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Northwestern women’s basketball 2020-2021 season predictions

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The staff says the Wildcats will go dancing after COVID robbed them of the chance last year.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 25 Women’s Northwestern at Ohio State Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s getting chilly in Evanston and around the Big Ten. Blizzard season is approaching. After winning a share of the 2020 Big Ten regular season championship, Joe McKeown’s Wildcats sit at 17th in the AP Top 25 rankings two weeks into the season, though they have yet to take the floor. After its season-opener against Bradley was canceled, NU will open up Thursday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena against Eastern Illinois. Here’s what our staff thinks the season will go.

Lia Assimakopoulos

Regular season record: 18-4 (16-4)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament, Sweet Sixteen

MVP: Lindsey Pulliam

Breakout Player: Courtney Shaw

The ‘Cats are poised for another strong season after their Big Ten title in 2020. Despite graduating two starters in Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf, NU returns almost all of its star backcourt led by Lindsey Pulliam, Veronica Burton and Sydney Wood and has younger post players like Courtney Shaw ready to step up to fill those gaps.

Joe McKeown’s squad will be competitive once again in the conference, especially with such an easy schedule, but is bound to drop a game or two to top opponents like Maryland and Indiana. Sweeping Michigan, especially with their strength in the post, will be hard, and Ohio State could steal a win from NU. Regardless, their regular season efforts and chemistry will once again be enough to leave them in the national spotlight when March comes around, and this team will re-earn a trip to the Big Dance that they were robbed of last year.

Eli Karp

Regular season record: 17-5 (15-5)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament, Sweet Sixteen

MVP: Veronica Burton

Breakout Player: Anna Morris

The record might not be as sparkling as that of last year’s, which at 26-4 is tough to match. There may be some growing pains with the loss of Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf, especially with the lack of size at least in the immediate starting lineup. But Joe McKeown has to feel confident knowing he’s got Lindsey Pulliam and Veronica Burton anchoring his backcourt. They may be called upon to shoulder the load more so than in years past, but if there’s one duo that would be able to do it, it would be this one.

The schedule is favorable, drawing Indiana and Maryland just once each. Those will be difficult games, and I expect the four matchups with Michigan and Ohio State — two teams with good skill and size — to be grinders as well. The emergence of Courtney Shaw as a starter who can hold her own despite being an undersized big will be critical, as will whoever emerges as the reliable third scoring option besides Pulliam and Burton. I’m going with the junior as my MVP since this is the year people will appreciate her as an all-around gamer and not just a defensive stalwart. The Wildcats will be a frustrating opponent come March.

Daniel Olinger

Regular season record: 20-3 (17-3)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament, Sweet Sixteen

MVP: Lindsey Pulliam AND Veronica Burton (fight me)

Breakout Player: Anna Morris

While the ‘Cats still draw tough opponents such as Iowa, Ohio State, Rutgers and Michigan each twice during the regular season, they face fellow conference favorites Indiana and Maryland only once. Right off the bat, a schedule filled with three non-conference cupcakes and conference foes that are comfortably a tier below them, and Northwestern looks poised for another great season.

The biggest x-factor is how NU replaces the front court production of Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf. Enter Anna Morris, a 6-foot-3, five-star center from Immaculate Heart Academy in New Jersey, and an option in the post with more offensive potency than the returning Courtney Shaw. One can only dream of the four-out, one-in lineups Coach McKeown and Popovec can run with the four-guard combo of Lindsey Pulliam, Veronica Burton, Sydney Wood and Jordan Hamilton. Scheid’s production as a spacer will be particularly hard to replace, but I’d sooner bank on Northwestern’s veteran guards taking steps forward than the team falling back into the middling ranks of the Big Ten.

Colin Kruse

Regular season record: 18-4 (16-4)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament, Sweet Sixteen

MVP: Veronica Burton and Lindsey Pulliam

Breakout Player: Paige Mott

Northwestern’s title defense has a decently tough schedule, Joe McKeown and company are fortunate to draw Maryland and Indiana only once.

Of course, the major issue facing the ‘Cats will be replacing the production and front court presence of both Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf. Five-star freshman Anna Morris has a lot of hype surrounding her, but Paige Mott, a 6-foot-1 freshman from Pennsylvania, has the size and athleticism to play a big role in the paint. She’ll probably play behind Courtney Shaw, Northwestern’s most experienced forward.

Laya Hartman is also another breakout candidate and could serve as a stretch four if Joe McKeown chooses to play some small-ball. The three-headed monster of Sydney Wood, Veronica Burton and Lindsey Pulliam will continue to wreak havoc on both ends of the floor.

Jacob Brown

Regular Season Record: 21-2 (18-2)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament, Elite Eight

MVP: Lindsey Pulliam

Breakout Player: Courtney Shaw

I think this team is a lot better than people think. Yes, the losses of Abbie Wolf and Abi Scheid are great, but defensively the Cats can make up for their presence with Courtney Shaw’s aggression, Veronica Burton’s tenacity, and Sydney Wood’s ability to guard taller opponents. On the offensive side, it will be challenging to replace their production. Again, Shaw will play a huge role, dominating the post like Wolf while also creating plays for Burton to attack with her tremendous speed and solid technique in the pick-and-roll game. Losing Scheid’s shooting will hurt, but NU has options to beyond the arc, whether it be Jordan Hamilton, Anna Morris or Laya Hartman.

Yes, the Big Ten is stacked, but I think NU matches up well with most of these teams. Maryland lost a ton of talent. Michigan and OSU keep most of their teams, but NU has the talent to match up with them, an experienced roster and a coaching staff that will put their players in a position to win. I honestly think that they lose to Michigan and OSU on the road: That’s it.

This season can’t really go “wrong: for Northwestern. If Pulliam plays well and the team is in the media, she will get a lot of draft hype. If NU has a good season and a satisfying finish in the tournament spirits will be high, Pulliam will likely be a first round draft pick and leave after this season. But if NU has a bad season, there’s going to be a bad taste in everyone’s mouths. And who is more competitive than Lindsey Pulliam? If she doesn’t feel satisfied with the season that she or the team has she will likely return for a 5th year, giving the Cats another season with Burton, Wood and Pulliam leading the charge.

Josh Miller

Regular Season Record: 18-5 (15-5)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament, Elite Eight

MVP: Lindsey Pulliam

Breakout Player: Courtney Shaw

As a freshman writer for Inside NU, one of the things I learned quickly is that the women’s basketball team is one of the best and most interesting teams at Northwestern. Coming off a season in which they captured the Big Ten title, the team is hungry to prove that they belong in the conversation as one of the best in the country.

I think the offensive talent of Lindsey Pulliam and defensive tenacity of Veronica Burton will be vital for another solid season in a tough Big Ten. I’m going on the low end in projected win total, because as we’ve seen in football, COVID can wreak havoc and derail even the best of squads, but NU’s depth on both ends of the floor with make them a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.

Didi Jin

Regular Season Record: 18-4 (16-4)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament, Elite Eight

MVP: Lindsey Pulliam

Breakout Player: Anna Morris

After this team’s historic 2019-20 season ended with a disappointing loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament, I think they will be determined to prove that last season was no fluke by winning the conference for the second year in a row. Their schedule is certainly manageable, as they face Indiana and Maryland just once each.

More importantly, the defending Big Ten champs return a lot of production, namely Lindsey Pulliam, while bringing in a talented recruiting class headlined by five-star Anna Morris. While the production of Abbie Wolf and Abi Scheid won’t be easy to replace, I believe that underclassmen like Morris will be able to step up and make an impact immediately.

This is as good of a year as any for Northwestern to prove itself as a perennial powerhouse in the Big Ten, not just a team that has good seasons every now and then. The recruiting and the coaching both seem to be there; it’s just a matter of going out and showing out now.

Liam Warin

Regular Season Record: 19-3 (17-3)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament, Elite Eight

MVP: Lindsey Pulliam

Breakout Player: Anna Morris

Entering the season ranked 17th in the country, the Northwestern Wildcats look to turn a lot of heads again in the 2020-2021 season by following up last year’s stellar 26-4 record with another fantastic regular season. The ‘Cats start the season with (what should be) easy opponents before transitioning to a difficult schedule that includes Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois twice. That being said, Joe McKeown’s group only plays Michigan, Indiana and Maryland once, allowing a team that includes three freshmen to develop before being thrown into serious Big Ten action.

A unanimous selection to the All-Big Ten first team, Lindsey Pulliam will be the clear sparkplug and offensive weapon for the ‘Cats. Replacing key pieces to last year’s success in Abbie Wolf and Abi Scheid will certainly be difficult, but five-star high school recruit and current freshman Anna Morris will look to fill the frontcourt and give Northwestern a strong paint presence.

The Big Ten is never easy, but Northwestern has a clear path to a regular season, if not Big Ten tournament, title due to the depth they have throughout the roster. Though I am only picking this squad to make it to the Elite Eight, don’t be surprised if some role players on this team step up in big ways to push this team over the top and potentially bring the ‘Cats a Final Four berth.

William Karmin

Regular Season Record: 18-4 (17-3)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament, Elite Eight

MVP: Veronica Burton

Breakout Player: Anna Morris

As many writers are quick to point out, NU has a weaker schedule than most Big Ten teams this season. A lack of difficulty schedule-wise should lead to a relatively smooth regular season in the 2020-2021 campaign. The ‘Cats will be challenged by Maryland and Indiana in the team’s quest to repeat as Big Ten Champs.

In terms of the postseason, NU has all of the ingredients to make a deep run. The ‘Cats have a ton of returning experience highlighted by the tandem of Lindsey Pulliam and Veronica Burton, a five-star true freshman in Anna Morris which will help replace the departing talent and a savvy coach in Joe McKeown. Expectations are rightfully high and either a Big Ten championship or deep run in March would warrant a successful season.