March S[imulation]adness: Northwestern set to face off with Missouri State in Round of 32

Northwestern’s Abi Scheid shoots against Michigan State on Feb. 10. Photo courtesy of Andy Brown
Northwestern’s Abi Scheid shoots against Michigan State on Feb. 10. Photo courtesy of Andy Brown /

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Abi Scheid put on a show in the first round. Can she carry the No. 11 ‘Cats deep into the tournament?

Northwestern may have fizzled out of the Big Ten Tournament early thanks to poor shooting, but that was clearly a passing funk. There were no such struggles in the third-seeded Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament-opener, an easy 80-58 win over the 14th-seeded UTEP Miners.

Abi Scheid put on a shooting display befitting of her WNBA prospect status, making six of her eight three-pointers and leading the team in scoring with 24 points, as well as eight rebounds. A packed Welsh-Ryan Arena, filled to the brim with purple and forced to open standing room only sections for the first time since its 2018 renovation, chanted her name for the final five minutes of the game.

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The senior from Minnesota flustered the Miners from the beginning, executing a devastating pick-and-roll with Veronica Burton, who assisted on each of Scheid’s made threes.

“They don’t need for her to be that hot to succeed as a team,” analyst Christy Winters-Scott said. “If she hits two or three three-pointers, they’ll still win a fair share of games in the tournament.”

Burton, for her part, finished with 14 points, 10 assists and 10 steals. It was the first triple-double that included steals and not rebounds in program history.

“Burton’s aggressive defense is tough to read, especially in the gaps on the weak side,” Winters-Scott said. “Her anticipation skills are elite.”

Lindsey Pulliam started the game cold, but heated up in the second half, well after the contest was out of reach. She finished with 19 on a 7-for-18 night. Winters-Scott said if NU is to make a deep run, Pulliam will have to find consistency in her shooting.

Looking ahead to Missouri State, the Bears have NCAA Tournament experience the ‘Cats are sorely lacking. They also have a lethal sharpshooter of their own in senior shooting guard Alexa Willard, along with court general point guard Brice Calip, both of whom Pulliam and Burton will be tasked with containing on the perimeter.

NU’s Abbie Wolf and Abi Scheid have a size advantage over the Bears’ power forward, Jasmine Franklin, so look for coach Joe McKeown to mix in his bigger lineup against the MSU starters. If the ‘Cats are right, as they were against the Miners, Scheid’s versatility will stretch out the defense and give Pulliam, the ultimate volume shooter, space to heat up. The small, quick duo of Jordan Hamilton and Byrdy Galernik should be expected to provide a change of pace when both teams begin emptying their benches.

It should be an exciting matchup and given the energy the Evanston crowd provided in the first round, one might expect the intensity to be ratcheted up a notch with a Sweet 16 berth on the line. Should NU win, it would be the first time in program history that the ‘Cats won more than one game in the Big Dance.

My prediction? Northwestern wins this one 68-64, and it’s tight to the end.

Atlanta Dream coach Nicki Collen feels otherwise: “Missouri state over Northwestern. NCAA Tournament experience from a year ago will be the difference in this close matchup.”

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