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Northwestern women’s basketball player reviews: Veronica Burton

The star point guard ascended to a new, elite level in her sophomore season. Exactly how far can she go?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 13 Women’s Northwestern at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Undeniably, Veronica Burton is not only one of the best players in the Big Ten, but one of the best point guards in the country. The sophomore not only leads one of the best (and most challenging to execute) defenses in the nation, but has grown into an increasingly crucial offensive role, coming up huge in the clutch all season long and becoming increasingly efficient and reliable down the stretch.

Over the course of 2019-20, Burton developed from defensive standout and steady ball-handler to rising star on the offensive end of the court and one of the best defenders in the country. She may only have been recognized as Second Team All-Big Ten, but make no mistake: the Newton, Massachusetts native is the heart of Joe McKeown’s squad and one of the more valuable players in the entire conference.

With that said, let’s get into some numbers and analysis.

Stats

The following numbers are taken from HerHoopStats.com.

The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year filled up the stat sheet all season long. Throwing up a line of nearly 12 points, five assists, five rebounds, and well over three steals per contest is nothing to scoff at, especially when one includes the comparatively minuscule (given her usage rate and assist numbers) 2.1 turnovers per game number Burton boasts.

The sophomore finished ninth in the country in steals per game and 29th in A/TO ratio (1st and 2nd in the B1G, respectively), proving herself as arguably the most valuable single player in the nation when it comes to overall possession margin. Given the amount she controlled the ball and the amount of times she took it away from opponents, Burton, compared to an average point guard, saved her team about four possessions per game on both ends of the floor, a truly astounding number.

And that’s not even bringing in the impact of her impressive passing, which isn’t even totally encompassed by the assist measure. When Burton picked up her scoring down the stretch of the season, keeping all else relatively steady, she went from underrated star based on the underlying numbers to one of the best players in the country.

Shot Distribution

The following numbers are taken from HerHoopStats.com.

Burton’s numbers in these categories are slightly deceiving. A shockingly cold spell to start the season led to her shooting a woeful 5-33 from beyond the arc over the season’s first eight games, dragging down her overall numbers in that category significantly. In the year’s final 22 contests, she nailed an impressive 39 percent of looks from the outside, including the eight games in February, during which she drilled 14-of-21 triples over the course of eight straight Northwestern wins.

In fact, wipe out those first eight games altogether, and you’ve got yourself darn near a 50/40/90 candidate. From UT Arlington on, Burton hit 49.2 percent from the field, 39.0 percent from three, and 81.9 percent from the line. That’s a 22-game span that includes all of Big Ten play, and actually doesn’t include two of Northwestern’s three worst opponents, per Her Hoop Stats’ rating. Impressive really doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The Good

Burton is not only incredibly good on both ends of the floor, but getting better seemingly every day. Her shot selection is nearly impeccable, taking a steady diet of threes and layups (though many of the latter are difficult shots) and getting to the line with incredible consistency (see the above eye-popping free throw rate for evidence), generally avoiding the midrange like the plague with the exception of a handful of tough floaters.

Though her steal numbers declined somewhat over the back half of the season, Burton’s hands are as quick as ever, and her defensive instincts remain elite. Her leadership qualities, as a sophomore captain, are as clear as day, and her clutch shotmaking is ever-present (sent the Marquette game to overtime with a late floater, did the same against Indiana with a remarkable and-1, hit a dagger three against Michigan at home, among others).

There isn’t really a hole in Burton’s game, which isn't to say individual pieces couldn’t be bettered. The fact is, though, to suggest specific improvements at this point would be picking nits.

So let’s do just that!

The Bad

It would be nice to see Burton take a few more shots at times, especially from beyond the arc with the way her range developed down the season’s stretch. For all her aforementioned skill at getting to the foul line, she sometimes appears to make layups tougher than they have to be. Foul trouble was occasionally a problem down the stretch, though much of that is a natural byproduct of her necessarily aggressive defense.

That’s about it!

Offseason Focus

Burton was already tremendously important to this team. During the 2019-20 season, Northwestern was 7-0 when she scored over 15 points, 9-0 when she secured at least five steals, 10-0 when she hit at least four free throws, 11-0 when she hit at least half of her threes, and 12-0 when she nabbed at least six rebounds. All of that is circumstantial of course, but its a statistical way of saying what anybody who watched this team could see: each of Burton’s contributions on a game-by-game basis are incredibly valuable.

Well, she’s about to have even more weight on her shoulders. With Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf departing, there are plenty of points to be picked up, and there’s only so much more Lindsey Pulliam can do on offense. Burton is going to have to pick up some of that scoring slack, while continuing to do all the little things she does at the highest level.

That’s a lot to ask. But if there’s one thing we learned this year, it’s that the sophomore is more than capable of rising to the challenge.

The Bottom Line

During February, Veronica Burton was an All-American.

Northwestern won all eight games they played during the month, encompassing the end of the regular season and wins over three NCAA Tournament teams and a WNIT team, in Nebraska, that was a pesky thorn in the Wildcats’ side.

Burton’s numbers: 16.4 points per game, 63% from the field, 67% from three, 85% from the line, 4.3 assists per game, 4.9 rebounds per game, 2.5 turnovers per game, 2.1 steals per game.

It’s no coincidence that February was when Northwestern played its best basketball. As their point guard goes, the Wildcats go. And when she’s playing the way she played down the stretch of this season, she can take her team just about anywhere.