Congratulations are in order for Maggie Lyon, who was named Big Ten freshman of the year. She becomes the first ever Wildcat to earn the honor, after an outstanding rookie season, in which she led all Big Ten rookies in points (12.8), ranked second in rebounds (4.0) and third in assists (2.9).
Lyon, who was also named honorable mention All-Big Ten by the media, is part of the reason the future is bright at NU, despite what looks to be a second consecutive postseason-less year for the Wildcats. More on that future in a bit.
Shout-outs also to senior forward Kendall Hackney, who was named third-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and honorable mention by the media. Senior center Dannielle Diamant and sophomore point guard Karly Roser, were also named honorable mention All-Big Ten by the media.
For our Wildcats, the regular season is over, and the Big Ten tournament starts Thursday at the Sears Centre in lovely Hoffman Estates, which last I checked is not part of the UK and should not be using snooty spellings for mundane features like a sports arena named after a flagging retail chain.
NU is 13-16, meaning they'll have to run the table in order to finish above .500 and be eligible for a postseason tournament, which in this scenario would be the NCAA Tournament, since they would have won the Big Ten championship. So, NCAA Tournament or bust! Unless, somehow nine teams from the Big Ten get picked for the NCAA tournament, in which case NU would get the conference's automatic bid to the WNIT as the top-finishing non-NCAA-making team, regardless of record. Yeah, that's right, I checked the WNIT selection criteria -- just part of the quality service going the extra mile I provide for you, the readers.
NU faces Iowa in the first round. The Wildcats and Hawkeyes split their two meetings this year. In the first, Karly Roser went end to end and finished a game-winning layup as the buzzer sounded. The second game was not quite so thrilling, as Iowa handily beat NU, 62-45, just this past Sunday.
NU has been maddeningly inconsistent this year, often playing up or down to the level of competition, with very tight losses to then-No. 9 California, No. 9 Penn State and No. 13 Purdue, combined with the aforementioned thrilling upset over then-No. 24 Iowa. On the flip side, NU has also suffered inexplicable losses to the likes of Hofstra and Big Ten bottom feeder Indiana.
Bottom line is, NU couldn't get over the hump in most of its tough games and gave away too many of the winnable ones, and here they are at 13-16, needing four wins in four days to qualify for NCAAs. Turnovers have been a perennial problem for head coach Joe McKeown's squad. To wit: NU was tops in the conference in FG defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 35.3%. But NU finished third to last in scoring defense, allowing 64.4 points per game. Turnovers were the culprit, with NU committing an ugly 18.1 per game.
But, as I said, all due respect to the senior class of Hackney, Diamant, Kate Popovec and Inesha Hale, who were McKeown's first four-year recruiting class, the future is very bright for our Wildcats. Besides Lyon, Lauren Douglas also has had a very encouraging freshman year, emerging as the team's defensive ace. The 6'2" athletic forward leads the team in blocks with 47 and also has chipped in 9.4 points per game and 4.6 rebounds.
Fellow freshmen Christen Johnson and Devon Brookshire didn't get too many minutes, but were fairly highly regarded recruits coming out of high school. And next year's incoming class should be McKeown's best, with McDonald's All-American forward Nia Coffey and WBCA Honorable Mention All-American guard Christen Inman joining the team.
But for now, the focus is still on this year, and slim as their chances are, the Wildcats still have an opportunity to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1997. Tip-off Thursday is at 11:30 a.m. CT, and the game will be broadcast on BTN.