Yeahhhhhhh buddy, home NIT games!
Nobody else is excited for their home NIT games. But, well, for us, it's progress. After two years of seeing the Cats go on the road and lose in the first round, tonight, we get to send off NU's seniors in even more style than years past, and furthermore, they have a damn good shot at winning. (They've been kenpom underdogs the last two years, with the disadvantage of having to hit the road thrown on top of that.) Kansas and Duke we're not, and although it still stings that we didn't make the tourney this year, hell, this should be fun. Let's keep winning.
Hit the jump for stuff.
Are they good?: Most signs point to "sort of". This team was clearly amongst the cream of the crop in the Horizon League, tying for first in the conference with 13-5 record, dealing Butler two of their five losses and handing one to a pretty good Cleveland State team. What really could be worrisome about this team is the way they finished the season: having stumbled to a 10-11 start including a 61-47 loss to DePaul - yeah, it's that bad - they beat Butler 86-80 in OT. From there, they finished the season on a rampage, winning 10 of their last 12 - the two losses being a bad one to Buffalo and a Horizon Tournament loss to Butler, who, in case you ain't heard, are in the NCAA's.
Who they got?: The key player is Anthony Hill, who led the team in scoring and rebounding with 15.5 points and 6.6 rebounds. He's a pretty dominant post player in the Horizon League, having dropped 30 twice and killed Butler with a combined 17-21 shooting from the field in the two regular season victories. He draws fouls at an alarming rate, No. 22 in the country. He's aided by point guard Kaylon Williams - who mustered a triple-double against Butler and is second on the team in rebounding despite his 6-foot-3 height - and a bevy of shooters, including Williams, "center" Tony Meier - No. 15 in the nation in True Shooting percentage due to his 42 percent stroke from behind the arc - and shooting guard Tone Boyle.
What are they good at?: Drawing fouls - mainly because of Hill. I wanna say they're good at shooting because Kenpom says they're No. 37 in the country in 3pa/fga but they only hit 35.3 percent from downtown - decidedly slightly above average.
What are they bad at?: Defense. Again, due to Hill, this is a decent team rebounding, but they're among the worst in the nation in forcing blocks and steals. Their other defensive stats per kenpom aren't bad, but they're not good. Actually, scratch that, they're pretty bad.
Interviews with a guy wearing a Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers sweatshirt: My bro owns a Wisconsin-Milwaukee sweatshirt. (This is the same bro to whom I once referred to as "one of those" while talking about red-headed black guys won the BHGP podcast.) Anyway, I briefly asked him about his Wisconsin-Milwaukee sweatshirt. I asked him these questions while he was watching First Four action before we went to play basketball last night.
SOP: Why are you wearing a Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers Sweatshirt?
Bro wearing a Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers Sweatshirt: I'm from Milwaukee.
SOP: How does it feel to be a traitor?
SOP: Don't you know that thanks to NIT seeding, Wisconsin-Milwaukee are now our bitter rivals?
BWAWMPS: Yeah. (chuckles)
SOP: Who are you rooting for in the NIT matchup between NU and Wisconsin-Milwaukee?
SOP: What do you tell all your friends at Wisconsin-Milwaukee? Do you tell them the same traitorous lies you just told me?
BWAWMPS: I tell them I hope we win..
SOP: How does it feel to be a traitorous bastard?
BWAWMPS: I'm not.
Thanks, Bro Wearing a Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers sweatshirt! I hope this gives you a lot of insight into the minds of Wisconsin-Milwaukee fans.
How can NU win?: Guard the perimeter. Wisconsin-Milwaukee will jack it. Their hope for winning is that things go very well from behind the arc. NU's job is to make sure that doesn't happen. If they keep the Panthers quiet from downtown, I doubt a 6-foot-7 Anthony Hill will muscle his way to victory over post defenders that are by and large taller than him (and just kept Jared Sullinger silent, if it wasn't for bad ref whistles in overtime.) Hill's a 70 percent foul shooter, so Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti will be tasked with keeping him relatively quiet without sending him to the line - they've got height, even if Hill will be more athletic, they should be able to seal him off on the interior as they did Sullinger. I've never seen Milwaukee play, but I can't help but think a Princeton Offense will murder them.
Good names?: Look no further than starting guard Ja'Rob McCallum. Ja'Rob. There's also Tone Boyle, which is pretty cool. Good starting five.
Should NU win?: Kenpom gives NU a 12-point margin of victory. That, and a rowdy home crowd, looks good to me.