There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Northwestern women’s basketball this season. Coming off a trip to the WNIT Championship Game, the ‘Cats return four starters and are poised to have one of their most talented rosters in the Joe McKeown era. Here are our staff’s picks for the upcoming season:
Ben Krieger (@TheBenKrieger): 20-9 (10-8, 6th in Big Ten) – NCAA Tournament Bubble
Last year, the Wildcats were 14-8 and firmly in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament bid should they finish strong with seven Big Ten games remaining. Northwestern stumbled to a 2-5 finish, including back-to-back heartbreakers against Purdue and Nebraska, then added an early exit at the Big Ten Tournament. With their NCAA hopes extinguished, the Wildcats only proceeded to roll through the WNIT bracket all the way to the finals. Now that same team is back with even more depth at guard and just one loss, albeit a big one in 2x All-Big Ten forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah. Expect Northwestern to be one of the better teams in the conference and to have a good chance at the NCAA Tournament if they can avoid bad losses and pick up one or two marquee wins.
Kevin Sweeney (@CBB_Central): 19-10 (10-8, 5th in Big Ten) – NCAA Tournament
There’s never been a better time to jump on the Northwestern women’s basketball bandwagon. Look: Northwestern men’s basketball isn’t going to be good this season– they made that clear Friday night against Merrimack. Football season is approaching its conclusion. So why not come support Northwestern WBB? They have a star guard in Lindsey Pulliam, play great defense, and have great chemistry while on the floor. They also play tons of close games! So ‘Cats fans, who’s ready to jump on board with me?
Henry Ettinger (Henry_Ettinger): 19-10 (10-8, T-5th in Big Ten) – NCAA Tournament
Northwestern brings back a lot of production from last year’s WNIT finals team, only losing one player that averaged at least 10 minutes per game last season. However, that one player, Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, is a big loss. She averaged a double-double last season and was second overall in the Big Ten in rebounding. I worry about Abbie Wolf’s ability to replace PKA’s rebounding and rim protection.
Still, returning experience at the guard positions is a great formula for success in college basketball. I expect Lindsey Pulliam, the team’s leading scorer last season, to take another step up this year, and I think Sydney Wood, Jordan Hamilton and Veronica Burton will all take small steps forward on the offensive end as well. That should mean in an improvement for a Northwestern offense that ranked 12th in the Big Ten last season.
One player to watch is Courtney Shaw, a young forward who could find her way into the rotation. Overall, I feel confident in this team improving on last season because of all the returning talent, and that means getting to the NCAA Tournament.
Eric Rynston-Lobel (@EricR_L): 19-10, (10-8, 6th in B1G) – NCAA Tournament
Although there were several disappointing losses down the stretch last regular season (Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan State), the team went on that crazy run to the WNIT Championship game and lost only one player. Obviously, Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah is a major departure, but Abbie Wolf stepping up along with players like Veronica Burton and Lindsey Pulliam gaining more experience should help account for her leaving Evanston. After last year’s magical run through the WNIT Tournament, I suspect this year will end with the ‘Cats in NCAA Tournament.
Parker Johnson (@ParkerKJohnson): 17-12, (9-9, 7th in B1G) – WNIT
There are a lot of reasons to be excited coming into this women’s basketball season. Joe McKeown will have ridiculous depth at the guard position and the ability to lean on what should be a top-5 defense in the Big Ten while having a bona fide lead scorer in Lindsey Pulliam on the other side of the ball. The loss of Pallas Kunayi-Akpanah will definitely hurt, though. The front court is going to be the X-factor this season. If Abi Scheid, Abbie Wolf and Courtney Shaw can put together a useful rotation, the ‘Cats could make noise in the Big Ten, which looks like it will be weaker outside of Maryland this season. I predict that McKeown’s squad will look great in the non-con, but struggle to endure the Big Ten season due to lack of depth and two-way talent in the frontcourt. Similar finish to last year with another WNIT run on the horizon.
Drew Myers: 20-9, (12-6, 4th in B1G) – NCAA Tournament
While this prediction is assuming that Northwestern will have a significantly better season from last year, I think that all the pieces exist for that to become a reality. The only player that the Wildcats lost from last season was Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, and her stats could be replaced by the increased responsibility by developing players like Courtney Shaw and Abbie Wolf. Considering that Northwestern performed as well as it did in last year’s WNIT by making it all the way to the finals, who is to say that an NCAA Tournament berth is not in the Wildcats’ future?