There is no question that 2015-16 did not go as planned for Northwestern women’s basketball. The Wildcats started the season ranked in the top-20 of the AP Poll, and peaked at 12th during a non-conference campaign that saw Northwestern finish 11-1. However, Big Ten play was a different story, with the ‘Cats going just 4-14, before winning three games in three days to make the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. That run was enough for Northwestern to make the WNIT, where they were knocked out in the first round by San Diego. At best, 2015-16 was an up-and-down season where expectations were just a bit too high at the beginning. At worst, the ‘Cats fell far, far short of expectations.
With 2015-16 in the rearview mirror, the ‘Cats can start looking forward to next year. With an experienced roster, Northwestern could threaten the top of the Big Ten standings, as well as make a return to the NCAA Tournament.
Northwestern loses just one major contributor, senior Maggie Lyon, and returns the majority of the team’s scoring. As well, Northwestern adds a few highly touted recruits, and could also benefit from the return of the talented Lauren Douglas. Douglas missed the entirety of the 2015-16 campaign, leaving the ‘Cats missing a valuable piece to their admittedly thin rotation. As a rising fifth-year senior, Douglas has the option to return to Northwestern for her final season, or potentially transfer to another school and play right away. At 6-2, Douglas has the length and athleticism to guard multiple positions, an important trait in the extremely talented Big Ten. Her potential return would be a big get for the Wildcats.
If Douglas returns, Northwestern could start 4 seniors, Ashley Deary, Nia Coffey, Christen Inman, and Douglas along with the extremely athletic sophomore Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah. Outside of the always-talented Maryland, it will be hard for anyone in the Big Ten to match that starting 5 in terms of sheer talent.
Northwestern will also add more low-post depth, with the addition of transfer Oceana Hamilton and two freshmen ranked in ESPN’s Top 100: 6-2 Abi Scheid, and 6-3 Abbie Wolf. With the presumed addition of post depth, Northwestern should be much stronger on the block than they were this season.
The big question moving forward for Northwestern will be shooting. Maggie Lyon was a knock-down shooter, and it’s uncertain if Northwestern will have a true deep threat moving forward. It will be crucial for Jordan Hankins to continue to develop as a shooter, as well as for Lydia Rohde to continue to develop into a well-rounded player. If both Hankins and Rohde can help to spread the floor against opposing defenses, Coffey, Deary, and Inman will have open driving lanes, where they thrive as players.
Things are looking up for Northwestern. Next year’s team should certainly set their sights on a return to the NCAA Tournament. While the Big Ten will continue to be a difficult conference to win in, Northwestern should see their stock rise, with the team in the running for a top-4 finish.