Women’s Basketball: 2021-22 Wildcat basketball entrance survey


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

The Wildcat bench reacts to the action on the court in Northwestern’s scrimmage against Wisconsin-Parkside. The Cats are aiming to make their second consecutive trip to March Madness.

Skye Swann, Drew Schott, and Charlotte Varnes

Women’s Basketball

Northwestern followed up a wildly successful 2019-20 with a March Madness appearance, knocking off 10 seed UCF before bowing out against Louisville. Though Lindsey Pulliam turned pro, Veronica Burton returns and is shaping up to be the de facto star of the Cats’ lineup. What should Wildcat fans expect with so much turnover? The Daily’s reporters may have the answer.

  1. The legend known as “Pull-up Pulliam” has now graduated from NU. Is a second consecutive March Madness appearance feasible for this program?

Skye Swann: NU’s dominance in its 2020-21 campaign showcased a unified, high-powered machine, with wins over conference foes Michigan and Iowa. Senior guard Veronica Burton, senior guard Sydney Wood and senior forward Courtney Shaw will play key roles in sending the squad to a second consecutive March Madness appearance. The three players were key pieces to NU’s 2021 March Madness run. Burton, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and one of the Cats’ 2021-22 captains, will arguably be the determining factor for NU’s success this season. If she steals the show on the court this year, the Cats have a strong chance to return to the NCAA tournament. 

Drew Schott: Last year’s performance showed that NU’s 2019-20 season was not a one-off, epitomized by wins over Ohio State and Michigan and a near-upset of No. 2 Louisville in the NCAA Tournament. With key pieces such as Burton returning, coach Joe McKeown’s squad certainly has the talent to compete in the Big Ten. NU’s success in the league — which includes five teams in the Associated Press Top 25 — will hinge on the Cats finding chemistry between the veterans in its lineup. If they can, a return trip to March Madness may be in store. 

Charlotte Varnes: If NU can learn how to click without Pulliam, March Madness is certainly in the cards. Burton will play a central role in leading the team, supported by fellow seniors forward Courtney Shaw and senior guard Sydney Wood. The team’s success will also require underclassmen with little playing experience during the 2020-21 campaign to step up and make the most of greater playing opportunities this season. If NU’s big three veterans can continue to perform and also help underclassmen transition into bigger roles in the program, the Cats have a strong chance of making it to the Big Dance once again. 

  1. Veronica Burton aside, which Wildcat are you most excited to watch in the 2021-22 season?

Swann: Courtney Shaw concluded her junior season as one of NU’s key defensive leaders inside the paint. Averaging 6.3 rebounds per game, Shaw led the team during the 2020-21 campaign despite being sidelined for a couple contests due to injury. Heading into her senior season, Shaw will be one of the crucial members of the backcourt alongside Burton and Wood to solidify the Wildcats’ strong defense. Each season, Shaw has improved in her defensive rebounds demonstrating her ability to grow and learn through the season. With a competitive 2021-22 campaign, this winter will be Shaw’s turn to be a standout.

Schott: Sydney Wood finished as NU’s third-leading scorer last season and is one of the team’s three captains heading into the 2021-22 campaign. Wood’s points and rebounds per game have increased in each of her three seasons and her veteran presence in the backcourt with Burton will be crucial to catalyzing the Wildcats’ offense. Scoring double-digits in 12 straight contests last year demonstrated that Wood could flourish in a scoring role, which will be essential following Pulliam’s departure. Her 5.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game also showcase her ability to distribute the ball and set up possessions. Overall, this will be the year Wood proves she can be the second star alongside Burton for NU. 

Varnes: Senior forward Courtney Shaw is poised for a breakout season following an injury-laden campaign last year. Shaw missed nine of the Wildcats’ 25 games last season, hampering an otherwise strong showing from the Maryland native. When Shaw did appear, she was certainly an impactful player on both sides of the court. She led the team in field goal percentage, going .536 from the field last season, and also totaled 100 rebounds in just 16 games. Should Shaw stay healthy this season, she’ll certainly play an important role in leading the Cats through challenging Big Ten play.

  1. The Big Ten is loaded this season — which game on NU’s conference slate could reveal whether the Cats are contenders or pretenders?

Swann: NU’s season will be one of the most competitive slates the program will face following the pandemic. But the two contests that will make or break the Cats’ season are Big Ten foes Maryland and Michigan. Last season, NU faced two nail-biting blows by the powerhouse Terrapins. Traveling to College Park, Md., this time around, a win from the Cats over one of the top teams in the conference will be a monumental statement for the program. With these contests taking place in late January and February, these regular season victories will put the Cats in good position for the postseason. 

Schott: NU is playing in arguably the country’s best conference this year, but two of the games that will define the Wildcats’ season are against non-conference opponents. The Cats fell in a close matchup to a ranked DePaul team in 2019 and will get their shot at vengeance in November. No. 10 Oregon comes to Welsh-Ryan Arena a month later. Victories against these squads will provide momentum for a Big Ten slate that doesn’t include a ranked opponent — No. 9 Iowa  — until January. Games against the Hawkeyes and Michigan, who roster the conference’s two best players in Caitlin Clark and Naz Hillmon, will reveal the ceiling of this NU team. 

Varnes: The Cats are playing a mixed group of mostly non-conference, unranked opponents up until early January, when they will face both No. 9 Iowa and No. 17 Ohio State within the span of a few days. NU defeated the Hawkeyes twice last year and the Buckeyes once, but those were the days of Lindsey Pulliam. Playing such talented teams back-to-back will certainly prove a significant test. If the Cats can pull off a win against even just one of these programs, it will set the tone for success throughout the rest of the Cats’ conference play and show how the program has reset and reloaded without Pulliam.

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Twitter: @dschott328

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Twitter: @sswann301

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Twitter: @charvarnes11

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