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Women’s basketball preview, part 1: Guards

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With the season tipping off on Sunday, learn all you need to know about Northwestern’s top-tier backcourt.

Northwestern Women’s Basketball

The 2019-20 Northwestern women’s basketball season is just around the corner. The Wildcats officially tip off on Sunday, playing host to Loyola Maryland to begin non-conference play after blowing out Division 2 Lewis in their exhibition on Wednesday.

Losing just a single senior from a group that made a run all the way to the WNIT Championship last season, this team has high expectations. For newer fans (or older ones who could use a refresher and some analysis), we are briefly going through every player on the roster in two segments before officially previewing an extremely promising season.

First up: the completely intact and incredibly deep/talented backcourt.

The Stars

Lindsey Pulliam

Pulliam, who led the way in scoring last season with 16.5 points per outing, is expected to once again bear the brunt of the offensive load for a Northwestern team that’s biggest weakness last year, arguably, was a lack of consistent scoring. The Maryland native scored double-digit points in 34 out of her 36 appearances on the year, and though she often lacked efficiency (EFG of just 37.9 percent: bottom sixth among qualified, 16.5 FGA per game), the midrange artist’s standout moments, including multiple game-winners and 12 20+ point games, more than made up for it.

After being selected to represent the United States at the 2019 Pan-Am Games, Pulliam, a unanimous preseason All-Big Ten Team selection, worked relentlessly on her three point shot. According to her, after shooting a woeful 18.2 percent from beyond the arc last year, that was her biggest focus for this season, alongside increased effort on the glass.

Though the ability to knock down threes consistently could do wonders for the variety of her offensive game, head coach Joe McKeown isn’t at all worried about the fiery competitor. When we asked him before the season what he needed to be worried about with his star scorer on the offensive end, he responded by saying that the Wildcats “just need to make sure she gets to the bus on time.”

She may stand at just 5’10”, but Pulliam is strong enough to guard much bigger players defensively and work in the post offensively. With the guard depth this team has, she could see a move from her typical slot at the 3 into a role as a small-ball 4 at times, making her defense and rebounding all the more important.

Veronica Burton

The true sophomore point guard, at least according to her coach, is the most underrated player in the Big Ten. After a quick glance at her stats, a neutral observer would be inclined to agree. Burton impressed tremendously last season on both ends of the floor.

Offensively, she made her mark as one of the most efficient and least careless true first years you will ever see, averaging 3.6 assists and 1.5 turnovers per game in 32 minutes of action per contest. She added to that by getting to the line at a 30.5 percent clip, knocking down 85.5 percent of her freebies once there, and also nailing 36.8 percent of her tries from beyond the arc.

Defensively, all she did was lead the Big Ten with 2.6 steals per game, the first player to do so for Northwestern since two-time conference DPOY Ashley Deary. The Newton, Massachusetts native is already savvy and talented enough that McKeown saw her as a potential draft pick last year if the women’s game worked more like the men’s game in that regard. Just imagine what another year of experience will do.

The Potential Starters

Jordan Hamilton

Hamilton had a rollercoaster ride of a season during the 2018-19 campaign. The junior, who battled injury all year, turned it over an alarming 3.5 times per 40 minutes (Burton, by contrast, was under 2) in a timeshare as the lead guard, and shot just 35 percent from the field as a whole. Both of those numbers, though, were actually significant improvements from her first season on campus, creating significant hope for a continued upswing.

The Texas native, who sat out the exhibition earlier this week for maintenance purposes, did average 8.4 points per game last season, and had her share of offensive outbursts, putting up 20 points against both DePaul and Minnesota and an efficient 18 in an early blowout win over Duke. But her consistency remains a question mark, especially offensively.

Despite being an able driver and solid three point shooter, Hamilton rarely gets to the line and often settles for low-percentage midrange shots, something that hampered the offense at times last year. Defensively, she can sometimes overextend up top within Northwestern’s patented Blizzard defense (essentially a variant on a matchup zone), but is usually able to use her athleticism to get back in the play, and remains an excellent defender overall.

Hamilton’s contributions are far from a sure thing, but if she can get more of a rapport going with Burton and turn those flashes of brilliance into something a bit more steady, the guard can have a huge impact on this Northwestern team and their goals.

Sydney Wood

Wood, who settled into her role as the first player off the bench last year, impressed in the exhibition, putting up 15 points, six boards, four assists and three steals thanks to a perfect performance from the field. If that offensive output is a harbinger of improvement on that end of the ball from an already-solid defender, the highly-touted recruit could be well on the way to fulfilling her lofty potential.

The Maryland native, who played in the same league as Pulliam through high school, was a virtual non-factor with the ball in her hands last year, breaking into the realm of double digit scoring just once (14 against Chicago State) thanks to a minuscule 12.5 percent usage rate, one of the lowest in the country, across her 17 minutes per contest.

But Wood can shoot from beyond the arc, and showed flashes of impressive driving ability despite struggles from the charity stripe. She can stay in front of just about anyone defensively, making her a lock for the rotation regardless. A step forwards offensively, though, could do wonders.

The Backups

Byrdy Galernik

The senior Ohio native is a luxury for this team, and really shows off their impressive depth. Galernik enters the season having made a whopping 89 appearances over the course of her career. She can do all the little things you need from a veteran guard, leading the team by going 23-25 from the free throw line last season, adding in a 2.0 A/TO ratio, and just generally injecting energy off the bench.

She won’t start, but Galernik, a streaky shooter, can provide an occasional offensive spark off the bench while providing solid defense. Overall, she’s about the best backup point guard a team could ask for: unselfish, ready when called upon, and a natural leader. The fact that she is likely the fifth guard in this rotation speaks to how absolutely stacked Northwestern is in the backcourt.

Lauryn Satterwhite

Satterwhite is much more of an unknown, having appeared in only four games across her career thanks to a knee injury that forced her to redshirt her first season on campus and bled into last year as well.

The speedy Arizona native brings a ton of enthusiasm to every game, even when she isn’t playing, and has shown an impressive ability to both slash and hit threes in her limited on-court time. Satterwhite was a well-regarded recruit and Joe McKeown and all of her teammates laud her development and work ethic. Hopefully, we get to see that pay off this year on the court.

The Unknowns

Kaylah Rainey

The diminutive first year point guard has an incredible, heartwarming story and tons of potential, but a lot of people in front of her when it comes to playing time. Rainey is as quick as anybody on the court at any point in time, and has already impressed coaches and teammates with her defensive prowess and on-court energy, both of which were on display in the exhibition.

For now, though, barring injury, she probably won’t see much of the court in competitive scenarios.

Laya Hartman

Hartman, the other true first year, perhaps has a better shot at meaningful minutes due simply to her size, and also managed to impress in the time she saw during the exhibition. Again, though she has already shown some defensive prowess and the ability to hit shots from all over the court, there still seems to be a few too many players in front of her, though she could earn a depth role of some sort.

Jess Sancataldo

The Australian transplant saw some time in her first season on campus, displaying the sweet shooting stroke that was the driving force behind her recruitment. But Sancataldo had her own injury-related struggles last year, and sat out the exhibition without even working out with the team (due to a lower-body injury). Her long-term status is unknown as of now, but don’t expect to see her on the court in the immediate future.

Brooke Pikiell

Pikiell, a junior walk-on, has never seen much court time in her Northwestern career beyond mop-up action. Expect her to continue to function in that role, while potentially serving as another veteran leader from the bench.

All statistics procured from Her Hoop Stats.