Lehigh's hands full in opener
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Lehigh vs. Northwestern, 10 p.m. (Eastern)TONIGHT) : Expect to learn a lot about this year's Lehigh team from its opener against Northwestern in the Black Coaches Association Invitational in Laramie, Wyo. Northwestern, a perennial Big Ten doormat, is no powerhouse. But the Wildcats are still a Big Ten team with Big Ten recruits and a Princeton-style offense that can give you fits.
In his sixth season at NU, coach Bill Carmody reportedly has his deepest team since he arrived in Evanston from Princeton in 2000. That, of course, is a dubious distinction since the 'Cats have had just one winning season (16-13 in 2001-02) under Carmody. Northwestern is 68-80 under Carmody, but 53 of those losses have been in Big Ten games. NU's non-conference mark under Carmody is 41-27.
Despite its historic struggles (NU has never been to the NCAA TOurnament), the Wildcats are 6-1 all-time against Patriot League teams. None of those six wins, though, came against the modern-day, scholarship-era Patriot League. NU's last win over a PL team was a 69-61 win over Bucknell in 2003.
Northwestern returns three starters and eight letterwinners, including All-Big Ten forward Vedran Vukusic, a 6-8 senior from Croatia who averaged almost 17 points and 4 rebounds per game last year.
To be certain, Vukusic will be a tough matchup for the Mountain Hawks, especially since 6-10 senior center Mike Thompson is pretty good, too. Thompson, a Duke transfer who played in just 13 games last year due to an ankle injury, averaged 10 ppg.
Northwestern also has good size on the bench, with 6-10 junior Vince Scott and 6-8 Kentucky transfer Bernard Cote´. Cote´, who Carmody calls a two-guard with a big man's body, could be a matchup nightmare, too, given his ability to shoot from the perimeter.
In the backcourt, Michael Jenkins and Mohamed Hachad both return after much of starting last season. Jenkins, a former walk-on who mans the point, is just 5-9. Hachad, at 6-4, is another matchup problem for Lehigh's small backcourt. Hachad shot 48 percent from the field last season, most by slashing to the basket. He is not a three-point threat.
It will be interesting to see if Carmody plays the taller Hachad on Joe Knight.
Knight, as will be the case a lot this season for Lehigh, will be the key. If he can get things going offensively, it opens up a lot for the rest of the Lehigh lineup. On the other hand, If NU can check Knight one-on-one, it might be a long night for Lehigh.
Between the presence of Knight, and its usually stingy style of defense, Lehigh certainly has a chance in this game. And with Charlotte or Coppin State awaiting the winner (actually, and the loser) in the second round, a 2-0 start is not out of the question if the Hawks get past Northwestern.
Even with a first round loss, Lehigh should stand a decent shot of coming home from Wyoming 2-1, since UNC Wilmington or Alabama State are likely third round foes for the team that loses the Northwestern-Lehigh game, assuming chalk holds and Butler and Wyoming win their openers in the other half of the 8-team bracket.
NOTE: The BCA Invitational will utilize the 2005 NCAA Men's Basketball Experimental Rules. The changes that will be in effect all apply to the playing floor. The three-point arc will be moved one foot farther out to a distance of 20 feet, nine inches, while the free throw lane will be extended one foot on each side. Also, a restricted area arc will be placed in the free throw lane, three feet from the center of the basket ring.
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