The transformation of Northwestern women’s basketball from fringe tournament hopeful to legitimate national/Big Ten contender and potential regional round host has centered on three things: 1) The All-American level defense of Sydney Wood and Veronica Burton, 2) Lindsey Pulliam’s explosive off-the-dribble scoring and 3) Abi Scheid’s meteoric shooting rise.
The senior hasn’t just been hot from three; she’s been fire incarnate. Her last miss from behind the arc was on January 26 in College Park, Maryland. Since then she’s canned eight triples in a row in competitive play. That’s insane.
Pulliam has been covered at length throughout the course of this season, and I already spent over 1,000 words gushing about Burton’s craft and skill (with a healthy dose of praise reserved for Wood), so I figured that it was time that Scheid got her due.
Let’s get into it:
For those of you who don’t know, the story of Scheid the sharpshooter goes like this: she almost never shot threes in her high school career (“I didn’t even take 10,” she admitted in a recent interview), didn’t attempt enough in her freshman season for her percentage to qualify nationally, and shot 34.5 and 36.7 percent from behind the arc in her sophomore and junior years respectively. Above average, but not elite.
Then this year she decided that missing was beneath her. Her blistering 50.5 three-point percentage is sixth in the entire country per Her Hoops Stats, and first among those who have attempted at least 70 threes (Scheid has tried 107). In addition, she’s 12th in the country in points per play at 1.17, and ninth in effective field goal percentage at 67.8.
When you have a player with that kind of shooting prowess, the best thing you can do to get them open is have them set off ball screens.
This leverages the extra attention that the defense is paying to Scheid against them. Wood’s initial defender shades up because she’s worried about Scheid popping out, and Scheid’s defender shades down in order to prevent the open layup, but they still won’t want to switch this, and the result is an easy catch-and-shoot from the top of the key.
Sometimes these actions can create uncontested layups for the Wildcats without Scheid even registering a stat.
Penn State’s Mya Bembry is so petrified with the thought of Scheid potentially slipping that for an open three that she literally lets Wood walk to the basket unimpeded. This picture is downright hysterical.
It’s really important that the Wildcat coaching staff develop clever concepts like this, because due to her unconventional shooting form, Scheid is not a threat to shoot off the dribble. That’s why, despite all of her incredible shooting numbers, she is in the bottom third of players nationally when it comes to usage rate. Things like this quick and unsuspecting flare screen help prevent any need for Scheid to hesitate or put the ball on the ground.
Her elbow remains tucked at the proper angle, and her follow-through is consistent, so there’s no need to fear whether she might regress. It just looks like a funky shot-put because of how low she begins her release, which in turn causes her to split her right foot forward in order to generate enough power to get it to the rim.
The very first time I saw her uncork that form, I immediately recognized it as comparable to the form of former Michigan State star and developing NBA talent Jaren Jackson Jr., a similarly late bloomer when it comes to knockdown shooting from beyond the arc.
For both Jackson and Scheid, the form is repeatable, if slightly limiting when it comes to off-dribble opportunities. It also doesn’t appear to limit the range of either shooter: Scheid in particular has begun to venture farther and farther beyond the arc over the past few weeks, nailing open looks with continued consistency despite the increased distance.
While Scheid’s odd mechanics prevent her from having the same high-volume responsibilities of an offensive engine like Pulliam, she isn’t a stand-still shooter that can only stroke it if she’s given five feet of space. This shot she hit over Michigan’s Danielle Rauch was just mean.
Also note the screen she set for Burton in the corner in order to occupy the wing, and the pick-and-roll at the top of the key to take the other potential defender out of her airspace. Now that’s what I call off-ball movement synergy.
One of the benefits of her form might actually be that she doesn’t really need to generate flow through her body prior to the release. In this play during the first matchup with Penn State, she’s in a full sprint, yet somehow plants with her right foot as soon as the pass comes her way, and looks completely calm and collected as she bangs home a triple in her defender’s face.
Or in this one, where she executes a perfect gather-hop and manages to let one fly despite jumping only so high that you’d be stretching it trying to fit a credit card under her sneakers.
Unusual? Sure. But it’s also quickly becoming unguardable. That streak of eight straight made triples she’s on is only one part of a larger stretch over the past six games, starting in the second half against Indiana, during which she has nailed 17 of 21 threes.
Scheid’s development is a microcosm for what has happened to this entire team this season. The reliable senior captain was good in years past, and improvement was expected. But certainly not this level of improvement.
The Northwestern defense had already come far enough last season, while the offense was just stuck in “meh” status with the 92nd-best rating in the country (per Her Hoop Stats). But here we are in 2020, where the ‘Cats have risen 65 spots in offensive rating alone, with the defense making significant strides alongside it.
Scheid in particular deserves credit for what she has done, stepping up as a senior leader with a career year, and bending defenses at will with all the gravity her spacing capability attracts. In four short years, the Elk River, Minnesota native has gone from a true center who rarely even dreamed of stepping beyond the arc to a stretch four who has become the best shooter in the country.
That transformation has keyed Northwestern’s rise, and Scheid’s continued success could determine just how far this team is able to fly.