Staff Predictions: 2021-22 Northwestern Women’s Basketball

Northwestern women’s basketball is back! The ‘Cats are coming off an exciting 2020-21 season that saw the team clutch an NCAA Tournament win for the first time in 28 years. There’s nothing quite like the competition in Big Ten women’s basketball — so what will this year look like for Joe McKeown and the Wildcats? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, here are our staff’s predictions for the upcoming season:

Andrew Neville (@AndrewNeville20): 16-14 (7-11 B1G)

Northwestern will struggle to find consistent offense this year outside of Veronica Burton, but The Blizzard defense will be menacing enough to keep them in games and allow them to just barely eke out a winning record.

Eric Rynston-Lobel (@EricR_L): 20-10 (10-8 B1G)

The program enters 2021-22 with a lot more youth than we’ve seen the last few years. Having Veronica Burton and Sydney Wood anchoring The Blizzard will surely help, but I’m not sure how this team will score consistently. Lindsey Pulliam and Jordan Hamilton took nearly 43% of the Wildcats’ shots last season, and with both of them gone, that’s a major void to fill. The progression of sophomores Paige Mott, Anna Morris and Jasmine McWilliams and the game readiness of first-years Jillian Brown, Caileigh Walsh and Hailey Weaver will likely determine the fate of this season. This team can certainly fight for a return to the NCAA tournament, though I don’t expect it will be the smoothest ride.

Ally Navarrete (@ally_nav12): 19-11 (10-8 B1G)

Veronica Burton is one of the best players in the country, but unfortunately, she’ll constantly face players this season who can same the same. Big Ten women’s basketball is just. that. good. Taking down teams like Michigan, Indiana, Iowa and Maryland will be tough for the ‘Cats, especially with such a young team. A trip to the NCAA Tournament is definitely within reach but in terms of conference play, there are going to be some serious battles on the court this season. With all that being said, I think a winning record is still in Northwestern’s future.

Margaret Fleming (@mgfleming12): 22-8 (12-6 B1G)

With Veronica Burton leading this team, the ‘Cats will be electric. Throw in an outstanding recruiting class and phenomenal team chemistry, and this team will put up a fight against every opponent. Most of the non-conference schedule should be easy wins, as should a lot of the Big Ten matchups. That said, after some tough non-con opponents like Oregon and DePaul, I’m predicting some hard Big Ten losses for the ‘Cats. I think they’ll remain near the top of the pack, but some consistently talented teams like Iowa and Michigan might be challenging to beat.

Jacob Brown (@cubsfan57): 17-13 (9-9 B1G)

Last year Northwestern struggled offensively, despite being led by one of the most prolific scorers in program history. Veronica Burton can do a lot on the offensive end, but she can’t do it all. Northwestern’s defense will be enough to win games in a lot of matchups, but against the juggernauts of the conference like Indiana, Iowa and Maryland, Northwestern’s offensive deficiencies will hold them back, and the ‘Cats will finish near the middle of the pack. With that being said, the Big Ten is stacked, so a six seed going into the Big Ten Tournament and a close win in the first-round there should be enough to earn the ‘Cats another trip to the big dance. My prediction: NU wins its first round in March Madness and threatens to upset its second-round opponent, but comes up just short, marking the end of Veronica Burton’s program-defining career. 

Ashley Tumpowsky: 21-9 (11-7 B1G)

Unfortunately, I believe the team is going to struggle greatly with the loss of star players Lindsey Pulliam and Jordan Hamilton from last season, especially in terms of consistent offensive production. However, I am confident that Veronica Burton will continue to be the heart-and-soul of this Wildcat team and lead it to a relatively successful season. I expect Joe McKeown to implement his coveted “blizzard” defense once again, keeping games low-scoring and therefore competitive. It is also important to note that there will be some new players on the court this season, including a freshmen class ranked No. 10 in the country by ESPN rankings. I expect these five freshmen to receive valuable playing time this season and be crucial to the foundation of the program in years to come, but am hesitant to predict any of them having any great impact on the team in their first year. So, although it may not have as much success as in the 2019-2020 season, I do see this Wildcat team being towards the high-middle of the pack in the Big Ten and using this season for player development. 

Max Rogal (@mjrog3): 19-11 (11-7 B1G)

This team struggled to put the ball in the basket for large parts of last year and just lost the third-highest scorer in program history, Lindsey Pulliam. Offensively, look for big steps forward from younger players like sophomore forwards Paige Mott and Anna Morris, as well as continued improvement from senior point guard Veronica Burton. Burton, a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, solidified her status as one of the country’s best players last year, and will anchor another elite defense that will help the ‘Cats win some games even when the shots aren’t falling. There’s a lot to be excited about this team and fans should expect a return to the NCAA tournament, but in a stacked Big Ten (four teams in the preseason AP top 11), it’s tough to project a finish higher than fifth or sixth.

Eli Berk (@eli_berk): 17-13 (11-7 B1G)

This season will tell us a lot about the new core of the ‘Cats and whether or not they can continue their recent momentum. The Big Ten is stacked with talent and it looks like they may be finding a way to turn up the heat to defeat Joe McKeown’s blizzard defense. They have the opportunity to get their feet set in conference play early, meeting with Michigan State twice and a road trip to Illinois. It does pick up, however, as they may struggle to find ways to beat electric players throughout the conference like Caitlin Clark, Grace Berger and Naz Hillmon. Call me a pessimist, but I see this year as a step back for the ‘Cats, with them approaching a .500 record. However, I would love to be proven wrong.

John Volk (@jk_volk):  20-10 (12-6 B1G)

The last three years we’ve talked about Veronica Burton playing the Robin to Lindsey Pulliam’s Batman. This is the year Burton becomes Nightwing. If she wasn’t already, the back-to-back Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year is now officially the focal point of everything Northwestern wants to do on both ends of the court. Burton will get hers — this season’s success, though, depends on the degree to which the players around her can step up. The ‘Cats also have Sydney Wood (“the most underrated player in college basketball,” according to Joe McKeown), but the pressure will be on the young core and this exciting class of first-years to contribute early. A tough non-conference schedule and some daunting Big Ten rivals present a tall task for Northwestern, but another NCAA Tournament run should be in the cards.

Brea Lassek (@BreaLassek): 18-12 (12-6 B1G)

Without one of the program’s most prolific players in Lindsey Pulliam, Northwestern will rely on a young crew to compliment Veronica Burton. The Blizzard defense will continue to impress, but questions still remain whether or not the Wildcats can produce enough offensively. The ‘Cats may struggle against some of the better Big Ten foes; nevertheless, I’m fired up (with Joe McKeown) for fans to be back in Welsh-Ryan.

Kiki Higuchi: (@kychiguchi): 21-9 (11-7 B1G)

Northwestern struggled last year with maintaining possession. When it got beat to the boards and in second-chance points the team generally did not come away with a dub. While the Wildcats are deeper in the post than they were last year, success there will depend on how much Anna Morris and Paige Mott have improved over the summer. Their first year was a trial by fire for the sophomore bigs, but their production needs to improve drastically if this team wants to vie for Big Ten Championship and I think they’re going to need more time. Therefore, my prediction for the Wildcats is an over 0.500 season and a chance at a post-season NCAA run, but not a ton of success in conference play. 

Big Ten competition is stiff this year and I think Northwestern will take most of its losses through the conference, particularly against Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan, Maryland and Indiana. Despite losing tons of talent last year, Maryland took the ‘Cats to task and I think it can easily do that again this year. Michigan and Nebraska are becoming staple losses for this team and I don’t imagine we’ll see anything different this year. Despite playing Iowa, Ohio State and Indiana incredibly well last year and in past years, the loss of Lindsey Pulliam on the offensive end and Jordan Hamilton on the defensive end will hurt the Wildcats in these match-ups and I think that will prove to be the difference. 

Adam Clark (@adamclark_21): 21-9 (11-7 B1G)

Northwestern is down a star in Lindsey Pulliam, which is a tragedy, and Pull-Up Pulliam will be severely missed. However, the even bigger tragedy is that Northwestern did not receive a single vote in the AP Preseason Top 25 poll. Five Big Ten Schools sit in the top 25, and NU should be one of them. The ‘Cats will make the tournament again with their two senior guards Sydney Wood and Veronica Burton eyeing a return to the Big Dance. The rookie class looks strong for the ‘Cats, look for McKeown & Company to make some waves and have another shot at making the Sweet 16 come March.

Gavin Dorsey (@gjdorsey7): 17-13 (8-10 B1G)

One of the best teams in the country last year at forcing takeaways, Northwestern will look to continue its defensive dominance led by the return of the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Veronica Burton. However, I’m not sure the Wildcats have enough offensive firepower to keep up with the likes of Maryland, Michigan, and Iowa among others. I think the losses of Lindsay Pulliam and Jordan Hamilton will significantly hurt Northwestern’s scoring, but the defensive prowess of Burton and a hopefully healthy Sydney Wood should win the ‘Cats some games. 

Andrew Kupfer (@AndrewKupfer): 23-7 (11-7 B1G)

The Big Ten is the cream of the crop for women’s college basketball. The fact that the ‘Cats play in such a difficult conference gives this solid team additional motivation. Joe McKeown’s squad looks poised to bounce back this year from a slightly disappointing 2020-2021 season. Courtney Shaw and Veronica Burton will bring the necessary experience for this young team — and this team is young. More than half of the players on the team are first-years or sophomores. The ‘Cats will have growing pains throughout the season, especially against tough inner conference opponents. Expect a good showing in overall Big Ten play and a strong finish to the season.