NCAA Tournament Predictions: Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt

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Northwestern coach Chris Collins, center, and players react as the watch the broadcast of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament selection show, Sunday, March 12, 2017, in Evanston, Ill. Northwestern will play Vanderbilt in the first round, in Northwestern’s first appearance in the tournament. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(WTNH)- It’s March Madness, the greatest time of the year. Looking for some help with your bracket? Don’t know which teams to believe in, in this crazy college hoops season? We’ve got your back. We’re breaking down every first-round game in the field of 68, plus looking ahead at which teams will make the run to the Final Four.

8. Northwestern (23-11, 10-8/Big Ten)–Hey, did you hear Northwestern made the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever? I mean, it’s only been mentioned by about 4,585 sports journalists and Stephen Colbert, as well as every alum who ever spent a semester in Evanston.

All kidding aside, it is pretty cool that the Wildcats will be dancing for the first time, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect, as the streak came to an end just months after the freaking Cubs won the World Series. What a time to be alive.

Chris Collins, another former Duke assistant (there are lots of them in this tournament), has done a fantastic job with this group, preaching tough defense and patient offense.

The Wildcats rank 34th in points allowed (65.1), and are tied for 65th in assists (15.3 per). They’re led by 6-3 junior point guard Bryant McIntosh (14.4 ppg, 5.2 apg) and 6-7 sophomore Vic Law (12.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg). The future is bright in Evanston.

9. Vanderbilt (19-15, 10-8/SEC)– It was a little bit stunning to see Vanderbilt, with all of its 15 losses, earn a No. 9 seed and place itself solidly in the field, especially after getting smoked by Arkansas, 76-62, in the SEC semis.

The fact that the Commodores swept Florida in three games, and played the nation’s toughest non-conference schedule, certainly helped.

Still, Bryce Drew (the guy who hit The Shot for Valpo in the ’98 NCAAs), has done a terrific job of replacing longtime head coach Kevin Stallings, who was the best coach in Vanderbilt history. Stallings left for Pittsburgh after last season.

Not many would have expected Drew to get the Commodores back in the Big Dance in his first season, yet here they are. Vandy has a stable of good shooters and one of the SEC’s best guards in Matthew Fisher-Davis (13.6 ppg). 7-2 big man Luke Kornet is one of the best centers in the league, as well (13.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg).

PREDICTION: It’s going to be tough for Northwestern to shake off all of the extra media attention, focus and get ready to play in the biggest game in their school’s history. That, and the fact that Vanderbilt is not an easy study (even for Northwestern kids) makes this a tough matchup for the Wildcats. Sorry, Mike Greenberg, Mike Golic, Stephen Colbert, David Schwimmer, Warren Beatty, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the 4,328 other famous alumni that have come out of the woodwork over the last few weeks. We’re going with Vandy.

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