After an exhibition win against Illinois Springfield, Northwestern Women’s Basketball opens the season on Friday against Hampton. The Wildcats had a tough, and injury-ridden season last year, but will look to bounce back and return to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.
WNUR Sports will have the call of the ‘Cats opener against Hampton as part of WNUR’s Sportsathon, but first our broadcasters make their predictions for the ‘Cats season:
The non-conference schedule will let the ‘Cats rack up a lot of wins early in the year. The B1G season will be a battle, with road wins most likely at a premium. However, if NU can hold serve at home against everybody that isn’t Ohio State, and pick up a couple of road wins against the projected bottom of the conference (hi Nebraska and Minnesota) they should be in the running for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Player To Watch: Christen Inman. We all know what Nia Coffey and Ashley Deary will do (hint: it’s good.) But for the Wildcats to hit the next level, they’ll need Inman to not only hit her patented 16-footers, but also stretch out opposing defenses, even if only just. Perimeter shooting will be the key for Northwestern. If they have it, or even some semblance of it, this is an NCAA Tournament team. If they don’t have it, opposing defenses will clog the lane and limit the ‘Cats ability to score.
Last season was certainly a disappointing one for a Northwestern team that won its first 10 games but fell apart in Big Ten play with losing streaks of four and five games apiece. But, the talent — and veterans — are still there, especially with star Nia Coffey. Along with Ashley Deary and Christen Inman, as well as the return of Lauren Douglas from injury, Coffey should be able to lead this team back to the NCAA Tournament.
Player to Watch: Nia Coffey. While she can’t do it all by herself — the loss of Maggie Lyon to graduation won’t help matters — Coffey is good enough to carry the lion’s share of offensive production for this team. Also, the supporting cast does have a lot of options, and a solid recruiting class, so the minute-burnout experienced by the Wildcats’ better players in the 2015-16 season shouldn’t repeat itself.
Last year this team struggled with depth, injuries and rebounding, but with Lauren Douglas back in the fold and the additions of Oceana Hamilton, Abbie Wolf and Abbie Scheid, all three of those areas should be shored up. Without Maggie Lyon though, three-point shooting may become a problem, the ‘Cats hit ZERO three-pointers in their exhibition against Illinois Springfield, but they have the talent to figure it out and earn another NCAA Tournament bid.
Player to Watch: Oceana Hamilton. Ever since Alex Cohen graduated, the ‘Cats have struggled to find a true center. Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah slid into that role last season, but based on the exhibition, it looks like she may come off the bench, with Hamilton starting. If Hamilton can turn the ‘Cats’ rebounding woes around, watch out, this team might be the third best team in the Big Ten behind Maryland and Ohio State.
Ben Krieger: 21-8 (11-5 B1G)
The Wildcats have three senior captains in Nia Coffey, Ashley Deary and Christen Inman who provide great leadership and play on the court. With the return of Lauren Douglas from injury, the transfer of Oceana Hamilton from Alabama, and a host of new freshmen joining the team, Northwestern should bounce back from a rough 2015-2016 season and have a good shot at making the NCAA tournament.
Player to watch: Byrdy Galernik. The freshman saw significant playing time as the primary backup to Deary during the exhibition against the University of Illinois Springfield, and Coach McKeown loves her hustle and endurance. She could be the anchor for a second unit that needs to produce when the senior-heavy starting lineup is resting.
The star power on this team is clear, and the three senior leaders could carry this team to a strong finish. However, there are still some things to work out with the supporting cast, so they could drop some more non-conference games than expected. That being said, I believe enough in the star talent on this team to finish strong in Big Ten play, which they weren’t able to do last year.
Player to watch: Lydia Rohde. Rohde looks to be the ‘Cats starting 2-guard in place of Maggie Lyon, and she’ll need to take a significant step forward to be a solid starter. If she can hit a little over 30 percent of her threes and be able to somewhat reasonably guard the opposing team’s third-best perimeter player she should be fine.
The ‘Cats make the NCAA Tournament with a couple of strong wins on their resume.
Player to watch: Nia Coffey. A normal prediction from me? Surprising. Do you know what’s not surprising? Nia Coffey being an All-American and the ‘Cats being good.
Nia Coffey is a bona fide stud, but the Wildcats have no three-point shooting. I expect this team to roll early on – and the return of Lauren Douglas certainly helps. The shooting will hold them back, but a tournament berth is foreseeable this season.
Player to Watch: Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah. She showed off her athleticism last season but needed to polish up. I’ll look for her to do so this season.