After four years, three B1G Defensive Player of the Year Awards, two NCAA Tournament berths, one Big Ten Championship and a whole lot of steals, Northwestern now enters the post-Veronica Burton era. While postseason prominence may not be in the cards for the young team, most of Inside NU’s staffers agree that this year’s success is not necessarily determined by results, but by development.
Gavin Dorsey: Improvement among Northwestern’s young players
After graduating Veronica Burton to the WNBA, Northwestern now begins the 2022-23 season without its best player on both defense and offense from the last several years. Burton led the team in nearly every statistical category, and her departure now opens up a significant opportunity for the young players to step up. Northwestern welcomed a top 10 recruiting class in 2021 — headlined by Hailey Weaver, Jillian Brown, Caileigh Walsh and Melannie Dailey — and each of those players could see a major role increase this year. We saw what the latter three could do in major roles last season, and one of them will need to rise to the occasion without the Dallas Wing to lead them.
Bradley Locker: Establish sustainable success post-Burton
Having won the Big Ten in 2020-21, Northwestern and Joe McKeown are no stranger to compiling and stringing together winning seasons full of confetti. At the same time, this program faces unprecedented turnover with the loss of three-time conference Defensive Player of the Year Burton, who was undoubtedly the rock of McKeown’s team. Demonstrating the ability to play closely with, and even beat, teams like Iowa, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State should lend itself to a solid foundation for this young group to build on. Specifically expecting an NCAA Tournament appearance or 16+ wins feels daunting given both NU’s own reconstruction and a formidable schedule, but remaining competitive should be a goal.
Iggy Dowling: Finish in the top half of the Big Ten
Northwestern finished seventh in the conference last season. Doing so again in its first season after the departure of one of the best players in program history would be extremely impressive. I said the same thing about the men’s squad yesterday, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask for improvement the season after a team’s star leaves. That being said, the ‘Cats will get Sydney Wood back, which adds to a deep rotation of wings. Northwestern isn’t going to be a pushover in conference play for anyone, not even Iowa. If NU can hold its position in the middle of the pack, that would be encouraging for the prospects of a post-Burton future.
John Olsen: NCAA Tournament appearance
There’s much uncertainty regarding the post-Veronica Burton ‘Cats, so it’s hard to gauge what a reasonable expectation is for the team. With the amount of young talent Joe McKeown has brought to Evanston, NU should be good enough to grab an at-large bid to the Big Dance, even it struggles to adapt to life without No. 12 early in the year.
Leo Tesler: Find ways to score without Veronica Burton
Last season, Veronica Burton led the ‘Cats with 17.8 points per game, more than twice the mark of the team’s next leading scorer, Courtney Shaw. And this was on a team that was already toward the bottom of the Big Ten in points per game. If Northwestern wants any shot at making it back to the NCAA Tournament, it’ll need players like Shaw and Jillian Brown to step up and compliment what should still be a pretty strong defense.
Adam Beck: Create a Veronica Burton-less identity
Without Veronica Burton, this team will rely on fifth-year seniors Courtney Shaw and Sydney Wood to lead the way. The ‘Cats will struggle at first without their superstar, but if they’re able to band together this team has the coaching and talent to be competitive. A big part of growing as a team is getting younger players acclimated to playing a bigger role, and if the ‘Cats are able to further establish Mel Daley, Caileigh Walsh and Jillian Brown as pieces to build around, that will be really important for Northwestern in the future.
Brendan Preisman: Have the new starters step up
As most of my colleagues have mentioned, Veronica Burton’s absence is a loss that will be keenly felt throughout this Northwestern team. However, there is reason to believe that the Burton-sized hole could be filled by some of the returnees. Jillian Brown averaged eight points per game last year, and will have a full green light this year that she should be able to take advantage of. Courtney Shaw became a full-time starter last year and manned the middle admirably with 10 rebounds per game, and she should put up a similar stat line this year. Aside from Brown, other sophomores might have a chance to step up, especially Melannie Daley and Caileigh Walsh. If those three sophomores and Shaw take advantage of their bigger roles and raise their games to the occasion, a great foundation will be built for the future.