Well, it's not the postseason tournament we hoped it would be, but it's the postseason nonetheless, as #7 seed Northwestern travels east to take on the #2 seed Rhode Island Rams in the first round of the NIT. Tip-off is at 6 PM central on ESPNU, with John Rooke and Tim O'Toole on the call.
URI comes in at 23-9 overall, and 9-7 in the Atlantic 10, good for 5th place. They opened the season 19-3 and seemed likely to make the NCAAs, but a 4-6 finish to the season saw them come up just short. Looking at their team stats, a strength for the Rams has been offense, as they rank 30th in the country in offensive efficiency. They hardly ever turn the ball over (8th best in the nation), and are also 48th in offensive rebounding. That combination doesn't bode well against Northwestern's 1-3-1 zone, which must force turnovers to succeed, in part because of how difficult the zone makes defensive rebounding.
Defensively, URI is more vulnerable, as they rank just 145th in the nation. I'm assuming they use a lot of full court pressure and play very aggressively, because they force a lot of turnovers but allow opponents to shoot a very high percentage. If the 'Cats can take care of the ball, they should be able to score in their half court offense.
Rhode Island uses a balanced offensive attack, with 3 players averaging double figures and 7 players averaging at least 6 points per game. Senior guard Keith Cothran leads the way at 14 per game, senior forward Delroy James is just behind at 12 a night, and 6'6" bruiser Lamonte Ulmer is their leading rebounder at 7 per game. Freshman Akeem Richmond is their best 3-point shooter at 40% on the season, and 7 footer Will Martell leads the team in blocked shots.
The two teams are pretty evenly matched on paper, but because it's a road game for Northwestern, it's hard to feel great about their chances. The 'Cats haven't won a true road game since early January at Michigan, and to make matters worse URI is 13-2 at home on the season. Therefore, it's not surprising that Northwestern is 4.5 point underdogs. In fact, I think that line is a bit too low.
Rhode Island 83, Northwestern 72
I can't say I'm optimistic about tonight. URI is tough at home, and I don't think they'll have much trouble scoring against whatever defense NU throws at them. 3-point shooting will keep the 'Cats in it for a while, but URI's superior depth will prove too difficult to overcome in the 2nd half. I really hope I'm wrong, as I'll be making the trip south from Boston to the game.