Akron (22-11) at Northwestern (18-13)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, March 13, 9:00 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Welsh-Ryan Arena (8,117) -- Evanston, Illinois. Television: ESPN2. NIT Record: Akron 2-4, Northwestern 4-6. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: Two teams that just missed out on NCAA Tournament bids will meet up in Evanston, as the fourth-seeded Northwestern Wildcats host the fifth- seeded Akron Zips in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament.
Northwestern's long wait for its first bid to the NCAA Tournament will be stalled for yet another year as the Wildcats were not one of the teams called during Selection Sunday, keeping the Wildcats as one of only five squads in Division I to never earn a bid to the Big Dance. Northwestern's record wasn't overly impressive this season at just 18-13 including an 8-10 mark in the Big Ten, spoiling a strong 10-3 start to begin the year and high hopes of NCAA Tournament acceptance.
Akron didn't have much in terms of hope for an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament but after winning the regular season title in the Mid-American Conference, the Zips had a really good shot to take the conference tournament title and the automatic bid that goes with it. The Zips came within one point of reaching that goal but fell 64-63 to Ohio in the title game.
These teams have never met before but both have history in the NIT. This is Akron's fifth time in the event, with a 2-4 record in the previous four trips, while Northwestern will be in its seventh NIT with a 4-6 record all-time.
In a nip-and-tuck championship game Akron fell behind in the second half after leading at the half and trailed by as many as eight points, 62-54, with just over three minutes remaining. The Zips tightened it up by ending the game on a 7-2 spurt but couldn't get off a last second shot and fell to Ohio. Akron turned the ball over a game-high 16 times to open up extra possession for the Bobcats while wasting a career-high 19 points from Alex Abreu.
Akron doesn't normally get the stellar individual offensive performances the Zips got from Abreu, as no player on the roster currently averages more than 10.2 points per game. Zeke Marshall (10.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.8 bpg) is that scorer but has been even more vital to the Zips on the defensive end. The junior center was named MAC Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference in blocked shots. Abreu (9.7 ppg) has transformed himself into a scorer over the last month of the season scoring in double figures in six of the last seven games after doing so only eight times in the rest of the games this year. Nikola Cvetinovic (10.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg) is a decent scorer in the paint, while Quincy Diggs (8.2 ppg) adds offensive firepower off the bench. As a team without any one dominant scorer the Zips were still the second best scoring squad in the MAC (72.2 ppg), thanks in large part to a conference leading field goal percentage (46.2).
Northwestern was outscored 14-7 in overtime in an opening round thriller with Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament. When all was said and done the Wildcats suffered a 75-68 loss due to a poor shooting night in which they put in only 35.1 percent of their shots. The loss came despite a 17-6 edge on points from the free throw lines while the Wildcats also took a 44-29 loss on the boards.
Senior forward John Shurna became Northwestern's all-time leading scorer this season during a fine senior campaign that earned him a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team. Shurna (19.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg) led the conference in scoring and can score from anywhere on the court. Shurna was right near his season average in scoring 21 points against Minnesota. Drew Crawford (16.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg) combines with Shurna to make up the highest-scoring duo in the Big Ten. Northwestern is not as effective an offensive squad as Akron, scoring only 69.5 points per game, while holding the worst rebounding mark (29.3 rpg) in the Big Ten this year. The defensive is also behind the Zips, as the Wildcats allow 67.8 points per game.
Northwestern will benefit from playing at home in this matchup as the Wildcats rely heavily on shooting from long distance, with a Big Ten-leading 278 three pointers this season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northwestern 70, Akron 63
03/13 10:41:47 ET