Well…Let’s Get This Out of the Way
Destiny Pitts went to the Williams Arena bench with 7:36 remaining and Minnesota trailing 40-47. Destiny’s Gopher career was over. Nevertheless, Minnesota rallied and Jasmine Brunson capped a Gopher comeback knocking down a game tying three (54 all) with :04.7 seconds on the clock. Advancing the ball with a time out, the Wildcats in-bounds play culminated in Veronica Burton driving the lane and dishing the ball to Lindsey Pulliam for the game winning layup. Post-game, all hell broke loose and the Gopher season went in the dumper. On the other hand, Northwestern’s season just kept rolling. The Wildcat train was only derailed by a natural disaster called covid.
When the NCAA canceled last Spring’s Big dance no team was more disappointed than the Northwestern Wildcats. They were looking forward to their 2nd NCAA appearance in head coach Joe Mckeown’s twelve seasons. (Their previous invite under McKeown was in 2015). Before 2015, to find March Madness and Northwestern mentioned in the same sentence, you must travel back to the ‘90s. NU danced in 1997, 1993, 1991, 1990, 1987 and 1982.
The ‘Cats were good-very good. They finished the season ranked 11th in the AP poll, just behind UCLA and ahead of Arizona. NU finished 16-2 in the Big Ten and 24-4 overall. Just two games into the conference season they put everyone on notice by routing Maryland 81-58 in Evanston. Maryland returned the favor later that month and the Terps and Wildcats ended the season as Big Ten co-champions.
It was Northwestern’s 2nd Big Ten title. The other was in the 1989-90 season when the Wildcats went 15-3 under Don Pernelli. Although Minnesota has three more NCAA tournament appearances than Northwestern (nine of them in the 2000’s), the Gophers have never won the Big Ten Title.
Unfortunately, the covid cancellation ended the Northwestern careers of post players 6’4 Abbie Wolf and 6’2” Abi Scheid. Both were solid players with specialties. Wolf had 31 blocks in B1G play while Scheid could knock down threes, 45-88 (.511) in conference. However, there are post options for this season: Option 1 is 6’1” junior, Courtney Shaw; maybe this will be her year. Option 2 is 6’1” Paige Mott of whom McKeown said, “we always love bringing a Philly kid here”. Option 3 is highly recruited 6’3”, Anna Morris, who is modestly described on the NU roster as, “talent-wise is a combination of Abi Scheid and Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah”. That would make her a three-point shooting, rebounding beast the likes of which have rarely roamed the American continent.
While Scheid and Wolf are gone, the guards remain and require no introduction. They are: All Big Ten First Team member, senior Lindsey Pulliam, Big Ten Defensive Player of the year, junior Veronica Burton and All Big Ten Honorable Mention, junior Sydney Wood. Not to forget senior Jordan Hamilton.
Lindsey Pulliam is the heart and soul of ‘Cats. Pulliam’s led the team in scoring every year she’s been in Evanston. A classic volume shooter she seems to be on a mission to keep the mid-range jumper alive. Although it must be noted, that Pulliam became a solid three point shooter last season knocking them down at a .364 clip.
Veronica Burton is noted for her defensive prowess; but, the point guard can fire up the offense. Last season she averaged 13.7 points 4.5 assists 3.3 steals per B1G game. Burton is also a threat from three hitting .393 of her attempts. Naturally, Burton hits .80 % of her free throws.
Sydney Wood is a tireless, pressure defender perfectly suited for McKeown’s Blizzard defense. Wood contributed a little on the offensive end with 5.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists/game in B1G play. 30.2 mi
After two productive season’s Jordan Hamilton was replaced in the starting lineup by Sydney Wood. Hamilton recovered from an early injury and had some good moments averaging 18.9 minutes in B1G play. She provides a veteran sub off the bench.
Northwestern’s offense was solid. While they were eight or nine points/game behind Maryland and Iowa, the ‘Cats 72.3 points/game was a solid 3rd in the B1G. NU led the B1G in 3 point percentage (.371). But it was the defense that drew much of the attention.
Northwestern was noted for their “Blizzard” defense. The Blizzard, a 1-1-3 match-up zone, helped hold B1G opponents to 60.4 points/game-third in the conference just behind Maryland and Rutgers. Keys to the Blizzard were the two top players forcing the ball out of the middle and into double team opportunities. It also required the post player/center to guard the opposing center one on one (this could be a weakness this year with Abbie Wolf graduated). The ‘Cats were 2nd in the B1G with 9.9 steals per game. With an adequate offense and a stingy defense, Northwestern should redeem its delayed invite to the Big Dance even if they can’t walk the red carpet as Big Ten Champs.
Common Opponent: Eastern Illinois:
In their only game before meeting Minnesota, the Wildcats made short work of Eastern Illinois. The ‘Cats led 53-22 at the half on their way to a 93-57 win.
Probable Starters (One Game Stats):
HGT POS YR PLAYER MIN AVG REB 5’10” G Sr Lindsey Pulliam 32 18 6 5’9” G Jr Veronica Burton 25 21 3 5’11” G/F Jr Sydney Wood 33 14 7 5’8” G Sr Jordan Hamilton 33 11 3 6’0” F Jr Courtney Shaw 23 13 7
Bench (One Game Stats):
HGT POS YR PLAYER MIN AVG REB 6’1” F Fr Paige Mott 13 4 1 5’7” G RJr Lauryn Satterwhite 18 2 2 6’3” F Fr Anna Morris 4 0 2