty good."

Scott Powers is a general reporter for ESPNChicago.com. He is an award-winning journalist and has been reporting on preps, colleges and pros for publications throughout the Midwest since 1997.