Going into this season, I was pretty optimistic about what this team could do this season. They have a superstar player and two very good supporting players all in their senior seasons, and some interesting role players who could make an impact. Now that they are almost halfway done with the non-conference portion of their schedule, with their toughest non-con opponents out of the way, where does this team stand, and where could they end up?
The ‘Cats have five wins and their only loss came against DePaul when Nia Coffey was out. The fact that Northwestern was at all competitive for part of that game was encouraging, though it showed how much Coffey means to this team. Coffey has missed two games for the ‘Cats and still has 25 more points than any other player.
The most impressive performance to date was clearly last Friday when the ‘Cats upset no. 16 Florida without Christen Inman. Nia Coffey showed why she’s one of the best players in college basketball with a monster game (26 points, 14 rebounds), and freshman Abi Scheid had the best game of her young career with 13 points off the bench. Florida is a solid SEC team that made the tournament last year and has high hopes for this season, so this was a huge win that shows this Northwestern team could be a legitimate threat this year.
And Northwestern as a legitimate threat isn’t a new thing either. They were the no. 12 team in the country around this time last year, and it’s possible that this year’s team is more talented. Should they actually have been the 12th ranked team? No probably not, and their collapse in Big Ten play showed that. But this could certainly be a high-quality team in conference play.
As I’ve said before, their biggest problems that caused 14 conference losses last year were their lack of depth and struggles from the three-point line. Lauren Douglas has been key for the team’s depth, getting starts in place of both Nia Coffey and Christen Inman while they were out, and performing well all-around. She’s third on the team with 9.3 points per game, and she’s chipped in 2.0 blocks per game on the defensive end. She’s not nearly the playmaker she was before her injury, but she can guard multiple positions and fit nicely into the flow of the offense. She gives the Wildcats a quality player outside their star core that they didn’t have last year.
As for the three-point shooting, Lydia Rohde has been red-hot from deep out of the gate. She’s 15-24 from deep, which accounts for half of the team’s made threes. While that’s not sustainable, I’d be shocked if she shoots 29.6 percent from deep like she did last year. She’s clearly taken a step up this season, probably due to her open looks coming with the starting units. Replacing Maggie Lyon was a concern going into the year, and Rohde has stepped up and filled in nicely.
It’s still early, but this team has looked solid out of the gate with some of their toughest opponents behind them. At this point, it seems reasonable to expect a decent finish (between 3rd and 6th) in the Big Ten with a potential NCAA tournament bid. The talent is there, and some of the pieces look like they’re fitting together to form a quality team.