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ROUNDTABLE: Northwestern women’s basketball 2023-24 season predictions

How far will the Wildcats go this year?

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

After a seven-month hiatus, Northwestern women’s basketball is finally back, kicking off its 2023-24 season by taking on the UIC Flames tonight at 7 p.m. CT. In advance of the beginning of the regular season, we asked our staffers to project what the Wildcats’ record will look like, their team MVP, breakout player and provide a bold prediction.

Iggy Dowling

Regular season record: 12-17 (5-13 B1G)

Big Ten finish: 11th

MVP: Hailey Weaver

Breakout player: Crystal Wang

One bold prediction: Melannie Daley is Northwestern’s leading scorer

I think that Northwestern improves from last year, simply because there are so many members of its core from last year who are returning. Plus, it’s almost a certainty that the team’s shooting numbers improve from last year. Considering how fast-paced Northwestern looks like it will play, I think turnovers hinder the offense yet again, and the ‘Cats play in arguably the toughest conference in the country. It’s also going to be difficult to be competitive in the Big Ten when NU only has one proven perimeter stopper in Hailey Weaver. I think the Wildcats are a year away, but improvement should come from a ton of areas.

David Gold

Regular season record: 11-18 (4-14 B1G)

Big Ten finish: 12th

MVP: Caileigh Walsh

Breakout player: Maggie Pina

One bold prediction: Crystal Wang will make an All-Big Ten team

After a horrid season last year, I expect the ‘Cats to take a step forward in 2023-2024. Truthfully, I don’t think it is possible to shoot worse than NU did last season, finishing last in the Big Ten in both field goal percentage and three-point percentage. Joe McKeown brought in some scoring help with Maggie Pina and Crystal Wang, and Caileigh Walsh should continue to develop as the predominant scorer for the Wildcats. Sydney Wood is tough to replace, but Hailey Weaver should have an impressive season on the defensive side of the floor.

Despite positive regression, I just don’t think the ‘Cats have enough offensive talent to keep up with the juggernauts of the Big Ten. Northwestern will be better but still has ways to go before contending for a Big Ten title.

Bradley Locker

Regular season record: 10-19 (4-14 B1G)

Big Ten finish: 12th

MVP: Caroline Lau

Breakout player: Crystal Wang

One bold prediction: Eight players average 20+ minutes played

On the heels of an incredibly disappointing 2022-23 season that featured only two conference victories, you can get the sense that Joe McKeown is amped to rebound in a big way this year. On paper, the Wildcats might be a comparable (if not slightly worse) roster minus mainstays Sydney Wood, Courtney Shaw and Jillian Brown, but I expect several players — notably Caroline Lau, Hailey Weaver and Caileigh Walsh — to make considerable jumps. Plus, some positive regression should go NU’s way. Collectively, this group looks deep, as its exhibition game displayed; don’t be surprised if Casey Harter and Wang become key figures as the season progresses. Still a developmental year of sorts in a very competitive Big Ten (what’s new), but some definitive signs of growth lead to more optimism.

Adam Beck

Regular season record: 13-16 (6-12 B1G)

Big Ten finish: 11th

MVP: Caileigh Walsh

Breakout player: Caroline Lau

One bold prediction: Northwestern loses five Big Ten games by five or fewer points

Although the ‘Cats lost Kaylah Rainey and Sydney Wood in the offseason, an influx of guards has the squad deep in the backcourt. Defensively, losing Wood hurts, but Northwestern’s gritty style on that end will keep the ‘Cats competitive. Returning Walsh, Mott and Lau while adding Maggie Pina and having Melanie Daley healthy should make this offense a lot stronger. Progress doesn’t come overnight, but Northwestern should compete with the Big Ten’s middle-of-the-pack teams. After showing flashes at times last year, watch for Lau to explode this season. She’s got incredible speed and shooting that ignited an occasionally lifeless offense a year ago. If she can take care of the ball in transition and make plays for her teammates, Northwestern will find itself in a lot of close games.

Natalie Wells

Regular season record: 12-17 (4-14 B1G)

Big Ten finish: 12th

MVP: Caileigh Walsh

Breakout player: Melannie Daley

One bold prediction: Caileigh Walsh averages at least 15 PPG

The Wildcats enter the 2023-24 season having lost two of their top four leading scorers from last year: Sydney Wood and Jillian Brown. Wood graduated, while Brown transferred to Virginia for a larger offensive role. The onus will be on Walsh to produce when the ‘Cats need a bucket, and I anticipate that she’ll make waves in her junior season. The 6-foot-3 forward improved in every major statistical category last year, and I think she’ll surpass 15 PPG as Northwestern’s first option. Daley will lead the bench unit after an injury limited her to just nine games in the 2022-23 season. Her midrange scoring and facilitating skills will be crucial when starting guards Caroline Lau and Hailey Weaver take a seat. I see the ‘Cats making marginal improvements on last year’s performance, but it could be another rough season for Joe McKeown’s squad.

Brendan Preisman

Regular Season Record: 11-18 (5-13 B1G)

Big Ten Finish: 12th

MVP: Caroline Lau

Breakout player: Melannie Daley

One bold prediction: Northwestern puts three players in double figures

It’s not going to be easy sledding this year, but there should be some improvement. Northwestern had nine players play 20 or more minutes per game last season (10 if Daley, who only played in nine games last year, counts), and five (or six) of those players come back. With Courtney Shaw, Sydney Wood and Jillian Brown gone, the rebounding is probably going to take a hit, but the outside shooting is likely to improve. I think the offense is going to be much more successful than its 63.7 points per game mark last year, and Lau’s continuing experience and progression will be a big reason why. Daley started her first game since Jan. 20, 2022 in the exhibition earlier this week, and she looked very good, leading the team in scoring with 18 points. While the losses in defense and size are going to limit the team’s ceiling, the quicker pace will probably result in more offensive successes.

Dylan Friedland

Regular Season Record: 12-17 (5-13 B1G)

Big Ten Finish: 11th

MVP: Caroline Lau

Breakout player: Melannie Daley

One bold prediction: Caroline Lau finishes in the top five in the Big Ten in assists

For a team that lost multiple starters over the offseason, Northwestern will have to do a lot in order to improve from a rough season last year. Caroline Lau getting an increased role on the team should help, and NU will only go as far as she takes it. If she can make plays happen with the ball and distribute it effectively, the ‘Cats will be better offensively than they were last season. Maggie Pina transferring in from Boston University should also help, as she made 186 career threes at BU. She should be able to create more space for the rest of the team while improving the poor shooting from last year. Melannie Daley also looks ready to get back into action after scoring an impressive team-leading 18 points in the exhibition game. However, the loss of Sydney Wood will really hurt Northwestern defensively. After being named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team last season, Joe McKeown’s team is going to struggle to replace her defense. I’m not sure if they have the offensive firepower to keep up in a strong Big Ten.