Chicago’s other drought in sports is over.
More than four months after the Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1907, the Northwestern Wildcats are in the Big Dance for the first time — ever. Will there be butterflies or will the team flourish on tournament adrenaline? We’ll find out Thursday afternoon as the eighth-seeded Wildcats face ninth-seeded Vanderbilt in Salt Lake City at 4:30 p.m. ET on TBS.
Northwestern earned the 8 seed in the West Region by going 23-11 and 10-8 in the Big Ten, then advancing to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. It’s the second straight 20-win season for the Wildcats, who have been under the direction of Chris Collins for four seasons.
Vanderbilt, on the other hand, enters the game with a 19-15 record and 10-8 mark in SEC play. Vanderbilt had two key wins against Florida in its last four games — including one in the SEC Tournament — which boosted the Commodores’ résumé.
Northwestern-Vanderbilt game time, details for 2017 NCAA Tournament
Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
Date: Thursday, March 16
Place: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City
What TV channel is Northwestern-Vanderbilt basketball on?
How can I watch Northwestern-Vanderbilt basketball online?
All NCAA Tournament games can be streamed through March Madness Live.
How can I listen to Northwestern-Vanderbilt basketball on the radio?
Northwestern basketball is carried by WGN Radio 720.
Who are the announcers for Northwestern-Vanderbilt basketball?
TBS: Andrew Catalon and Steve Lappas will announce the game with Jamie Erdahl reporting.
WGN Radio: Dave Eanet and Joey Meyer have the call.
Northwestern-Vanderbilt basketball preview
More than a cute story
Northwestern isn’t just a feel-good story in this tournament. The Wildcats have the potential to make a run to the Sweet 16 or deeper if things go their way.
Offensively for Northwestern, it starts with junior guard Scottie Lindsey, the team’s leading scorer for much of the season, until an ankle injury late in the season slowed his production. He still enters the game averaging 14.2 points per game, and more importantly comes in on a roll. Averaging more than 16 points in his last three games, expect Lindsey to have the ball should they need a bucket late in the game.
Fellow junior guard Bryant McIntosh leads the team in scoring at 14.2 points per game, while also dishing out a team-best 5.2 assists per game, and sophomore center Dererk Pardon provides 8.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game inside.
Vanderbilt has a balanced scoring attack led by Matthew Fisher-Davis’ 13.6 ppg. He’s one of four Commodores averaging double figures, with Luke Kornet’s 13.2 ppg second.
Maintaining the D
Perhaps the biggest similarity the teams share is on defense. Bryce Drew’s Commodores are certainly at their best when they show up defensively.
The Commodores allowed 68.1 points per game during the season. However, they’ve allowed just 61.0 points per game in their last seven contests, five of which have been wins.
Northwestern — which averages 71.1 points per game offensively — has given up only 65.1 points per game this season, the 34th-best mark in the country. Thursday’s matchup might be one of the lower-scoring outcomes of the day. As of Wednesday night, the game had a 130-point over/under and Vanderbilt was listed as a 2-point favorite by the Las Vegas Westgate SuperBook.
Don’t get lost in the moment
Northwestern coach Chris Collins is just hoping his team comes out and responds to big games like it has all season.
“Our guys have had a couple of days to lock in and get through all the hoopla of getting in and the Selection Show and things like that,” Collins told reporters. “We’re back on the practice floor trying to win a game. You have to be at your best this time of the year because everyone is really good.”
Here are his full comments from Wednesday’s press conference:
— StudioN (@NU_StudioN) March 15, 2017