Men’s Basketball: Cats end decade-long drought, will face Tulsa in NIT opener

Matt Forman

Senior guard Craig Moore will have one more opportunity to take the court in a purple uniform. He and the Wildcats accepted a bid to play in the NIT Wednesday night against Tulsa. It will be his first postseason action at Northwestern. Matt Forman/The Daily Northwestern

When coach Bill Carmody opened the New York Times magazine on Sunday morning to fill out the crossword puzzle, the first clue he read was an omen of things to come.

City in Tornado Alley.

“I thought Kansas and all that, but when you do crosswords, you look for something with a lot of vowels,” Carmody said Sunday night. “I’m not superstitious, but I’m not stupid either.”

The answer to the clue and the answer to Wildcats’ fans biggest question, where the team will be playing: Tulsa.

In his ninth season leading the Wildcats, Carmody will be making his first postseason appearance, facing No. 4 Tulsa on Wednesday night. NU accepted a bid to play in the NIT as a No. 5 seed, and will travel to Oklahoma to face the Conference USA foe.

“I’ve been here nine years and we haven’t gotten this far yet, so I feel pretty good about that,” Carmody said. “I think our guys feel pretty good about themselves and the team too.”

After finishing the season 17-13, including a first round loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament, the Cats will be playing in their first postseason game since 1999.

The NIT is a postseason tournament offering 32 bids to teams that fail to make the NCAA Tournament. Seven Big Ten teams will be playing in March Madness, while Penn State will join NU in the NIT. The higher seeded team in each matchup plays host to the visiting team until the semifinal round, when games are played at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

While the Cats fell short of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time, any postseason action is viewed as a step forward. Since the NCAA took over the NIT three years ago, the consolation tournament has re-established its prestige.

“Given where we’re coming from, people looking at us not like a traditional basketball school, you really can’t look down at the NIT at all,” junior forward Kevin Coble said. “I think these other teams take it for granted a little bit.”

Tulsa (24-10, 12-4 Conference USA) finished second in its conference behind Memphis, who earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Hurricanes are led by 7-foot junior center Jerome Jordan, who averages 14 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.

“We just saw some of the highlights of their big guy down low and I think that’s going to be trouble for us if we don’t handle our zones well,” Coble said. “Hopefully throwing some of our stuff at them that they haven’t seen throughout the year, will be a little bit of a different look for them.”

After an early exit in the conference tournament, NU has been scrimmaging without a game plan over the last three days. Now, knowing who their opponent is, the Cats will watch the last six games Tulsa played to implement a strategy and put a scout team in place.

The winner of Wednesday’s game with Tulsa will face either No. 1 seed Auburn of the Southeastern Conference or No. 8 seed Tennessee-Martin of the Ohio Valley Conference. Auburn is the overall No. 1 seed for the entire NIT.

When Carmody tries to do next week’s crossword, maybe he’ll have to fill out a six-letter word or a 15-letter word. Either way, his squad is making history.

“It means that the program is going in the right direction,” senior guard Craig Moore said. “In the years to come, I think there will be even more progression.”

[email protected]