Wildcats excited for NIT tourney

Updated: March 14, 2010, 11:27 PM ET
By Scott Powers | ESPNChicago.com

Northwestern junior Michael Thompson felt as if his basketball season had ended after losing to Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament on Friday.

The loss evaporated the Wildcats' hopes of their first-ever NCAA Tournament, and nothing else mattered to him at that point.

On Sunday, Thompson was revived again. In the span of two days, he dealt with the Wildcats' loss and regained his optimism for the future when he discovered he and his teammates would be making their second consecutive postseason appearance for the first time in school history.

Northwestern was selected Sunday to play in the NIT for the second straight year. The Wildcats received a seventh seed and will face Rhode Island, a two seed, on the road on Wednesday.

"We look at it as another step," Thompson said. "The program is still making progress."

There had been some doubt whether the Wildcats would be invited the NIT. Their win over Indiana in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament may have clinched it for them, though.

The Wildcats won a school-record 20 games, went 8-12 in the Big Ten, were ranked 115 in RPI and were 5-9 against teams in the top-100 RPI this season.

"I'm happy we made it," Thompson said. "I'm glad to still be alive and playing. We weren't sure if we going to make it or not. I had a good feeling all day we were going to make it. I felt like we had a pretty good year."

Last season, the Wildcats lost at Tulsa in the opening round of the NIT.

Illinois State and Illinois were also selected to play in the NIT. The Redbirds will meet Dayton in the opening, and the Illini have Stony Brook.

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.

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.