Northwestern excited about depth in ramp up to title defense

By Jacob Brown

Losing two players is never ideal.

In Northwestern’s case, the departures of Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf leave the Cats with big holes to fill on both sides of the floor. Offensively, Scheid stretched the floor and allowed Veronica Burton and Lindsey Pulliam to penetrate with the backup of a kick out. Wolf not only scored inside with ease, but enabled the offense to flow through her screens and passing ability. Defensively, Wolf and Scheid were both capable of defending the paint, and often found themselves guarding elite Big Ten talent down low.

To replace their production, Northwestern will lean on a cast of experienced veterans and one of the program’s best recruiting classes in history. During the team’s first press conference of the season, players and coaches spoke about who they thought would break out for the ‘Cats his year.

Northwestern’s Depth Will Cause Competition for Minutes

The one common point is that the competition for minutes will be fierce.

“It’s really anyone’s game for that sixth or seventh person off the bench,” said junior forward Courtney Shaw.

The fact that Shaw mentioned this implies that she has earned a starting spot for this season, which seems likely. With that said, NU has a variety of players who are talented enough to start in the Big Ten. Shaw, first-year Anna Morris and senior Jordan Hamilton are competing for two spots in the starting lineup with Pulliam, Burton and Sydney Wood. Assuming that Shaw starts, that leaves of Hamilton or Morris as a sixth player off the bench. Few teams have the luxury of benching a five-star talent such as Morris, or a veteran scorer like Hamilton. Expect one of the two to start, and the other to be the first one off the bench.

This still leaves Coach Joe Mckeown and his staff in a tough, but fortunate situation. Lauryn Satterwhite, Laya Hartman and Kaylah Rainey all saw playing time last year, but minimally. Satterwhite averaged five minutes per game, and Rainey and Hartman each clocked in for just over three minutes per game. Depending on their offseason, any one of them could feasibly earn the seventh and eighth player roles in the rotation. Northwestern also has three talented first-years in Morris, Paige Mott and Jasmine McWilliams, players Hamilton gave high praise to.

“I don’t want to be cliche, and it’s too early to tell, but I think everybody has a shot to have a significant role on this team,” Hamilton said. “Just being in practice we have a lot of offensive power and ability coming in from all positions and all classes.”

Overall, the confidence in depth was resounding, with Burton adding that she has “high expectations for everyone”, and Pulliam saying “I’m excited for y’all to see what people haven’t been able to showcase in the past couple of years.”

Courtney Shaw is Ready to Step Up

The loss of Wolf will be especially hard on the ‘Cats offense. Wolf poured in 11.3 points and just under 3 offensive rebounds per game last year. It will be hard to replace her production, but Shaw is ready to attempt to do so.

The junior averaged four points and 2.7 rebounds per game last year in 12 minutes per game. However, she struggled mightily with fouls, committing one every six minutes she was on the court (Wolf committed one every 12) and shooting only 36% from the line, the lowest among Wildcats who took over six free throws last year.

With that said, she possesses incredible athleticism given her size. Her speed gives her the ability to match up with Big Ten centers defensively. Offensively, she sets hard screens, runs the break well, and is incredibly physical on the post. If she can stay out of foul trouble, she will be a force to be reckoned with on the block and crashing the boards. “I think I see big roles for myself getting more minutes,” Shaw said.

To compete as a post player in a stacked Big Ten, Shaw will have to be aggressive. She has the size and athleticism to do so. Confidence in herself will allow her to go out and play her game, and if she can cut down on the fouling, she will likely see success.

Lauryn Satterwhite shared Shaw’s high expectations for the center, stating that Shaw will be “that big who will be athletic, be the one rebounding, having to pick up where Abbie Wolf and Abi Scheid left off.” 

Perhaps most importantly, her coach knows that she’s ready to do so: “One of our players that I thought had a great year in her role last year was Courtney Shaw last year. She played 10-15 minutes a game sometimes longer, really helped us win a championship and was different than Abbie Wolf and Abi Scheid, but had to play behind them too. But between the three of them it really gave us different looks and she has come back in a great mental state and a position to really step up her game.” 

Shaw is ready to step into a larger role. If there’s one player that Cats fans look to take the next step this year, it should be #15.

Expect Satterwhite and Hartman to Emerge

Shaw and Burton both mentioned Lauryn Satterwhite and Laya Hartman as players who have the potential to emerge this season. Burton in particular expressed confidence in the two, emphasizing the pair’s experience.

“I have expectations for each and every person, I don’t know if there’s anyone I would count out or anyone in particular that I’d be like ‘this is the one,'” Burton said. “But I think players with some experience like Lauryn Satterwhite, Laya Hartman, those types of girls who are returning and gaining experience each and every year, I expect them to do big things.”

Satterwhite missed the 2017 season with a lower-body injury, was limited in 2018, and played much of last season in a knee sleeve. Due to the team’s elongated offseason because of COVID-19, it seems likely that the redshirt junior will be ready to play her first season at full health.

Hamilton expressed delight in Satterwhite’s offseason, stating that she’s “making plays, making reads [and] getting buckets.” If Hamilton’s evaluation holds true, Satterwhite could find herself playing the role of the backup floor general. However, Northwestern is deep at guard so it will be hard for any single player to emerge with too many minutes off the bench.

Hartman similarly fell victim to circumstance in her first year. The 5-foot-11-inch guard found herself buried in the rotation, averaging just 3.3 minutes in 13 games played. With some more time on the court, Hartman could provide a solid stretch option for the ‘Cats. Her size and athleticism are comparable to Sydney Wood, as they are the same height with quick feet. While Wood tends to shy away from shooting, Hartman appears to have the confidence to take shots, hoisting seven from beyond the arc, one every six minutes she played. Her defense isn’t at par with Wood, but that can be said for 99.99% of individuals on this planet. If the sophomore can become more consistent from deep there is no reason for her not to see more minutes this year. Her frame allows her to play the 2, 3 or 4, and with a roster that is lacking in size across the board, Hartman could be used to guard opposing forwards off the bench. Fans should look for her to take a significant step forward this year if given the opportunity.