Thursday is a day that all Northwestern University fans have been waiting for, as the Wildcats will open NCAA tournament play with a tough contest against Vanderbilt.
The Wildcats, who will be making their first ever appearance in the tournament, are considered to be slight favorites in the battle between the eighth and ninth seeds in the West Regional, but after an up-and-down regular season, the Wildcats are still poised for a fight against the Commodores.
Bryant McIntosh will be looking to rebound for Northwestern after a pedestrian game against Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, as the junior guard managed just eight points on 4-of-12 shooting in the team’s 76-48 loss. The game broke McIntosh’s streak of seven straight games of scoring in double figures, and it was also his worst shooting performance since mid-February.
The Wildcats will also need sophomore standout Vic Law to get his scoring touch back, as he’s had an inconsistent run of late. He played very well in wins over Rutgers and Maryland in the Big Ten tournament, scoring 16 and 17 points in those games respectively, but he crashed back down to Earth against Wisconsin as he, like so many of his teammates, struggled from the field as he managed just four points in the blowout loss.
Aside from getting production from some of their top scorers, the Wildcats will need to take care of the basketball, and that’s something they’ve been very good at this season. Northwestern has averaged 10.5 turnovers per game according to ESPN, and that is good enough to rank them 16th in the nation in that category.
Taking care of the ball takes some pressure off of the Wildcats’ defense, and they are a fairly stout group in that department as well, as they’ve held opponents to fewer than 70 points in nine of their last 11 games heading into the tournament.
As for Vanderbilt, they are a battle-tested group that has played the toughest schedule in the nation. That accounts for their entry into the tournament despite having 15 regular season losses (the most that any at-large team has ever had), and it’s given them plenty of experience in terms of facing adversity.
The Commodores won seven of their last nine games heading into the tournament, including two wins over number-four seeded Florida and a road win over Tennessee.
Tip-off is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Central time, and the game will be televised on TBS as part of the network’s March Madness coverage.