Warren’s World: What’s in a ranking for Northwestern women’s basketball?


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Peter Warren, Sports Columnist

To say Northwestern women’s basketball had a good week would be like saying Adele has a great voice — it’s stating the obvious.

An overtime victory over one of the Big Ten’s best in then-No. 15 Indiana at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall highlighted a 2-0 week on the court for the Wildcats, while TikTok propelled the team to social media acclaim and senior Abi Scheid learned the team’s first Big Ten Player of the Week honors since 2016. To cap it all off, NU — after what felt like weeks of waiting — found itself with a No. 22 ranking next to its name.

“A lot of good things are obviously happening for this program right now,” an even-keeled Joe McKeown said at Tuesday’s media availability. “Back in the top 25, it’s good for our program.”

So much of sports is routine: a batter grazing the edges of home plate with his bat, the coordinated dance of a kicker lining up for a field goal, the “clank, clank” of a goalie thumping the posts before a faceoff. And for over a month, the Monday morning routine for most Cats fans featured a steaming cup of joe, scrolling through social media and indignation that the women’s basketball team was not ranked.

For much of the 2019-20 season, NU has looked like one of the best teams in the Big Ten, if not the country. It started just a few weeks into the season when the Cats picked up nonconference wins at Marquette and at Duke. Those two wins put the Wildcats on the national radar. In the AP Poll released the day after the Duke victory, NU received a single vote thanks to The News-Gazette’s Scott Richey, who put the Cats at No. 25 in his poll.

As the Cats continued to accumulate wins as November continued, the recognition didn’t exactly come along with it. They picked up another vote the following week and then earned three votes the week after that, but a two-point loss to DePaul and an unconvincing victory over middling Boston College pushed the Cats out of the periphery for two weeks.

Success at the West Palm Invitational returned NU to the receiving votes column, and about 10 days later, it seemed the Cats had their marquee victory to catapult them into the rankings. On New Year’s Eve, NU sent off the first fireworks of the day with its 81-58 shellacking of then-No. 12 Maryland, a team projected by some to make the Final Four at the beginning of the season. But a loss to Iowa the day before the release of the polls sentenced the Cats to another week of living life on the outside looking in.

Two wins over Minnesota and Purdue felt like enough to put NU in the poll for the first time since Jan. 24, 2016, but instead the Cats finished once again on the outside, this time with a then-season high 23 votes. They were knocking and knocking on the door, but no one was opening, for some inexplicable reason.

Its wins over the Hoosiers and Penn State last week felt like the equivalent of NU kicking the door in and standing right in the middle of the doorway until it was asked Monday to come inside. With a No. 17 ranking in the RPI, multiple high-profile dubyas, an undefeated road record and its only two losses coming to the No. 6 and No. 13 in the RPI, it was an overdue invitation.

Yet, the experts are still split on the Cats. Some feature them in the top 20 — like azcentral’s Jeff Metcalfe and the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Hayes Gardner, both of whom place NU at No. 16. Others, like Basketball Hall of Famer Rebecca Lobo, left the Cats out of their top 25.

It’s been a long road to the top 25 for the Cats, and clearly their spot is far from secure. They still have 11 games remaining in the regular season, including a potential revenge game for the No. 20 Terrapins in College Park, Maryland on Sunday. Plus, the Big Ten is the deepest conference in the country.

At this point, the Cats shouldn’t care about the polls. They’ve accomplished that goal, and this team can do a lot more this year than just be ranked. A conference regular season title is in play, as well as a Big Ten tournament title and success in the NCAA Tournament.

Sure, it will be cool to continue to see a ranking besides “NU” on television broadcasts and in the written word. But this team is good enough to strive and hope for more.

Peter Warren is a Medill junior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.