Staff Predictions: 2020-21 Northwestern women’s basketball

Northwestern women’s basketball fans certainly have a lot to be excited about entering the 2020-21 season. Coming off a Big Ten title last season and hungry for the NCAA Tournament appearance that never came, a team still loaded with star power could do serious damage this year. Here are our staff’s predictions for the upcoming season:

Eric Rynston-Lobel (@EricR_L): 16-6 (14-6 Big Ten)

I’m still very confident in this group, but I’m not super confident in its ability to replicate the magic of last season. Losing two starters who both averaged over 11 points per game last year will be very hard to replace. That said, the nucleus of this team is still here. Pulliam, Burton and Wood all have areas to improve, and I expect Courtney Shaw to come into her own. The pieces to contend for a Big Ten title are there. I’m just not sure everything breaks as nicely this year as it did last year with more inexperience on the roster.

John Volk (@jk_volk): 18-4 (16-4 Big Ten)

Northwestern’s elite top-end talent combined with a hunger for the NCAA Tournament and one of the best cultures in college sports position the ‘Cats for another big season in 2020-21. Expect an early stumble as the team finds its footing in the replacement of Scheid and Wolf without a long non-conference tune-up period, but Northwestern should shine down the stretch, even in a tough Big Ten. Lindsey Pulliam and Veronica Burton form one of the best duos in the country and seem to keep getting better. Either one of them is liable to take over a game at any moment. Add in a wealth of experienced veterans and a five-star recruit in Anna Morris, and the Wildcats should be on their way to the Big Dance.

Kikue Higuchi (@kychiguchi): 19-3 (17-3 Big Ten)

The defending Big Ten Champions had a historic season last year, ending ranked No. 11 with a 26-4 record, and only losing two conference games (not counting the postseason loss to Michigan). This season they bring back and bring in a lot of great talent, but with an abbreviated schedule and a lack of consistency on offense I don’t know if they’ll pull off another championship. Let’s hope they prove me wrong.

There are only three losses that I can reasonably predict: Iowa, Michigan and Indiana. The ‘Cats should split their two-game matchups against Iowa and Michigan. Both are formidable opponents and the Wildcats were always more reliable at home than they were away last season. Michigan was a troublesome team for the ‘Cats and they brought back its entire starting five, while Northwestern lost two of its biggest producers. I can also see a loss against Indiana for the same reason. Abi Scheid led the ‘Cats in scoring in their comeback, overtime win against the Hoosiers last season. A win against Indiana this year means making up for her production beyond the arc, which is a big ask.

No matter what, I don’t see them losing their berth in the NCAA Tournament and I’m sure Pulliam and Burton will once again garner a trophy case full of postseason awards.

Jack Lido (@JackLido): 18-4 (16-4 Big Ten)

The Wildcats are at the top of their game, and so is the Big Ten. It’s a deep league with a lot of great players, but Lindsey Pulliam stands above the rest. I’ve never seen a coach with more confidence in a player than Joe McKeown with Pulliam. Her offensive production will help the Wildcats win a handful close games, and dominate midseason matchups with teams like Wisconsin and Illinois, teams that Northwestern plays twice. However, the ‘Cats have a few more pairs – with Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State – and will likely lose at least two of those six games. Small ball will usually work well for Northwestern, but it will miss Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf in competitive conference games, and will likely have the difficult task of winning games while losing in the rebounding department. Northwestern will once again enter the Big Ten Tournament as a 2-seed and find their way back to the NCAA tournament as a 4 or 5 seed, led by its two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Veronica Burton and its Third Team All-American Lindsey Pulliam.

Ally Navarrete (@ally_nav12): 18-4 (16-4 Big Ten)

The ‘Cats have some unfinished business to take care of starting Dec. 10. Though they’ve lost two key starters, Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf, Lindsey Pulliam and Veronica Burton are ready to lead this team to greatness this season. While matching last season’s success may prove challenging at times, I think this team will step up and ultimately bring the ‘Cats near the top of the Big Ten rankings and to the NCAA Tournament. 

Jacob Brown (@cubsfan57): 20-2 (18-2 Big Ten)

I think this team is a lot better than people think. Yes, the losses of Abbie Wolf and Abi Scheid are tough, but defensively the ‘Cats can make up for their presence with Courtney Shaw’s aggression, Veronica Burton’s tenacity, and Sydney Wood’s ability to guard taller opponents. On the offensive side, Shaw will play a huge role, dominating the post like Wolf while also creating plays for Burton to attack with her tremendous speed and solid technique in the pick-and-roll game. Losing Scheid’s shooting will hurt, but NU has options beyond the arc, whether it be Jordan Hamilton, Anna Morris or Laya Hartman.

Yes, the Big Ten is stacked, but I think NU matches up well with most of these teams. Maryland lost a ton of talent. Michigan and OSU keep most of their teams, but NU has the talent to match up with them, an experienced roster and a coaching staff that will put their players in a position to win. I honestly think that they lose to Michigan and OSU on the road: that’s it.

Margaret Fleming (@mgfleming12): 19-3 (17-3 Big Ten)

Northwestern proved itself last year and spent the entire off-season preparing to do it again. The ‘Cats have what it takes to be dominant in the Big Ten and the Big Dance at the end of the season. I think all but seven games are locks for the ‘Cats – two vs. Michigan and Ohio State and one vs. Indiana, Iowa and Maryland. These games will be close and exciting, and I’m giving Northwestern four of them to win. I predict Northwestern finishes third in the Big Ten, which isn’t meant as an insult – I believe they can win the conference – but the strength of schedule with only two non-conference games this season might prove tough when it comes to rankings.