The Lakeshow is dancing yet again, and the Inside NU staff has carefully contemplated how it will fare in the NCAA Tournament. Here are our predictions for the upcoming weekend and beyond:
Sarah Effress: Loss in the Final Four
Northwestern is head-to-head the best team in its section of the NCAA Tournament bracket this year, so I’d bet they stick around through the quarterfinals at the very least. The ‘Cats already have wins this season against No. 5 Syracuse, Michigan and Notre Dame, all of whom they could potentially face on the road to the Final Four after their first-round matchup. However, likely standing in NU’s way should it make the semis is undefeated North Carolina — a team the ‘Cats lost to by 11 in March. I hope I’m wrong, but it’s going to be incredibly difficult for Northwestern to overcome the Tar Heels should they advance.
Sarah Meadow: Loss in the Final Four
These ‘Cats are making it to the Final Four. I don’t know if they will be able to take down No. 1 undefeated UNC as they lost 20-9 to them earlier this year, but I think the home field advantage will carry Northwestern until then. A matchup against Notre Dame or Michigan, granted they beat the Central Michigan Chippewas in round one, will be a good one, but I think they will remain undefeated at home.
Not to get ahead of that game even, but seeing as what happened when NU faced the Syracuse Orange at home earlier this season, I think the same result will happen if they meet again. However, these wins are all contingent on the Wildcats' offensive depth that we have seen in games other than the last two matchups. If Erin Coykendall, Carleigh Mahoney, Sammy White, Sam Smith, etc. (you get the point) can all step up like we have seen them before, I have no doubt the high-scoring nature of this team will appear once again. And, hey, the Lakeshow namesake does come from our beautiful Lanny and Sharon Martin stadium that can seat lots of fans (cough cough....come!).
Jacob Brown: Loss in Sweet 16
There’s just too much pressure on Lauren Gilbert and Jill Girardi to make things happen for the ‘Cats. Notre Dame and Michigan have already played NU this year, and teams like Maryland, BC, and UNC have exposed that if you can shut down NU’s top two, the rest of the offense struggles mightily. The Cats will win one at home but fall Sunday to the winner of Michigan versus Notre Dame.
Ignacio Dowling: Loss in the Elite 8
While the winner of the Notre Dame-Michigan first round matchup should be a challenge, Northwestern’s high-flying offense will likely handle it assuming it can beat Central Michigan. If No. 5 Syracuse handles its business, though, the ‘Cats may fall short of a title with a loss in the quarterfinals. Yes, NU beat the Orange 16-15 in an overtime thriller back in March. But, ‘Cuse blew a four-goal lead with under five minutes to play. Given Syracuse is one of three teams in the nation to make more than half its shots and has a scoring defense better than Northwestern’s, a different result may be in store for the Lakeshow.
Michael Barthelemy: Win it all!
Not one for believing in jinxes, so I’m willing to make this prediction. Sure, Northwestern has sputtered into the tournament, but this squad has so much talent and veteran leadership that I think this will work as a wake-up call. I like the Wildcats’ chances at emerging out of their region based on how they performed against Syracuse the first time around. The three seeds of UNC, BC and UMD are all scary, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see any of them get bounced early (Rutgers and Stony Brook both could knock off UNC). With a couple of lucky breaks, Northwestern Lax looks poised to bring home an eighth title.
Gavin Dorsey: Loss in the Elite 8
If you asked me three weeks ago, the answer to this question would likely have been a round further and maybe even into the championship game with the momentum the ‘Cats had picked up after nine straight wins. However, we have seen a completely different Northwestern team the last two games. Both Maryland and Rutgers stifled the Wildcat offense — those trips to the east coast leave me with little confidence that they can turn it around in time to make a deep run. I do believe Northwestern will be able to handle Central Michigan and the winner of Michigan/Notre Dame, but Syracuse presents a hefty challenge in the quarterfinals. The ‘Cats did win in an overtime thriller against the Orange earlier this year, coming back from down three late, but I’m not sure I expect them to do the same here.
Bradley Locker: Loss in the Elite 8
Barring a significant upset, the Wildcats should cruise past Central Michigan from Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium here in Evanston. Round two is where things could get a bit dicey, as Northwestern would play either Notre Dame or Michigan; NU won both games versus those teams earlier in the year, yet the victory over ND was a tight affair. Regardless, I think the ‘Cats continue to defend home court and eke it out.
However, the Sweet 16 would pose an awfully daunting task in the No. 5 Syracuse Orange. On the year, NU went 1-3 versus top-10 teams, with an exhilarating, come-from-behind win over Syracuse being the sole victory. In that matchup, the ‘Cats had a +7 draw control margin but had to score three goals in under three-and-a-half minutes in regulation to send the game to overtime. Northwestern is built on its ability to win the draw control with Jill Girardi largely at the helm; the fact that the Wildcats had a narrow win in round one of this battle with such an advantage in DCs concerns me. Point blank, the Wildcats aren’t inspiring a ton of confidence right now after dropping their final two contests. This team is capable of going deep in the tournament, but an earlier-than-expected exit is more than plausible, especially against a fellow 2021 Final Four competitor seeking vengeance.