Even with all the hype surrounding the Northwestern men’s basketball team’s bid to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, the biggest resurgence taking place in Welsh-Ryan Arena is that of the women’s team. At this time last year, the Northwestern women’s basketball team was floundering at the bottom of the Big Ten en route to a 7-23 season. This is Joe McKeown’s second year as coach and the ‘Cats have rebounded, doubling their win total from last year with almost a month left on their schedule.
The ‘Cats have really come into their own this season, helping McKeown avoid a sophomore slump that would have only plunged them further into the national cellar. Instead, Northwestern has emerged as a team on the rise, going 14-9 with several impressive victories, most notably an upset of Depaul, which was ranked #21 in the nation at the time.
The Wildcats still haven’t been able to really break into the Big Ten, ranking in the bottom four of the league. Still, the ranking does not tell the full story, as the ‘Cats have pulled off wins against teams above it in the standings, such as Purdue, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Currently, the team is holding onto a 5-7 conference record, again a vast improvement over last year, which saw them go just 3-15.
Out of the six games left on the schedule, all are against beatable opponents. Half are at home, where Northwestern has been especially formidable, having gone 10-5 in the confines of Welsh-Ryan this season. In order to make it to .500, the ‘Cats would have to go 4-2 in this stretch, which is very feasible.
So what has been the big difference between this year and last year? It’s actually hard to say. The addition of freshman Kendall Hackney and Danielle Diamant has certainly helped, as Diamant gives the ‘Cats another low post player to take some of the pressure off of Amy Jaeschke. Another major development this year has been the emergence of several rotation players, most notably Brittany Orban, who has emerged as the ‘Cats’ second leading scorer, averaging 10 a game.
McKeown’s coaching has also played a huge role for the ‘Cats this year. McKeown, best known for his success at George Washington University, came in last year to a broken program and has slowly rebuilt it, instilling a winning attitude among the players.
Coming into this season, not many people knew what to expect from the ‘Cats. Improvement, sure, but just how much? It’s hard to say, given that a 7-23 record is relatively easy to improve on. But in their remarkable turnaround Coach McKeown and his players have certainly given any Northwestern fan something to take pride in, even if a tournament bid isn’t necessarily at stake.