It took two overtimes, but our Wildcats finally prevailed over crosstown rival No. 18 DePaul on Saturday in their first major test of the season. And wouldn't you know, NU is now 5-0 and receiving votes in both the AP and the USA Today Coaches polls.
So maybe, just maybe, this is the year that NU breaks through and reaches the NCAA. It's always hard to judge early results from the non-conference season, given the usual slate of creampuffs and lesser lights so far, besides DePaul. Hopefully, this win is a bellwether, though the Wildcats beat a ranked DePaul team last year but couldn't build on their good start when it came to Big Ten play.
But that was a team that started three freshmen and two sophomores. Everybody's a year older now, and maybe that experience will pay off.
Ideally, the Wildcats will continue beating up on the weaker teams on its early schedule, which will allow the starters some rest. Head coach Joe McKeown doesn't very much like to go to his bench. Against DePaul, even in a game that lasted two OTs, McKeown used just seven players. Guard Maggie Lyon played an amazing 49 minutes, while forward Nia Coffey played 43 and point guard Ashley Deary played 41.
Last year, the Wildcats seemed to really wear down in the second half of conference play, losing seven games in a row at one point. Maybe fatigue was a factor, maybe it wasn't. But more rest couldn't hurt.
Up next for NU is a road trip Thursday to 4-3 Virginia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Hokies look to be a middling ACC team in a loaded conference. It should be a winnable game, but a decent test for the Wildcats, especially on the road.
That's followed by a home game Sunday vs. Loyola, before a week "off" for finals.