At the preseason basketball media day, women’s basketball head coach Joe McKeown emphasized one thing over and over: Northwestern’s 2017-18 team is going to be young. With one of the strongest recruiting classes the program has seen and the loss of last season’s starters, McKeown’s lineups will likely incorporate the new freshmen from the get-go. Higher-profile recruits are never a bad thing to have, but seeing as last year’s team with Nia Coffey (who went to the WNBA), Ashley Deary and Christen Inman saw their season end in the Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals, it’s unlikely that NU will have much more success with so many rookies.
Northwestern landed two recruits from the top 100 in its 2017 class, which ESPN determined to be the 17th best in the country. The best get for NU was Lindsey Pulliam, a four-star guard from Maryland. She’s 5-foot-10 and listed as a guard on the roster, but she’ll likely play small forward from time to time. Her senior year highlight reel shows that she’s comfortable driving the lane, shooting from behind the arc and draining midrange jumpers.
Jordan Hamilton, another four-star guard, is from Texas and known as a strong two-way player. When asked who he thought would step up this season, the only first–year player McKeown listed was Hamilton. He said “even as a freshman, she has a command, a presence about her on the court” that works well with Northwestern’s inside-out play. She’s only 5-foot-8 and will probably only be used as a guard, but with Deary’s absence, Hamilton will likely be able to fill in that role by running the floor and scoring on offense while also racking up steals on defense.
McKeown has high praise for the young athletes, though. He called them “fearless” and added, “I don't think they care if they have the ball late in a game and it's a Big Ten team. To them it might like beating their high school rival: ‘just give me the ball.'”
While it’s definitely encouraging that Hamilton and Pulliam have this competitive mindset going in, they haven’t actually faced off against Big Ten opponents yet. Neither of the four-star freshmen are particularly large, and in conference play they’ll be matched up against 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5 centers. Though they won championships in high school, they haven’t experienced the size of Division 1 teams, especially in such a competitive conference.
The other first year players remain a bit under-the-radar. Lauryn Satterwhite is a three-star point guard from Arizona, but since she tore her ACL in June of 2015, her play hasn’t been quite the same. She is known for being quick on the court, and McKeown noted that her “basketball I.Q. will be a great asset in the Big Ten.” From everything that’s been said in the preseason, don’t expect to see Satterwhite on the floor right off the bat, but there’s potential for her to be incorporated into lineups as the season progresses.
Brooke Pikiell, a walk-on guard, is another wildcard for the ‘Cats who likely won’t see much playing time her first year. Her father, Steve Pikiell, played at UConn and is currently the men’s head coach for Rutgers basketball program. Brooke’s high school team won the Non-Public B State Championship last season, but her skills aren’t as developed as Pulliam and Hamilton’s yet.
Last season, Byrdy Galernik was the only player on the current roster who saw playing time at point guard. She played in 27 games but only averaged 6.3 minutes, so it’s likely that the spot is up for grabs. Senior Lydia Rohde and sophomore Abi Scheid will definitely be incorporated into the starting lineup, but beyond that, McKeown hasn’t announced a set plan.
It will be essential for the first years, specifically Pulliam and Hamilton, to fill some of those spots. But even so, don’t expect too much out of this team. Despite their potential to make some noise in the Big Ten, their size and experience compared to other teams in the conference likely won’t match up. McKeown has added players to his roster that will help Northwestern develop over time, but that won’t necessarily come this season.