After a 17-12 2021-22 campaign, in which Northwestern was 8-8 in Big Ten play and 9-4 outside of it, the ‘Cats are finally about to return to action. With Northwestern not having a conference game until Dec. 4th and its conference play not fully beginning until after Christmas, here is a preview of the Wildcats’ 11 opponents outside of the Big Ten this season:
Nov. 7 @ No. 20 Oregon
A year after opening the season against UIC, the ‘Cats will tip off 2022-23 by facing off against much harder competition. Following a disappointing upset loss in the first round to Belmont a year ago, the Ducks have reloaded. They brought five transfers to Eugene from all across the country, while bringing back the likes of Te-Hina Paopao and 6-foot-7 Sedona Prince. The Ducks’ new faces will make them difficult to prepare for, in addition to the hostile environment the ‘Cats will experience, so this will be a big test right away to see how Northwestern will look post-Veronica Burton.
Nov. 13 vs. Penn
Sandwiched between two top 20 matchups is the Quakers, who were a middle-of-the-pack Ivy League team a year ago. They are far from the easiest game in the ‘Cats’ non-conference play, with the Quakers being competitive in the majority of their games against the Power Six last season, along with the team having a better record on the road than at home. That being said, they scored 43 points against Princeton in their last game of the season in 2021-22 and are far from a powerhouse. Now senior Kayla Padilla will return for Penn after averaging 18.5 PPG a year ago on 36.8% from three, so if the ‘Cats want to win this game, containing her is the way to do it.
Nov. 16 vs. No. 9 Notre Dame
The ‘Cats have quite a tough starting schedule, as they follow up their matchup with Oregon by facing another high seed from the NCAA tournament a year ago. The Fighting Irish fell in the Sweet 16 to NC State last season, but on paper they should be much better than they were a year ago. They retained most of their young pieces who should only improve, and have senior Dara Mebrey to lead this relatively young unit. Northwestern’s guards will have their hands full in containing First-Team All-ACC Olivia Miles, who, entering her sophomore year, has already proved she can contribute in a multitude of ways. Preseason rankings can often be incorrect, but the Irish definitely have the talent that their No. 9 ranking suggests.
Nov. 19 vs Southern Illinois
Don’t let their mid major allegiance fool you, the Salukis were no slouch in 2021-22. Fortunately for the ‘Cats, their three leading scorers from a season ago were all seniors, so SIU should be in for a relative down year after their WNIT birth last season. Still, this is a team coming off a program-defining year where they were 11-0 at home, and finished the year a respectable 21-10, so the ‘Cats should not underestimate the Salukis.
Nov. 22 vs. Niagara
In what should be Northwestern’s first sure blowout of the season, the ‘Cats will face the Purple Eagles, who shouldn’t be able to play with ‘Cats. The Purple Eagles shot a combined 29.9% from behind the arc last year and finished fourth in the MAAC with an overall record of 15-15. The ‘Cats should dominate this one from start to finish.
Nov. 27 vs Valparaiso
To follow their relatively easy game against Niagara, the ‘Cats face the Crusaders, who may be even worse. The Crusaders were 11-19 a year ago after losing their first nine games to start the year. However, unlike Niagara, Valparaiso does have shooters, with five of its six leading scorers from last year shooting above 35% from behind the arc. However, they struggle on the defensive end and averaged 15.9 turnovers a game last year, so the ‘Cats should be able to put up a lot of points in this one.
Dec. 1 @ Duke
After an up and down first real season for coach Kara Lawson, the Blue Devils have the personnel to reach the NCAA tournament in 2023. Their duo of Shayeann Day-Wilson and Celeste Taylor are back, and they have five transfers along with three freshmen on their refurbished roster. Lawson is still relatively unproven as a coach, and Duke’s 7-11 record in the ACC last season wasn’t great, but winning at Cameron is going to be quite the task. Still, this game happening early in the season may benefit the ‘Cats, with Duke having so many new faces that may take time to gel.
Dec. 10 vs. DePaul
After defeating the ‘Cats 78-75 last season, DePaul will face Northwestern after falling to Dayton in the NCAA tournament in 2021-22. Unlike their game in 2021, this one will be played in Evanston, where the Blue Demons will play their third consecutive road game (granted their games at Loyola Chicago and in Evanston are just a few train stops away). First-year phenom Aneesah Morrow, who averaged 21.9 PPG, is returning and should be even better than she was a year ago. However, besides Morrow, coach Doug Bruno is losing the majority of DePaul’s starters from last season, and will need many players who were outside of the rotation to play pivotal roles. With both teams losing key pieces, this matchup could result in an even better game than a year ago.
Dec. 14 @ UIC
In what should arguably be the most lopsided game for Northwestern all year, the ‘Cats face the Flames. Other than the game being on the road, the ‘Cats should have an advantage in every single facet of this game. UIC had a record of 2-25 a season ago and aren’t much improved since.
Dec. 17 vs. Air Force
The ‘Cats follow up their matchup with the Flames by facing off against the Falcons, who lost in the second round of the WNIT last season. With Air Force bringing in a large first-year class of six to what was already one of the largest rotations in the nation a year ago, expect a lot of different players in the box score when these teams match up. The Falcons will likely not be the most flashy or efficient team on the offensive end, but their tempo and lack of turnovers make them a difficult team to blowout. Expect a close one in Evanston, as it’ll likely be a first-to-50 type game.
Dec. 22 vs. Chicago State
Northwestern will conclude its non-conference slate in quite a different way than it began, with a home game against the Cougars. Chicago State went 4-23 last season after losing their last nine games. They are retaining much of their lineup and lost many close games last season, so they should be a bit better, but not enough to make this a close one.