Northwestern women’s basketball made its long-awaited NCAA Tournament appearance last week, winning its first game in the Big Dance since 1993 before falling to No. 2 Louisville in the Second Round. Despite the breakdown against the Cardinals, it was a successful season for the Wildcats, who weren’t as strong as they were the year prior but still made history and left San Antonio with their chins up.
Much was put on the shoulders of backcourt duo Lindsey Pulliam and Veronica Burton, who anchored the team but struggled with consistency. Ultimately, they hit shots when it counted, especially in big regular season victories over Iowa, in the Big Ten Tournament versus Michigan and against UCF in the NCAA Tournament.
With the end of the season, Lindsey Pulliam is almost surely gone for the WNBA Draft after four record-breaking years in Evanston. Every player has an additional year of eligibility from the NCAA, so Pulliam and fellow senior Jordan Hamilton could elect to return for another season, but that seems unlikely. The rest of the 2020-21 starters — Burton, Sydney Wood and Courtney Shaw, all have up to two more years left in purple.
The loss of a program great like Pulliam will leave a significant hole, and NU’s offense may look different with its workhorse shooter and attention-getter gone. With Pulliam and Hamilton likely gone, next year’s lineup may look very different from this year’s guard-heavy approach.
There is plenty of reason for optimism for Joe McKeown’s program, though, as several Wildcats who played supporting roles this season are primed for development this offseason and a nationally top-10 recruiting class arrives in Evanston this fall, according to ESPN. Three of the five commits in the class are ranked in the HoopGurlz top 60.
Anna Morris and Paige Mott both showed improvement throughout the season, and a more conventional offseason should serve them well. With Morris’ penchant to step and shoot, she could become a stretch forward similar to what Abi Scheid was and play in a lineup with Shaw/Mott, who mainly stay in the paint.
In the last three years, Northwestern made the WNIT Finals (and lost to an Arizona team currently in the Final Four), won the Big Ten and was primed for a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament and then made the Big Dance as a 7-seed before putting a scare into No. 2 Louisville. Though it has been a weird couple of years outside of basketball that has overshadowed some of the positive trajectory, the progress and results are there. Joe McKeown has proven he can win and put together consistently ranked teams with talent.
Results beget recruiting, and though recruiting facilitating results hinges on development, there’s a track record on which to trust this coaching staff. There’s enough experienced talent on the roster to provide stability while the ‘Cats transition away from a prolific scorer to promising underclassmen and incoming recruits.
A return to the NCAA Tournament next year isn’t out of the realm of possibility. The future is hard to predict and success is hard to sustain, but there’s reason to believe Northwestern women’s basketball will be competing for spots at the top of the Big Ten in the coming years.