Joe McKeown and Co. are just three weeks away from taking the court again. Continuing with our Northwestern women’s basketball preview series, we look at Jillian Brown, a sophomore guard who’s primed to be one of NU’s offensive centerpieces.
Who she is
Sophomore; guard; 5-foot-10; Grand Rapids, Mich.
29.6 minutes per game; 8.0 points per game; 2.0 assists per game; 3.8 rebounds per game; 33.3 FG%; 26.8 3PT%; 72.7 FT%.
From the beginning of her first year in Evanston, Jillian Brown solidified herself as a staple in Northwestern’s starting backcourt next to Veronica Burton. She started 25 of the 27 games she appeared in, which was a higher mark than anyone on the team except Burton and Courtney Shaw.
What was even more impressive was how Brown appeared to improve throughout the season. After she posted a few double-digit scoring performances in November against Texas A&M and Pittsburgh, she went through a shooting slump in early conference play. But Brown made her presence felt as a rebounder and playmaker, so Joe McKeown kept her in the starting lineup. That move paid off, as Brown ripped off a huge six-game run in February in which she averaged 12.2 points and five rebounds while making 37.5% of her three-point attempts.
One of those games was a double-overtime upset over No. 4 Michigan on Feb. 13, in which Brown led the team with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting in 46 minutes. She flashed her all-around talent too, as she posted eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Brown put her two-way versatility on full display throughout the season, which made her a key cog in Northwestern’s starting lineup.
For a guard, Brown’s rebounding and defensive versatility is very impressive. She ranked in the nation’s top third in defensive rebounds per game and blocks per game, according to Her Hoop Stats. Again, that’s not among guards exclusively – that’s among everyone. The fact that Brown was able to contribute extensively across the board as a first-year playing next to Burton speaks volumes about her immense potential going forward.
The Michigan native is also a willing playmaker. Even though Brown played off the ball most of the time, she was still able to set up her teammates often. Her two assists per game in 2021-22 ranked in the NCAA’s top 25 percent, and even that doesn’t fully capture how well Brown was able to take playmaking pressure off the Backcourt Burglar down the stretch. That might spur McKeown to give Brown more minutes as the floor general this upcoming season.
When Brown gets the hot hand, her shooting combined with her ability as a playmaker makes her almost impossible to guard. However, she doesn’t catch fire frequently enough to justify her high-volume shooting from beyond the arc. The majority of Brown’s shots were threes, which should have made it easier for her to score with greater efficiency than midrange specialists. Yet Brown — whose effective field goal percentage last season was just 40.7% — was still one of the least efficient high-volume shooters in the Power Five last season.
Brown’s three-point rate should go down since McKeown will likely need her to score in a greater variety of ways as one of NU’s offensive focal points. But her overall shooting volume will almost certainly increase. For Northwestern to keep up with fast-paced offenses, Brown will either need to improve from downtown or get to the paint more often and vary her shot selection.
Along with Sydney Wood, Courtney Shaw and Laya Hartman, Brown should be a top scoring and playmaking weapon for the ‘Cats. She will also be responsible for compensating for the loss of Burton on the defensive side. Obviously, it would be unfair to expect Brown to play at a Defensive Player of the Year level, but the strides she makes in her second year will go a long way toward determining whether Northwestern can hang in against Big Ten powerhouses. If she can become even more versatile in that area and continue expanding her offensive arsenal, the ‘Cats could make some noise in conference play.