#8 Northwestern vs. #9 Vanderbilt
#8 Northwestern: 23-11, (10-8)
Player to watch: Bryant McIntosh
Remember when Indiana didn’t recruit in-state, state champion Bryant McIntosh? Northwestern fans do, and they sure are thankful to Tom Crean. Averaging 14.4 ppg and 5.2 apg, McIntosh hasn’t necessarily put up great numbers on offense, but, without a doubt, is the Wildcats most important player. If Northwestern wants to secure its first tourney win in program history, B-Mac will have to take care of the basketball and get into the lane to create for his teammates. When he is on, the Cats’ offense is on.
X-Factor: Outside Shooting
One thing that has troubled Northwestern throughout the season, is knocking down outside shots. In losses, the Wildcats have often gone ice cold from outside. This ties back in to why I believe Bryant McIntosh has to be on his game. He must attack the basket early on, so the perimeter will be open for shooters like Scotty Lindsey and Vic Law. Also, Chris Collins needs to gameplan an inside-outside by getting Derek Pardon involved early on so Vandy will honor the paint which will help open up the perimeter.
#9 Vanderbilt 19-15, (10-8)
Player to watch: Luke Kornet
Luke Kornet is by far the most experienced player on this young Vanderbilt roster. He averages a solid 13.2 ppg and 6.2 rpg. Kornet has struggled with his offensive consistency sitting at about 40% field goals on the year, but what stands out is his ability to block shots (2 bpg), which will be key in eliminating the inside game of Northwestern.
X-Factor: Outside shooting
Just like Northwestern, outside shooting was a major issue for Vandy in losses. Somewhat of a “live by the three die by the three” type of team. This all starts with Riley LaChance, who has shot close to 50% from deep on the season. He will need to be the catalyst for an inconsistent Vandy offense. Similar to McIntosh on NU, LaChance must get going early for Vandy to click on the offensive side of the ball.
Matchup to watch: Riley LaChance – Bryant McIntosh
The battle to watch will be at the point guard position in this contest. McIntosh is a great distributor while LaChance can stroke it from outside. Whomever settles in earliest will make the biggest impact in deciding the outcome of this game.
The Commodores led the SEC with a 37.7% clip from beyond the arc. It will be essential for Northwestern to knock down shots in order to keep up with this sharpshooting Vanderbilt squad.
Prediction: Northwestern 64, Vanderbilt 60
I see this matchup as extremely equal in terms of style of play and tempo. That being said, whichever team that shoots better from the outside will win this game. I’m giving the edge to the Cats here because I know the boys from Evanston will be hype to play in their first tournament game.