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Women’s basketball season predictions

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 07 Big Ten Conference Women’s Tournament - Michigan State v Northwestern Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Noah Coffman

Regular Season Record: 20-9 (10-8 B1G)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament Second Round

MVP: Veronica Burton

Breakout Player: Courtney Shaw

After last year’s impressive run to the WNIT Championship, this team is ready to take the next step. The entire backcourt should improve after a full year of playing together, with Burton becoming one of the best point guards in the country, Lindsey Pulliam taking her scoring ability up a level, and Sydney Wood and Jordan Hamilton making important strides as well.

The frontcourt is more of a question mark, but Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf should get the job done. I expect Shaw, a redshirt first year, to at least pick up some of the slack with regards to the energy and rebounding that this team lost along with Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah. They might be a bit shaky on the low post defensively, but only so many teams can take advantage of a weakness like that.

Joe McKeown’s group is experienced, talented, extremely deep, and well-rounded. If the offense catches up with the defense the way I expect it to, Northwestern will be a significant contender in the Big Ten this season, and may even enter the national picture.

Jacob Brown

Regular Season Record: 22-7 (13-5 B1G)

Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16

MVP: Lindsey Pulliam

Most Improved Player: Courtney Shaw

To put it simply: this team is quite good. Lindsey Pulliam is going to get a lot of national recognition this year, as she leads NU deep into the tournament. Veronica Burton will have another strong year, and Sydney Wood will solidify her role at the three.

NU’s worries have to be in the frontcourt. Abbie Wolff isn’t a great defender, and without Pallas to protect the paint and pull in rebounds, NU might be vulnerable down low. However at the Chicago basketball media day, assistant coach Tangela Smith said that Courtney Shaw is the team’s most improved player. Shaw has the athleticism and talent similar to Pallas, but is not as refined, or big. She and Wolff will be more than good enough at the five, and we might even see Scheid slide up and play the five.

Shaw will eventually surpass Wolff as the starting center, but she will still be a strong contributor to the team. Riding a combination of discipline, shooting and star power, NU is going to have a strong year, and will look to cement itself as a perennial contender.

Colin Kruse

Regular Season Record: 21-8 (11-7 B1G)

Postseason: NCAA Second Round

MVP: Veronica Burton

Breakout Player: Courtney Shaw

Last year’s run to the WNIT Championship showed the potential of this team. Losing Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah’s presence at the rim will be tough to replace, but the squad brings back Lindsey Pulliam and Veronica Burton, two offensive forces who will certainly be the go-to’s offensively for the Wildcats. Pulliam has already reached 1,000 career points in just two seasons. MVP is a toss-up between her and Burton, the sophomore point guard who led the Big Ten in steals and finished second in assist-to-turnover ratio. I lean Burton as she develops into one of the top point guards in the country.

Forward Courtney Shaw only saw action in seven games last season, but she has great mobility around the court. The Maryland native won’t start over the likes of Abbie Wolf or Abi Scheid, but her energy and athleticism will offer a versatile option off the bench. My other initial pick for breakout player was Aussie native Jess Sancaltado. Her health remains a question, but a return would greatly reinforce the depth on this team. Wolf is perhaps the closest thing the team has to a natural center, and while she’s might not be as mobile as Shaw, she’s an incredibly coordinated athlete who has scoring and rebounding potential. Scheid also will play an important role on the team. She can knock triples down and is another option in the front court.

Ultimately, this team has the potential to win a lot of games and make some noise in Big Ten play. Joe McKeown and company have the opportunity to raise the profile of this program significantly.

Daniel Olinger

Regular Season Record: 20-9 (11-7 BIG)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament First Round

MVP: Veronica Burton

Breakout Player: Courtney Shaw

This program has been building for years, and now this veteran-heavy roster should be ready make noise in the Big Ten. Lindsey Pulliam proved that she could be the no. one scoring option on a winning team last year, and everyone thinks Veronica Burton is in store for a stellar season. The sophomore guard shot a blistering 36.8 percent from three, yet only finished fifth on the team in shot attempts per game. Her volume should increase, and as long as that shooting efficiency stays consistent, that will be a huge boost for the ‘Cats.

Speaking of efficiency, that’s another reason to believe in improvement this year. The team finished 31.2 percent from three on the year, which ranked a decent 170th out of 351 division-one teams. However, the team finished a ghastly 314th in percentage of points off of threes and 252nd in three pointers attempted. They were not bad shooters, yet they were hesitant to launch shots from deep. Becoming a more efficient offense could take them from the good team they were last year to a potentially great team this season.

Ryley Hougland

Regular Season Record: 20-9 (11-7 B1G)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16

MVP: Veronica Burton

Breakout Player: Courtney Shaw

After showing flashes of greatness last year, Coach McKeown has a team that has potential to be consistently great this year. Returning last year’s leading scorer Lindsey Pulliam will be huge for the team, as will having Veronica Burton return to the floor after leading the Big Ten in steals a season ago.

Now in her second year, Courtney Shaw looks to gain a bigger role on the team after only seeing the court in seven games last season. She may not start over other forward options quite yet, but will definitely prove to be a great bench option. Senior C Abi Scheid may have the potential to post a double-double on the season this year, filling in the rebounding absence that Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah left after graduating.

This is a team that has a great mix of veteran leadership and young players who have now experienced a full season at the division one level. They were able to make a terrific run in the WNIT last season, but I fully expect them to make the NCAA tournament this year and win a couple of games while they’re there.

Lia Assimakopoulos

Regular Season Record: 21-8 (10-6 B1G)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament Second Round

MVP: Lindsey Pulliam

Breakout Player: Sydney Wood

Northwestern is on track for another great year in women’s basketball. After graduating only one senior, the Wildcats return all of their talented depth at the guard position. However, with the loss of Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, the posts will have to come together to fill the massive void.

The Wildcats should fair well against their surprisingly overrated Big Ten opponents. Their non conference schedule is certainly manageable but will present some challenges of its own like Duke, DePaul and Marquette.

Pulliam will continue to lead the pack with her automatic pull-up jumpers and her (hopefully) increased three-point shooting percentage. Sydney Wood, last year’s sixth man, will step into a larger role this season and become a force to be reckoned with on both offense and defense as a rotating starter at point guard.

Inside, the emphasis will be on how players like Abbie Wolf and Courtney Shaw can step up to fill much larger roles than they did last season. However, based on last week’s scrimmage, the Wildcats are on track to succeed on all levels and into the postseason

Eli Karp

Regular Season Record: 19-10 (10-8 B1G)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament Second Round

MVP: Veronica Burton

Breakout Player: Abbie Wolf

After a tough end to the regular season — which if they finished better could have resulted in an NCAA Tournament bid — the group could’ve packed up its toys for the NIT. But it didn’t, and Joe McKeown’s squad played gritty, tough, comeback-laced basketball, showing its true potential en route to the NIT Final.

Despite losing program great Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, the rest of the team comes back a year older and with more experience under their belt. Lindsey Pulliam will do her thing again, and Veronica Burton and Jordan Hamilton should provide great depth and production from the guard position.

Without Akpanah, the post play in the paint is a question mark, and that’s why the development of Abbie Wolf is very important to the team’s offensive success. Last year, when Akpanah was injured, struggling or in foul trouble, Wolf saw more action and showed a lot of potential. Now, she’s the starting center.

We generally know what we’re going to get defensively from the team that ranked second in the conference in scoring defense and third in field goal percentage defense. They should be able to achieve ranks like that yet again, and if they can shoot the three a bit better than they did last year when they shot just 31 percent, this team can turn some of those agonizingly close losses into wins and make the Big Dance.