For a brief moment, Northwestern women’s basketball was in full flight. With Nia Coffey, Ashley Deary, and Christen Inman, as well as stalwarts like Maggie Lyon and Alex Cohen, Joe McKeown made Northwestern a relevant Big Ten program. Despite this, Coffey’s stacked recruiting class made one NCAA Tournament. That “golden generation” is gone now. For all intents and purposes, the program is almost back to square one.
Welcome to the rebuild.
1. What is this team going to look like?
Most Northwestern sports fans don’t know anyone on the current Northwestern women’s basketball roster (although we should all watch more women’s basketball, in my opinion). This is excusable, but also telling. Shooting guard Lydia Rohde and center Oceana Hamilton are the two seniors on this basketball team. Northwestern is incredibly young for any college team, which is promising but also probably not conducive to great basketball.
The starting lineup won’t be too hard to figure out. In the exhibition, Northwestern trotted out Rohde, Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, freshman top 100 recruit Jordan Hamilton, Amber Jamison and Abi Scheid. Jordan Hamilton has never played a Division I game, and she will likely be the starting point guard for much of the season. Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah is the center, but she’s 6-foot-2 and a true small-ball center in a conference known for its size. Rohde will play on the wing, and Amber Jamison will play some combination of small forward and shooting guard. Abi Scheid will mostly play the four.
2. Who is going to take shots?
Northwestern is losing almost all of its primary scorers last season. Coffey, Inman and Deary took the vast majority of shots, and they’re all gone. However, I also expect some great things from Amber Jamison, who was an offensive revelation last season. She was probably Northwestern’s fourth-best player defensively and offensively, and she should be even better in 2017. In 2016-17, Jamison shot 42 percent from three, went 75 percent from the line and also played solid defense. Her minutes will likely double in 2017-18 and hopefully she maintains that high level of play.
You’d also expect forward Abi Scheid to contribute more to the offense. She was quite good in spurts last season and can stretch the floor with three-point shooting and also drive into the lane. The Minnesotan played in every game last season and averaged 5 points per game over 19.7 minutes. Again, she should also be in the 30-35 minute range, if all goes well. Northwestern just doesn’t have anyone else. Lydia Rohde will take a bunch of threes (FREE LYDIA). I can’t predict anything else.
But who knows what will happen? First-years Lindsey Pulliam and Jordan Hamilton both took plenty of shots in Northwestern’s exhibition, so who knows what’ll happen there. I’m fairly certain that both will start getting a lot of minutes by the end of the year. I’m not going to take the exhibition seriously, but Northwestern was tied 11-11 in the first quarter, so I’m a bit worried about the offense.
3. The defense will be a thing, hopefully.
Northwestern has little to no rim protection. That’s just the truth. Senior center Oceana Hamilton could be a good presence in the paint, but her lack of offensive game makes those lineups very difficult to play. Oceana Hamilton will get minutes when Northwestern needs stops, but the defensive legwork in the paint will likely fall to Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah. PKA also has a lot of work to do to improve her option (a jumpshot, for example). However, she’s really athletic and has a preternatural ability to block shots and get rebounds. Last year, she somehow averaged 3.8 boards per game despite dealing with injuries and only averaging 8.6 minutes. Thus, if the other team misses, Northwestern should be somewhat okay on the glass with her and Scheid, but I wouldn’t bank on the other team missing too much.
Christen Inman and Ashley Deary were easily the two best perimeter defenders on the team (and in Deary’s case, one of the best in Big Ten history). We have yet to see what Jordan Hamilton can do, but her and Lydia Rohde probably won’t provide the same on-ball defense that Inman and Deary excelled at.
With questions on both offense and defense, it’s hard to predict how Northwestern will play this season. As usual, the Wildcats have an incredibly easy non-conference schedule, and that should buoy their win total in the early going. However, the Big Ten is another matter entirely. Programs like Wisconsin, Illinois, and Nebraska are also rebuilding, which should help, but Northwestern is still far away from the team that could somewhat challenge Ohio State and Maryland and comfortably handle Purdue, Michigan, Indiana, etc. I’m going to go with a 12-18 prediction for the season. Please, please, please, please prove me wrong.
Northwestern tips off tonight at Chicago State at 7 p.m.