Our group of editors discuss what they expect Northwestern women’s basketball to accomplish one season after making a run to the NCAA Tournament.
Ben Goren: 20-10 (10-8 B1G)
This team is going to end up so squarely on the NCAA bubble. Do most teams have as talented of a “big three” as Maggie Lyon, Ashley Deary, and Nia Coffey? No probably not. But until we see the freshmen on the floor making an impact, we have to assume that this team is razor thin.
Northwestern plays a host of cupcakes in non-conference, but a road trip to AP #22 North Carolina and a home contest against Coaches Poll #22 DePaul provide, on the positive side, a resume building opportunity, and on the negative side, potential slip ups.
It’s difficult to project what the Big Ten season will look like. Maryland is untouchable, Ohio State might have the best one-two punch in the country with sophomore Kelsey Mitchell (who averaged 25 freaking points as a freshman) and senior Ameryst Alston (who chipped in with 20 points, 5 boards, and 4 dimes a night), and Michigan State are probably a top tier team too. Nebraska still has Rachel Theriot, Iowa is still Iowa (despite losing most everyone off of last year’s roster), and Rutgers is usually a good bet too.
Northwestern needs to find a backup ballhandler. They need to find out if Nia Coffey can play the 5, and, if she can’t, they need to find out if Allie Tuttle or Christen Johnson play serious minutes. Lots of question marks, not a lot of answers just yet.
Ryan Fish: 21-9 (10-8 B1G)
Yes, there are several question marks surrounding this team heading into the season. Let’s not forget, though, that the five leading scorers from last year (Coffey, Lyon, Inman, Douglas, Deary) are returning for the ‘Cats. Not to mention, an ugly loss to Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament probably left a sour taste in Joe McKeown’s mouth. The talented and now battle-tested core is there for this team, and they’ll be right back in the tournament discussion again this year. If Coffey isn’t completely burned out playing the 5, or if Tuttle and Johnson can step up at that spot (certainly not a guarantee), Northwestern should be in good shape to make the postseason, even with fewer wins on the resume this year. If not, this team will drop back down to the tournament bubble and will have to get some big wins down the stretch in order to go dancing for a second straight year.
Jason Dorow: 20-10 (10-8 B1G)
Before we examine what’s to come in 2015-16 for Wildcat women’s hoops, consider this stat. Northwestern went 10-3 in games last season that were decided by six points or less and contests that went to overtime. NU had a fair amount of luck en route to earning a 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament with 23 wins. Now, Alex Cohen and Karly Roser have moved on, and the lack of a true center will hold this team back somewhat. There is enough offensive power on the roster between Coffey, Lyon, Inman and Douglas to keep this team above .500 in conference though. The Wildcats will be right on the bubble in March.
Ari Ross: 21-9 (10-8 B1G)
There’s lots of question marks surrounding this team, but with Coffey and Lyon, the ‘Cats have one-two punch that’s tough to beat, and I haven’t even mentioned Ashley Deary, Lauren Douglas or Christen Inman. But without Alex Cohen, Northwestern’s going to have some trouble on the boards, and they a few younger players to step up to fill holes in Joe McKeown’s rotation. Jordan Hankins looked good against Seton Hill, but then again, that is Seton Hill, but if she can fill the void left by Karly Roser, while one of Christen Johnson, Maya Jonas or Allie Tuttle can give the ‘Cats meaningful minutes at center, Northwestern should be well on it’s way to another NCAA Tournament berth.
The Wildcats shouldn’t have too much trouble in non-conference play, with their only loss probably coming to either DePaul or North Carolina. Heading into Big Ten play, if the ‘Cats can stay healthy – which they had a bit of trouble doing last season – 10-plus wins in conference play is a realistic goal.
Without Cohen and Roser, this team will take a step or two back, but they’re good enough to eke out 20-21 wins and in as a good of a conference as the Big Ten is, a second-straight NCAA Tournament berth, albeit as a bit lower seed.
Michael Stern: 22-8 (11-7 B1G)
I LOVE this team…they’ve got plenty of explosive players on the perimeter, with Lyon, Inman, and Deary, and Coffey is a proven low-post scorer. I worry about NU’s depth on the front line in games where Coffey gets in foul trouble, but that shouldn’t be a problem in non-conference play, where NU can easily finish 11-1. Women’s college basketball is all about the star players, and Northwestern’s front four can go toe-to-toe with almost any foursome in the Big Ten. The rule change to four 10-minute quarters will allow coach McKeown to play his best players more minutes than ever before, and the loss of Alex Cohen on offense could mean more offensive touches for Coffey and Inman. Also, don’t sleep on Maya Jonas, who should be ready to play a big role in place of graduated Alex Cohen. The ‘Cats win 22 regular-season games and reach the tournament for a second straight year, and this team now has the tournament experience necessary to get past the first round.