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Wildcat Shootaround: Bold predictions for 2015

We're not necessarily saying these things will happen. We're just saying there's a much better chance that they do happen than you might think.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

From a women's basketball NCAA Tournament win to an even worse season for Northwestern football to a top-half Big Ten finish for men's basketball, here are our bold predictions for Northwestern sports in 2015. As explained above, we're not necessarily saying these things will happen, it that you should go bet on them happening. We're just saying there's a much better chance than you might think that they do in fact occur.

Henry Bushnell: Northwestern football will go 4-8

I hate to lead things off with negativity, but I'm just not sure there's much to suggest that the 2015 team will be better than the 2014 one. Everybody is pinning their hopes on Clayton Thorson, but to expect him to be significantly better than Trevor Siemian is a giant leap of faith. Sure he has potential, but to assume he'll be able to produce right away is risky. And plus, he might not even be the starter. If Alviti or Oliver wins the job, the quarterback position is actually downgraded in 2015.

Elsewhere, the offensive line loses its one reliable player, center Brandon Vitabile, the secondary loses its best player, Ibraheim Campbell, and the two best wide receivers are gone. There are significant questions everywhere except running back and cornerback.

With a tougher non-conference schedule, and with some conference opponents strengthening -- Michigan and Penn State will both be better in 2015 -- I think 4-8 (2-6) is a real possibility. Even 3-9 (1-7) isn't out of the question.

Josh Rosenblat: 2015 will be eerily similar to 2014

There's little evidence to suggest that much will be different for Northwestern sports in 2015, especially with its two biggest programs. The basketball program is still young. Chris Collins and has players have yet to show that they can matchup up talent-wise with an NCAA Tournament-caliber squad. That won't change. The Wildcats are still young, but after limping to a poor Big Ten record in 2014, the same will happen in 2015.

As for football, the difference in talent and experience on the two sides of the ball have never been greater. Defensively, Northwestern should be stout. A full season of Anthony Walker Jr. in the middle and Godwin Igwebuike at safety should be fun to watch. But on offense, as Henry Bushnell wrote, questions lie with each position group aside from running back. Now, I won't go as far as Bushnell did proclaiming Northwestern will go 4-8 because the Wildcats' Big Ten schedule sets up better than he might think. Which is why another 5-7 mark, Northwestern's third in three years, is the most likely scenario. While the 5-7 record could be the product players' inexperience, especially on offense, the coaching staff will again come under fire with a shakeup well overdue. But will Fitz cut his trusty assistants?

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My guess is that he's already thinking about it.

Zach Pereles: Tre Demps will earn All-Big Ten honors

Recently, coaches haven't been kind to Northwestern when it comes to voting players to All-Big Ten teams. Last year, Drew Crawford earned honorable mention status, and was selected to the third team only by the media. The Wildcats didn't have anyone make a team in the 2012-13 season, and Crawford was a third-teamer in 2011-12. Needless to say, Northwestern's basketball players haven't exactly brought back the honors comparable to players from other schools.

That can be mainly attributed to the team's lack of success, something that often plays a large role in who gets votes. If a player is good on a good team, they'll often get the vote over an equally good (or even better) player on a bad team.

This year, however, it'll be tough for the voters to leave Demps off an All-Big Ten team.

Demps kicked off conference play with a 16-point, 7-rebound performance against Rutgers. He started off the season slowly, topping 15 points just once in Northwestern's first 10 games (a 21-point effort against Elon). In his past four games, however, he has passed that mark three times.

Demps is Northwestern's most talented offensive player. He can hit from three when given enough time and space, but he's much better attacking the lane. Against Rutgers, he got to the rim effectively. Although his outside shot wasn't falling (2 for 6 from downtown), he shot an impressive 5 for 8 on two-point shots. Demps' early season struggles are dragging his points per game down heavily. The junior is averaging just 11.8 ppg, 25th in the conference. That's not good enough to make an All-Big Ten team. But given his recent production in the last four games scoring (15.5 ppg) and, somewhat surprisingly, rebounding (5.25 rpg), Demps looks to be hitting his stride heading into conference play. He will have to produce at this level if Northwestern wants to avoid a low finish in the conference.

Josh Burton: Men's basketball will finish in the top half of the Big Ten

This may seem ridiculously out-of-reach, but there's a decent chance Northwestern is no worse than the 7th-best team in the Big Ten Conference.

NU, having beaten Rutgers in their conference debut a few days ago, is 1-0 in B1G play with a tough matchup against No. 4 Wisconsin coming up on Sunday night at Welsh-Ryan. That, and their road game at Michigan State that is just a few days later, will be big challenges but after those two, the Cats' schedule eases up significantly.

In their 15 remaining B1G games after the meeting with the Spartans, the Cats will face just three ranked opponents and will take on beatable teams in Michigan, Indiana, Purdue, Nebraska and Illinois, to name a few. It is not out of the realm of possibility for NU to win enough of those games to finish at the 7th-best team in their conference, or even better.

Jason Dorow: women's basketball will win an NCAA tournament game

On New Year's Day, Northwestern women's basketball got their 12th win of the season and stood at the No. 25 spot in the USA Today coaches poll. With just one blemish on the schedule, the Wildcats' tournament resume is already developing.

NU has road wins against two ranked teams, Michigan State and DePaul. The Wildcats easily beat a decent Gonzaga squad. And while they didn't play a very tough non-conference schedule, their only loss was at Arizona State, another ranked team with just one loss.

Joe McKeown's team may only be seven-deep, but those seven can ball. They have two point guards who know how to run the offense, two wings who can score and defend and a trio of post players who can get buckets inside and outside.

Nia Coffey is scoring at will and owning the boards, averaging about 16 and 8 to start the season. Maggie Lyon is on fire from deep and currently leading the Big Ten in 3-point shooting percentage. The team still has some issues to work out, most importantly rebounding, but they are showing significant improvement from last year.

All the pieces are falling in place this year too. The Wildcats have a really favorable conference schedule. Of the five ranked Big Ten teams, NU plays just two of them twice and the other three they'll face at home.

McKeown knows what it takes to make the NCAA tournament. He's been to the tourney 17 times and made it as far as the Elite Eight. This is the year he gets it done at NU, and the Wildcats will take at least one game in the big dance.

Daniel Rapaport: football will go 7-5

Given the bitter disappointment of the past two years, it's understandably difficult to be optimistic about Northwestern football. Many of you (and many of us) advocated for significant changes in the coaching staff, but none came to fruition and both coordinators will be back next year.

Northwestern's 2015 schedule is also much stingier than it's relatively light 2014 one, particularly the nonconference games.

NU opens up on Sept. 5 at Ryan Field against Stanford, a team that pounded Maryland in the Foster Farms Bowl and was much better than their 8-5 record (also keep in mind that they play in the Pac-12, quite possibly the best conference in college football). They'll also travel to Duke, who finished 9-4 and played Arizona State tough in their bowl game.

In conference play, Northwestern will play away at Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Michigan, who I hear might have gotten a new coach, though I'm not sure if I'm remembering correctly.

It's easy to predict another losing season for Northwestern-all the facts point firmly in that direction.

But something tells me Northwestern will return to winning ways.

Trevor Siemian graduates in May, but he wasn't exactly stellar at the helm this year. Matt Alviti and Clayton Thorson will battle for the starting quarterback position (no offense to Zach Oliver), and both players possess more talent -- albeit less experience -- than Siemian did. Thorson is a pocket passer but also very mobile while Alviti is an option guy. If he wants to go in that direction, OC Mick McCall has the raw materials to craft a dual-QB offense similar to the 2012 and 2013 ones that were so much more dynamic than this year's.

Another reason for optimism is Justin Jackson. The true freshman running back totaled 1187 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns this year and was able to stay healthy, which is never a guarantee for a running back. If he can find a way to stay on the field again next year, he should benefit from added physical maturity and experience and once again be one of the better running backs in the Big Ten.

Northwestern's defense was one of its (few) strong points this year, and while they'll miss Ibrahim Campbell and Chi Chi Ariguzo dearly, there's enough talent to suggest that the unit will again be able to perform at an above average level. Freshman linebacker Anthony Walker showed tremendous potential, sophomore Matt Harris has been one of the team's steadier performers, and the return of safeties Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Quiero should allow Traveon Henry to move back to his natural position at linebacker.

Long story short, NU returns a good portion of its better players. The schedule is brutal, but if these coaches can get the most out of their players talent (which they haven't been able to do in recent years), 2015 should be a big improvement for Northwestern football.

Bushnell: Vic Law will finish conference play eight on the team in scoring

Warning: more negativity ahead.

I might be guilty of overreacting to a half season here, but I don't like what I've seen from Law so far. I don't like it one bit. And it's got me worried. There are a few main reasons for pessimism.

First of all, he was billed as an outstanding athlete. He's lived up to the hype as a leaper and thus as a rebounder, but I'm not sure he has the lateral quickness or the stop-start explosiveness to ever be an elite defender or an effective driver on offense.

Additionally, it just seems like offense doesn't come naturally to him. A lot of his moves look awkward and out of control, and he often let's his frustration affect his play when things don't come easy to him. He also appears to have a JerShon Cobb-esque affinity for mid-range jumpers.

Law shot chart

Vic Law's shot chart through 14 games -- Chart via Shot Analytics

His offense is something that will develop with time, so thinking long-term, that's not as worrying to me. But I think he'll really struggle to score in the Big Ten. I won't be surprised if all seven of Bryant McIntosh, Tre Demps, Alex Olah, Sanjay Lumpkin, JerShon Cobb, Scottie Lindsey and Nate Taphorn outscore him over the next two months.

Pereles: Bryant McIntosh will make the Big Ten All-Freshman team

McIntosh has provided savvy and relatively consistent play at the point guard position. The Indiana native has scored consistently, reaching double figures in all but four games this year. McIntosh will have to hold up against the grueling Big Ten schedule, but so far the signs have been encouraging.

McIntosh will make the All-Freshman team because he's putting up solid numbers, and, assuming he's healthy, he will continue to get a ton of minutes. The depth behind McIntosh is shaky at best, so the point guard will continue to see his minutes per game be in the 30's. He's currently at 32.9 mpg.

The numbers speak for themselves: 11.7 ppg (4th among Big Ten freshmen), 4.9 apg (2nd), 82.4 free throw percentage (3rd), 41.9 three point percentage (6th), and a 1.8 assist to turnover ratio (2nd). There are other great freshman guards in the conference, like Maryland's Melo Trimble and Ohio State's DeAngelo Russell, but McIntosh's steady scoring output will help him earn a nod for the team.