I remember as a young impressionable child having my parents take me to Northwestern’s NIT game against DePaul in 1994. I think that day even more than the football team’s run to the Rose Bowl a year later is what cemented me as a Northwestern fan. Welsh-Ryan was rocking that night and when Kevin Rankin put in a dunk off the opening tip the roof almost came off the place. The atmosphere might not be as great Wednesday night when the Wildcats host the UW-Milwaukee Panthers, but I know hosting a postseason game is a special thing for Northwestern and I suspect NU fans will turn out to support the Wildcats.
Ideally, Northwestern wouldn’t host postseason games because they’d play at a neutral site in the NCAA Tournament. However, with the clear death of the NCAA Tournament dream, I can’t complain about hosting a game in the NIT. The NIT is still a chance to win a championship and hosting this game gives NU at least a slightly better shot at picking up a title than they had the last two years when the opened NIT play on the road and lost both games.
The Panthers are coached by Rob Jeter a former assistant at Wisconsin-Madison so NU should more or less know what to expect. UW-Milwaukee will use the swing offense and be aggressive in man-to-man defense. That swing offense creates open shots for a number of Panther including 6-8 Tony Meier who despite his size prefers to play on the outside. Meier is third on his team in scoring with 11.8 ppg, but makes 43% of his threes and is one of four Panthers starters who will shoot from the outside. I suspect that Northwestern will stay away from their 1-3-1 zone given Milwaukee’s ability to knock down treys. Another high scoring Panther is Tone Boyle. Boyle makes 38.3% of his threes and scores 13.1 ppg. He’s a 6-4 guard that NU will likely need to stop from getting open looks. The one Panther starter who doesn’t shoot threes is actually their leading scorer. Anthony Hill scores 15.5ppg working on the inside. At 6-7 he’s also the team’s leading rebounder with over 6 boards a game. He converts more than 50% of his looks so NU needs to keep away from the basket and off the glass.
One area where UW-Milwaukee has trouble is ball security. Point guard Kaylon Williams is the only Panther in the regular rotation who has more assists than turnovers. That means NU needs to play the same type of pressure defense they played in the Big Ten Tournament. If NU does so I suspect they’ll get some easy baskets and have more total shots than the Panthers.
The Panthers regular rotation tops out at 6-9 height wise. That means NU could win the rebounding battle if they go aggressively to the glass and Luka Mirkovic stays under control. If Luka does stay under control he could get some easy baskets like he got versus Indiana. Also, John Shurna’s resurgence in the Big Ten Tournament loss to Ohio State is a major plus for NU and I know Juice Thompson will have a big game. The question as far as NU’s advancement in the NIT is Drew Crawford. Will he have a jump shot? And if he doesn’t have a jump shot will he try to finish aggressively if he takes the ball to the hoop? If Crawford can’t shoot and needs to drive, he needs to try to finish strong and dunk the ball instead of putting up wussy finger role layups.
At home and with more size I think NU has a great chance to win this game. I hope the fans sure up, though, because I’m sure UW-Milwaukee will have their supporters as well. It should be a lot of fun and if NU does win they might have a chance at a home game in round two as Boston College passed on hosting a first round game. Of course, we need to make we take care of round 1 first. I predict: Northwestern, 77 UW-Milwaukee, 70