ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For the first time, Trevor Siemian can pick his alma mater as he fills out his bracket for March Madness.
His Northwestern Wildcats will play in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament for the first time in the 78-year history of the tournament, breaking one of sports' most-futile streaks. Though Northwestern hosted the inaugural NCAA Tournament in 1939, the Wildcats had been the only team in a Power-Five conference to never go dancing.
That's not the case anymore, and Siemian has Northwestern going quite far in his bracket.
"All the way," he said. "Of course." The Wildcats, who play Vanderbilt in their opening game on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. MT., learned of their No. 8 seed at a watch party Sunday night in their home arena.
"I watched," Siemian said. "I was jealous I wasn't there because it looked like a great time, but I mean it's just really cool. Everybody back there in Evanston and at Northwestern, it's something we've never experienced. So it's all new to us. It's just been a cool ride the whole way through watching these guys."
The Wildcats' long-awaited trip to the tourney caps an unparalleled year for Northwestern fans. In September, Siemian became the first former NU quarterback to begin an NFL season as a starter since Otto Graham in 1955.
In Siemian's first year as a starter, he threw for 3,401 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Head Coach Vance Joseph reiterated Wednesday that Siemian will again have the chance to compete for the starting job when OTAs and training camp arrive.
The Wildcats basketball team followed up Siemian's success with the team's first trip to the tournament. Northwestern increased its win total in four consecutive years under head coach Chris Collins and finally found long-desired success. When Siemian was a freshman at Northwestern, he wasn't sure the program would ever reach that point.
"Never say never, but …" Siemian said, trailing off. "Every year I was there, there was kind of this buzz of, 'Well, maybe this is the year we make it.' So it's cool to kind of see that come to fruition. I saw a cool quote from Coach Collins, kind of saying, 'This is just the beginning for us.' Which I think is cool, because at a certain point the expectation is get into the tournament and make a run."
While Siemian said it's difficult to reflect on what his own success means to Northwestern, he said seeing the basketball team perform at its highest-ever level has excited the fan base.
"I think there's so much positive energy around the program and the school right now," Siemian said. "It's kind of cool to be a part of it and see everything get to the point it's gotten to now. It's kind of galvanizing."
Regardless of where the program heads, Siemian and his girlfriend, who is also a Northwestern graduate, will certainly be watching the Wildcats' ride through the tourney – no matter how long it lasts.
"I'm enjoying it," Siemian said. "Who knows? That's the cool thing about March Madness. You see these teams make runs out of nowhere.
"Maybe that's us this year."