In just five days, Northwestern women’s basketball is back, with the ‘Cats first regular season game set for November 10. We’ve been previewing the roster one-by-one in preparation for the season, and at last we’ve reached the superstar of the squad — senior point guard Veronica Burton.
Who she is
Senior; 5-foot-9; Newton, Mass.; FIBA AmeriCup Gold Medalist this summer with the U.S. national team, latest in a lineage of Northwestern greats that dates back to the days of Ara Parseghian
16.2 points per game, 4.9 assists per game, 5.2 rebounds per game, 3.8 steals per game, 30.7 3PT% on 5.1 attempts per game, 55.32 TS%
During the dream season of 2019-20, Burton endeared herself to Wildcat fans as the perfect No. 2 to Lindsey Pulliam’s main stage performance. But in 2020, as Pulliam’s pull-ups sadly regressed to more inefficient levels, the then-junior guard stepped up and seized the mantle of the team’s best player, leading the ‘Cats to a fifth-place finish in the ultra competitive Big Ten, as well as a second round appearance in the NCAA Tournament. For her efforts, Burton was named to All-Big Ten First Team as NU’s lone representative, while also taking home her second consecutive Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award.
In a year during which many returners either struggled to reach the same levels they did back in the 2020 season, or suffered the slumps that many first-year rotation players do, Veronica Burton had her best season to date as Wildcat.
I considered spelling out “D-E-F-E-N-S-E” and saving myself some time, but Burton deserves a more important breakdown for her stellar play on that end. The “Backcourt Burglar” finished second in the entire country with a ridiculous 4.4 steals per 40 minutes, trailing only Pacific’s Valerie Higgins, per Her Hoop Stats. In all three of her seasons in Evanston, she’s ranked in the 99th percentile or higher in raw steals per game. Her hands act as bear traps, snaring balls from unsuspecting opponents on their drives, and her lateral mobility crossed with great on-court knowledge allows her to beat those she’s guarding to spots both on and off the ball.
As for the other side of the court, Burton was not bad by any means in her underclassmen years, but she was generally considered just a slightly above neutral option for the offense. That changed this past winter. The senior guard’s crafty driving and finishing allowed her to open up passing lanes galore for her to find her teammates, as well as efficient at-rim scoring attempts for herself, lest we forget her left-side layup barrage against the Boilermakers back in December of 2020.
Veronica Burton (@Veronicaab22) is a great left-side finisher and it showed again tonight. The touch, ball handling skill and body positioning she displays on all of these shots is savant level stuff. pic.twitter.com/3RQHLiV7KV— Daniel Olinger (@dan_olinger) December 18, 2020
Keeping opponents out of the paint and conversely generating paint touches for your own team is just about the most important pre-shot process any player can complete, and Burton excels at both.
This is going to come off like a trust fund kid complaining that his $30 million sports car that his dad bought him isn’t able to detach a motorcycle like the Batmobile in The Dark Knight, but Burton’s shaky three point shooting limits both herself and the team’s overall offense.
With the team sorely lacking for shooting, Joe McKeown and company committed to running the show through Burton and her inside-hand finishes, but teams eventually caught on. Big Ten foes were comfortable sitting deep in the paint, daring not just Burton but every member of Northwestern’s squad to fire away from deep and betting that the poor-shooting ‘Cats couldn’t make them pay. Her three point percentage plummeted toward the end of the season, while her usually dependable drives began to result far too often in the 5-foot-9 guard hurling herself into a forest of taller bodies with little success. Additionally, Burton’s set-and-fire form limits the speed and fluidity with which she can release her shot, allowing teams to run her off the line on spot-up opportunities.
The expectations for this team as a whole aren’t too high. It cannot be understated just how much they missed Abi Scheid, who was so hot from three in 2019-20 that she was basically searing flames straight into the earth’s core, and opened up oodles of space everywhere on the court. That, combined with Pulliam’s previously mentioned slide, left the team’s offense stuck in the mud, and with Lindsey now also having moved on to the next stage of her basketball career, most expect the ‘Cats to be a competent team who can’t score quite enough to do anything more than crack the field of 64 come March.
However, since both Burton and her backcourt mate Sydney Wood set foot on this campus, Northwestern has won way more than they’ve lost, largely due to the terrorizing Blizzard defense that they spearhead. Burton is already the best guard defender in the entire country, and as a junior she already proved that she can be the primary offensive engine of a team, even if that locomotive wasn’t exactly pristine.
Veronica Burton is already one of the better players in all of college basketball, and if she can fine tune her off-the-dribble shooting prowess, she can truly cement her status as one of the absolute best.