As some of you may be aware, Northwestern allows women to enroll there. And being a progressive institution of higher learning, it also has some varsity teams for women. Like basketball. It's the same as the men, only the locker room smells nicer. Probably.
Anyway, just like the men's team, the women's team tipped off its season last Friday, and things are off to a good start. The season opener on the road against Chicago State saw head coach Joe McKeown's up-tempo offense overwhelm the Chicago State Cougars in a 102-48 win. It was the first time since 1996 that the Wildcats surpassed 100 points in a game.
Then on Sunday, the defense shut down five-time MEAC champ Hampton in a 62-36 win, as NU improved to 2-0.
It's a bit of a season of reckoning for McKeown, who has taken the Wildcats to heights not seen since the early 1990s, but has yet to reach the hallowed ground of the NCAA tournament. The avuncular McKeown has brought in very talented freshmen classes every year, only to suffer some combination of freak injuries or untimely transfers that keeps the program from getting over the hump.
But this year probably represents the Wildcats' best chance yet under his tenure. The team lost just two role player seniors from last year's team that made it to the third round of the WNIT, with the entire starting lineup returning. That includes first-team All Big Ten sophomore forward Nia Coffey, who led the team in scoring and rebounding last year, and honorable mention All Big Ten junior guard Maggie Lyon, who was second in scoring.
Hustling sophomore point guard Ashley Deary, also an honorable mention All Big Ten selection; versatile senior center Alex Cohen; and sharpshooting sophomore guard Christen Inman round out the starting five.
This year's team also boasts the program's best depth in years (see the aforementioned injuries and transfers and knock on wood). Defensive hawk and spark off the bench junior Lauren Douglas returns in her sixth man role. Senior point guard Karly Roser, who missed much of last season with injury, also returns after having been the starter for her first two seasons.
This is still a relatively young team, and it remains to be seen whether the growing pains they went through last year, when the team started three freshmen and a sophomore, will pay off dividends. This is McKeown's seventh season at the helm of the Wildcats, and while he's nowhere close to being on Bill Carmody death watch, fans are looking for at the very least some credible progress towards being in conversation for an NCAA tournament berth.
Last season, the team was sitting at 14-7, on the tournament bubble, with wins over No. 25 DePaul, No. 20 Purdue and No. 18 Nebraska, before the wheels came off with a seven game losing streak. The Wildcats broke the streak with an OT win against Wisconsin that helped clinch a WNIT berth, where the team won its first two games handily before being edged out, 66-65, by Indiana in the third round.
The Big Ten, as always, is tough, and it got even tougher with the addition of perennial strong programs Maryland and Rutgers, both of whom are expected to make the NCAA tournament. Most projections have NU somewhere in the squishy middle of the Big Ten.
The Wildcats have a couple of home games coming up: Friday vs. Kent State and then the following Wednesday vs. UIC, before driving down to Lincoln Park for the annual game against No. 18 DePaul on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.