Can Northwestern’s first NCAA Tournament appearance last more than two hours?
The Northwestern Wildcats are crashing the NCAA tournament for the first time ever. As a reward for rewriting program history, the Wildcats get to face one of America’s hottest teams.
The Vanderbilt Commodores were 12-13 and coming off a 20-point loss to an 8-24 Missouri team less than a month before the selection committee made its final cuts to the bracket. The Commodores didn’t even look like an NIT team, but a 6-2 finish to the season — which included two wins in six days over RPI No. 5 Florida — pushed them from also-ran to at-large contender.
The biggest reason behind Vandy’s rise? Veteran leadership. Senior center Luke Kornet has done a bit of everything for the ‘Dores, making 35 percent of his three-pointers during the regular season and blocking two shots per game as a 7’1 paint patroller. Junior Riley LaChance has shaken off a sophomore slump to provide ballsy leadership, efficient scoring, and weirdly successful drives to the paint from the backcourt.
A win would be huge for first-year head coach Bryce Drew. Drew had pushed his alma mater, Valparaiso, to a pair of NCAA Tournament berths in his five-year tenure there. That led him to replace Kevin Stallings in Nashville, and the program’s quick turnaround has made that move one of the SEC’s top recent hires.
But he’ll have to find a way to stop Northwestern’s dynamic scoring trio of Vic Law, Scottie Lindsey, and Bryant McIntosh. Those three, teamed with efficient big man Dererk Pardon, have helped beat NCAA Tournament teams like Wisconsin, Michigan, Maryland, Dayton, and Wake Forest this winter. By their powers combined, that group could extend the Wildcats’ stay at the Big Dance and give a first-time fan base enough time to get acclimated to meaningful March basketball.
The winner of Thursday’s game will get the victor of Gonzaga-South Dakota State, which history suggests will almost certainly be the Bulldogs. While neither team will be favored to last in the bracket past the weekend, a win would be a major boost for either program. This first round matchup could be a foundation-building win for either Vanderbilt or Northwestern, and with some of the tightest odds of the tournament, no one is sure just who will benefit.
Game time: 7:10 p.m. ET
How to watch: TBS
How to listen: TuneIn Radio