Juice Thompson is going to get to play in front of the home crowd one more time. The Northwestern Wildcats host Milwaukee Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston in the first round of the NIT.
It may not be the NCAA tournament, but the NIT extends the season for 32 teams who would otherwise have to concentrate on going to school. Snubbed bubble teams can use the NIT to prove that they should have been in the tournament. Young teams can use a strong showing to provide some hope and momentum for next season. Smaller schools can show that they can play with the power conference schools.
You can take a look at the draw here. After the jump, a preview of the invitational.
Big Ten Outlook: Northwestern is the only B1G team in the NIT; Minnesota was the only other eligible team, but they were not invited. The Cats are a four seed in Boston College's bracket, and they face 5 seed Milwaukee. The Panthers tied for the regular season Horizon League Championship with Butler and Cleveland State. They lost to Butler in the Horizon tournament championship game.
If Northwestern were to get past Milwaukee, they would play the winner of BC and McNeese State. Although McNeese State is the 8 seed and BC the 1, the game is at McNeese State. If Northwestern were to win a few games, they could possibly face Harvard or Cleveland State among other teams. If the Wildcats play like they did against Ohio State in the BTT, they could win the whole tournament.
Most Likely Upset: In the NIT, there aren't quite as many mismatches as in the NCAAs. That makes picking an upset a little bit harder. Would it be that big of an upset if Harvard beat a 19-13 Oklahoma State team? I wouldn't think so. I'm going to go with Coastal Carolina over Alabama. The Chanticleers may only be an 8 seed, but they average over 77 points per game. As a power conference school that was left on the wrong side of the bubble, Alabama might be too disappointed to give their best effort.
Most Intriguing First Round Matchup: Florida Atlantic vs Miami. Only an hour drive down the Atlantic Coast separates these two schools. I'm not sure that this a big rivalry, but it is former St. John's Coach Mike Jarvis' first postseason game since 2003.
Most Intriguing Possible Later Round Matchup: New Mexico vs Missouri State. Former Missouri State Head Coach and Indiana University legend Steve Alford, now in charge of the Lobo program, could face his former team in the third round. Missouri State is now coached by Counzo Martin, a former Purdue player and assistant coach. Missouri State won the MVC regular season crown, but fell to Indiana State at Arch Madness. New Mexico beat NCAA 3 seed BYU twice this year.
Team that got a raw deal: Boston College, a one seed playing an away game in Louisiana. Apparently the Eagles' basketball arena can't be used due to a conflict with the school's hockey teams.
Best Team Nickname: There are a lot of good names in this bracket: Catamounts, Gaels, Golden Flashes, Stags, Lobos, Shockers, Flyers, Racers and Hokies to name a few. But I'm going to have to go with the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. Like my favorite team, Purdue, Coastal Carolina has a very unique nickname. There probably aren't too many other schools that pick a rooster from Chaucher's Canterbury Tales as their mascot. For more of the backstory on the Chanticleers, check out their official site. If you think that a rooster from a classic work of literature would be a weak mascot, check out this video:
Predictions: I think Northwestern can make some noise in this tournament, and there are some interesting smaller conference schools like Harvard that could do some damage. Dayton, who won last year's NIT by beating North Carolina in the finals, has a chance to repeat, but I like Colorado to win the whole thing. They have proven this year that they can beat some good teams (and lose to bad teams), and they should be playing with a chip on their shoulder since they were shunned by the selection committee.