The Leathernecks got an automatic berth by upsetting top-seeded Oakland 3-1 in the final of the Summit League tournament. It was Western Illinois’ second straight league tourney title.
Northwestern won a share of a second straight Big Ten regular-season title but lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
“We were a little nervous (about getting in),” Wildcat coach Tim Lenahan said. “Our RPI was 41 but we had a lot of quality wins. We have never before had four wins over top-30 (RPI) teams including the No. 1 seed (Notre Dame.)”
The Irish (16-3-1) play the Michigan State – Cleveland State winner Sunday in South Bend.
Western Illinois has made the NCAA tourney five previous times, all since 2004, when it lost to Northwestern 4-1. The Leathernecks are 0-5 in NCAA play.
The NU – Western winner goes on to play second-seeded Marquette (16-3-1) Sunday in Milwaukee. The Golden Eagles are among 16 teams in the field of 48 to get first-round byes.
Northwestern and Western Illinois last met in 2009. The Wildcats have five straight wins and a 10-6 overall advantage in the series.