Wednesday, March 16th, 7:00 CT
For a school-record third-consecutive season, Northwestern will play in a postseason tournament, and for the very first time, they will host a home game.
On Wednesday night, Northwestern will host the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers at Welsh-Ryan Arena for the first round of the National Invitational Tournament.
After a promising start, the Wildcats bowed out of the Big Ten Tournament in the second round, which killed their last possible chance of reaching the NCAA Tournament. Northwestern beat up on a struggling Minnesota team, and then gave top-ranked Ohio State a major scare, but fell in overtime.
There's no denying how special that first NCAA Tournament berth would've been, but let's not have that take away from what is still a history-making tournament appearance for the program. No other Northwestern team has ever reached the postseason three-straight seasons.
With that goal achieved, the Wildcats' next step is to win the tournament, and first up is Milwaukee.
The Panthers enter the NIT with wins in 10 of their last 12 games. They fell just short of winning the Horizon League, falling to Butler in the championship game. Now in his sixth season as head coach, Rob Jeter continues to build Milwaukee into a winning program.
Both teams are hungry and looking for a trip to the Big Apple. It all starts on Wednesday night.
G: #22 Juice Thompson (5'10) SR.
G: #4 Alex Marcotullio (6'3) SOPH.
F: #1 Drew Crawford (6'5) SOPH.
F: #24 John Shurna (6'8) JR.
C: #12 Luka Mirkovic (6'11) JR.
LAST TIME OUT:
In their last game, Northwestern fell to the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. The Wildcats were unable to hold onto their late lead, and Ohio State would take it in overtime.
Milwaukee head coach Rob Jeter to UWMPanthers.com: "I am sure Northwestern is excited to play in the postseason, too, and I think given the fact that they're just down the road and play in the Big Ten, we'll be pretty familiar with each other by Wednesday."
KEY PLAYER FOR THE WILDCATS: Seniors
This is mainly a vote for Michael Thompson—the only senior starter—but it also goes for the rest of the seniors. The NIT brings the seniors some more games, and a trophy down the tunnel. The senior class is the winningest class in program history, and playing in this tournament is yet another remarkable accomplishment in turning this program into a winner. Now, these seniors have to value each game, because any game can be their last.
Look for the seniors—especially Juice Thompson—to be hungry in this tournament, because they should be. If they come out with a lackluster effort, their careers are over.
KEY FOR A WIN: Energy
On paper, this is a game that Northwestern should win. No disrespect to Milwaukee, who is one of the premier teams in the Horizon League, but they're not world-beaters.
Northwestern could and should win this game if they play with the right energy and the right mindset. If the Wildcats value the opportunity in front of them, than they will be dangerous throughout this tournament.