It's been a very eventful week for Northwestern men's basketball but, finally, the season opener is here. Later tonight, at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Wildcats will play a game that counts for the first time since their 71-56 loss to the Indiana Hoosiers in the Big Ten Tournament last March.
They'll welcome the UMass Lowell River Hawks, a team that only joined Division 1 basketball two seasons ago, to Evanston in both teams' regular season openers. Northwestern beat Quincy College 80-64 in an exhibition last Thursday but the game tonight is one that actually counts. The River Hawks, who play in the America East, did not have an exhibition game this season.
Last year, in the program's sophomore season in D1, UMass Lowell -- under coach Pat Duquette -- went 12-17 (6-10 in conference play) overall with decent non-conference wins over upstart NJIT, Boston University, Fordham and Sacred Heart. The River Hawks, as they did in the 2013-14 season, opened up against a Big Ten foe in last year's campaign, losing to Ohio State. The year before, they lost to Michigan.
Only two of UMass Lowell's top five scorers from last season are back, though, as Lance Crawford (transferred to South Alabama), Chad Holley (graduated) and Marco Banegas-Flores (graduated) are no longer with the program. However, the River Hawks' leading scorer, redshirt sophomore guard Jahad Thomas, who was the only player to average double digit points (14.3), is back as is sophomore sharpshooter Matt Harris. Thomas made over 52 percent of his field goals in 2014-15 and grabbed a team-high 6.5 boards per contest.
As it customary with a team just transitioning into Division 1 from Division 2, the River Hawks are a very young team, with only two seniors, and as astounding combined eight redshirt and true freshman. This team is about as inexperienced as it can get and with no players taller than 6-8, it's going to be hard for Pat Duquette's team to match up with a Big Ten foe in Northwestern.
Here's how to watch the regular season opener:
Follow us on Twitter for live, in-game updates from Welsh-Ryan. Also, this post will turn into the GameThread 30 minutes before tip.