The combination of a roster flush with talent and McKeown preferring to play a rotation that is only about 7-to-8 deep made it difficult for various members of the team to find meaningful minutes. With that said, here’s a quick look at how some of the lesser known ‘Cats performed in 2021.
The team’s lone walk-on, the Big Ten Sportsmanship winner accumulated only 21 minutes over the season. The daughter of Rutgers men’s basketball coach Steve Pikiell, she and her father both got to experience tournament wins in the same year, which is quite the feat. With one assist and one shot attempt on the year, there’s not much to say except #FREEBROOKE.
The speedy sophomore averaged just 4.8 minutes per game in 18 appearances, finding herself stuck behind both Veronica Burton and Lauryn Satterwhite in the depth chart. Rainey is sharp defensively, a good passer and has a way of getting to the rim. She isn’t a great shooter, which makes it hard to play her alongside Burton and Wood. She posted just 1.4 points per game, hitting five of her nine free throws and missing all five attempts from deep. Next season she will have the chance to compete for a rotation spot, and potentially the ability to start at the point in her senior year.
McWilliams didn’t convert a ton of her shots (making just 11 of her 31 attempts on the year, including two of eight from three,) but her willingness to take them was promising. When Northwestern’s offense would go into lulls of holding the ball as the shot clock dwindled, it was a refreshing change of pace to see the first year come in and shoot aggressively. She likes to attack (she attempted 15 free throws in just 91 total minutes) but needs to work on her shot, as she hit just eight times from the line in addition to shooting 25% from deep. It’s hard to make a judgment on a first-year that missed the offseason and made just 18 appearances, but McWilliams has the size and athleticism to fit nicely into Northwestern’s system.
Before getting too far into this section, I would highly recommend reading Colin Kruse’s article interviewing the junior guard. With that said, #0 could have been exactly what this team needed. After having three knee surgeries and a long offseason, a healthy Sancataldo could have been the shooter that Northwestern desperately needed. She only played 24 minutes as a sophomore (none of which were very meaningful), but as a first-year Sancataldo showed that she could hit from beyond the arc. She made seven of her 17 threes as a freshman, leading the team with a 41.2% rate from deep. She consistently brought energy with her, even if it was just in seven minutes per game. This year, Jess could have been just what NU needed in the lineup alongside LP, Wood and Burton to bring some spacing to the offense.
There are two directions that Northwestern could take with the six-foot guard, whose next year will be her senior. The first scenario is the one in which Anna Morris turns out to be who Wildcat fans want her to be, or incoming first-year Caileigh Walsh is an instant starter. If one of the two is adequate to start at the four next year, they can potentially bring the outside shooting and interior defensive help that Northwestern’s starting lineup needs. This would allow Northwestern to abandon the four-guard lineup that they ran this year, and play a more balanced game on both ends of the floor. In this case, Sancataldo would likely compete with incoming first-years Jillian Brown and Hailey Weaver for the two spot in the starting lineup.
In the scenario in which neither Walsh nor Morris are adequate at the four, Sancataldo could allow Northwestern to play a similar scheme to the one that they did this year. With experience in cross country, javelin, high jump, field hockey and beach handball, Sancataldo is an elite athlete. McKeown and Co. could also slide her into the blizzard without much of a problem due to her 6-foot stature. Her shooting ability would be of huge benefit to the Cats in the half-court, and she could play the role of the second option in the offense behind Burton.