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Film Room: Veronica Burton is very good at basketball

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Let’s enjoy all of the great things that arguably the best two-way player in the Big Ten does on a near-nightly basis.

S.J. Carrera, Inc.

As I prepared for my first basketball season as a Northwestern fan, I knew the Wildcat women’s team was supposed to be good. I didn’t know that they were going to be THIS good (and, in fairness, not too many other people did either).

More importantly, I didn’t know Veronica Burton was THIS good. The sophomore point guard makes the basketball nerd in me celebrate in joy with every subtle, smart play she makes. She’s an incredible player to watch, and the driving force behind the dominant 17-2 (7-1 in Big Ten play) start the ‘Cats have enjoyed.

The Newton, Massachusetts native, who averages a Big Ten-leading 3.9 steals per game (along with the second-highest steal rate in the country, at 6.3 percent) to go along with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.7 (top 25 nationally), is a unique blend of ferocious point-of-attack defender and patient offensive initiator, perfect to lead a veteran-laden Northwestern team that is beginning to make their mark on the national stage.

In case you were stuck under a rock somewhere on Thursday night, Burton finished with an insane stat line of 22 points, eight rebounds, six steals (!), three assists and two blocks in a 76-48 bludgeoning on the road against Michigan State.

Let’s look at the film to remind ourselves just how awesome she was.

Her Awesome Offense

Just because she’s fourth on the team in scoring and (so far this year, at least) a below-average three-point shooter doesn’t mean that Burton’s merits extend only to the defensive end of the floor. She’s far and away the team’s best passer and an absolute maestro in orchestrating the pick-and-roll.

Anyone who’s played competitive hoops knows just how impressive that feed from Burton is. She throws it at the perfect time and with enough velocity to ensure that the defense couldn’t deflect it. Even if the assist was blown by an uncharacteristic miss from Abbie Wolf, that play serves as a prime example of what makes Burton so special.

I’m sorry if I’m bordering on total basketball dork-mode, but that is just a beautiful display of on-court intellect from the sophomore captain. Not only does she throw the pass at the exact right time, but, knowing that her roller was still positioned at the top of the key, purposefully threw the pass ahead of Wolf to lead her into a more straightforward finish.

One of the most important traits to being a good passer is variability. On the previous two plays we saw Burton tightrope a bullet pass in between defenders and manipulate the defense with her eyes, before finishing off the trifecta with this deft pass to Courtney Shaw lofted just over the unaware Spartan defender.

Then, there’s this play, which speaks for itself. I mean come on. This is just ridiculous.

Bottom line: anyone who thinks Burton is a minus on the offensive end of the floor is sorely mistaken.

Her Awesome Defense

It felt weird re-watching the first five minutes of this game knowing the eventual outcome was a dominant Northwestern victory. The ‘Cats trailed 5-2 after an ugly first five minutes of action, and Burton certainly had some miscues herself, but it was her cat-like reflexes that helped the ‘Cats finally start to break their scoring slump.

Even though that pass from Nia Clouden was very poor, it still highlights just how big of an impact Burton’s ability to anticipate actions can have on a game. As you can see in the screenshot below, the point guard’s feet are moving while the person she’s guarding is flat-footed, and it’s that extra half-second (read: her top tier defensive mind/reflexes) that allows her to make so many big plays.

This reminded me of a clip from Calvin Wetzel’s fantastic preview for the upcoming Northwestern-Maryland game over at Her Hoop Stats, where Burton again got a steal because she put herself in motion toward the ball before anyone else on the court was even aware of what was happening.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled review of what I’m affectionately calling the Michigan State Massacre.

Quick reminder that Burton stands just 5’9”. Still, on this play she looked like Kawhi Leonard swiping the ball away from Russell Westbrook in the 2014 NBA playoffs. I love so much about what she did here, from tracking the ball handler’s eyes, to flipping her hips and attacking the ball at the release point.

Okay, this might actually be my favorite basketball play of all time. Like last week’s blizzard breakdown, we’re going to need a list for all the great things that Burton did:

  1. Even though she doesn’t tip the initial cross-court pass that Michigan State made, it was great recognition and hustle on her part, another display of what makes her such a special defender.
  2. She saw the pass the driving MSU player was going to make before the offense saw it themselves, cutting right to the vacated area of the lane. The result is one of the most genius yet nonchalant steals you’ll ever see.
  3. And the finish ... oh, that finish. Not only is it a tough and-one off of an inside-hand layup, Burton also jumped off the wrong foot while contorting her body to protect the ball, throwing off her defenders’ timing completely. Shot blockers have a subconscious tendency to time their swat attempts with the one-two of the shooters’ feet, and this simple yet brilliant maneuver combined with impressive body control earned three points the hard way.

“Is he actually going to do two numbered lists in one article about everything Veronica Burton did in a possession?”

Yes! Yes he is!

  1. Here, she starts by helping guide her partner-in-crime Sydney Wood, who is momentarily questioning her positioning before Burton directs her to go cover the ball handler coming off the pick-and-roll.
  2. Next, she denies the pass to an open shooter coming off a pin down.
  3. After that, she shows like she’s covering the high post to make the offensive guard hesitate, then leaves to make it look like the high post is open, only to return once again and force a cross-court pass.
  4. Suddenly, she springs into action, cutting off the drive and deflecting the pass in one motion.
  5. Finally, she turns her steal into an aesthetically-pleasing finish, which she does so often that it should honestly be known as “The Burton” in basketball vernacular from now on.

Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re either a proud Northwestern fan or an NCAAW fanatic, both of whom already knew that Veronica Burton is one of the smartest players in the country, and deserves to be getting more attention from the national media (as does the whole team altogether).

However, if for some reason you didn’t know who Burton was, I suggest you’d start paying attention. A good time to start keeping track of the point guard and her dynamic teammates would be Sunday at 12 pm, in the aforementioned ranked-vs.-ranked Maryland rematch.

After all, players like her don’t come around often enough.