By Matt Leon

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – St. Joe’s will open play in the NIT on Wednesday night as they host Northern Iowa at Hagan Arena.

The Hawks stand at 20-13 after getting eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament by the eventual champion St. Bonaventure.  Head coach Phil Martelli is pleased that was not the last game of the campaign.

“My message to the players on Sunday evening was to feel good about their accomplishments.  There has been, obviously, a great tradition at St. Joseph’s and then they’ve added their name and their team to that long line of terrific teams.  Anytime you make the postseason, you have to stick your chest out, hold your head high and feel good about the accomplishment.”

Northern Iowa hails from the sneaky good Missouri Valley Conference.  They bring a 19-13 record to Hawk Hill and Martelli says they are incredibly hard to score against.

“One number jumps out at you about Northern Iowa: they give up 61 points a game.  I think that is absolutely astounding in today’s college basketball game.

“All five guys guard the ball.  They keep the court very, very condensed.  They are not a great big team, but they are a terrific rebounding team – particularly defensive rebounding.  You don’t get a lot of second opportunities against them.”

Listen to KYW’s Matt Leon’s interview with Phil Martelli:

The Hawks used a good run in last season’s A-10 Tournament as a springboard to their success this season and Martelli says a strong NIT showing here can do wonders for their preparations for the 2012-13 campaign.

“When you can win a game in the postseason, that you are still preparing for meaningful games and not just working on individual skill development, it’s definitely going to have a bonus effect for next year’s team.  And with us, everybody’s back (next year) so there’s a couple layers to this bonus for us.”

St. Joe’s and Northern Iowa will tip-off at 7:15 pm on Wednesday.  The winner of this game gets the Drexel/Central Florida winner in the second round.