The end of Northwestern women’s basketball’s season came earlier than most had hoped, but there remain plenty of individual and team performances to look back on from the 2021-22 season. With March officially over and this year’s college basketball action behind us, it’s time we take a look at the impacts each member of Joe McKeown’s squad made during their 17-12 run. As we continue the assessment of Northwestern’s breakout first-years, we move on to Michigan native Jillian Brown.
The following stats are courtesy of herhoopstats.com.
One of three first-years who managed to make a significant impact on Northwestern’s trajectory last season, Brown started all but two of the games she was suited up to play in, including her very first college contest. Though she experienced a bit of a slump towards the end of non-conference play through the middle of Big Ten competition, the Grand Rapids product showed tremendous growth and potential on both ends of the court.
Brown’s eight points per game on the season is not indicative of her six double-digit performances in the team’s final nine matchups. She’s a tremendously versatile player on offense, adding value as a passer with two assists per game, and she boasts a veteran-like defensive skillset, averaging 3.6 defensive rebounds and 0.6 steals per conference game.
The first-year’s most outstanding performance of the year came in Northwestern’s upset over No. 4 Michigan, where she notched a game-leading 18 points and eight total rebounds along with three steals. Overall, Brown is a well-rounded player who fits well into both McKeown’s offensive scheme and the Blizzard. If she continues to improve, there is no doubt she will remain in the starting lineup for years to come.
Here are Brown’s advanced metrics, also through Her Hoops Stats.
Following the 2020-21 season and the departure of Lindsey Pulliam, one of Northwestern’s primary needs was a talented shooter. Brown, though not yet the best shooter on the team, certainly has the potential to grow into a scoring machine. She took a team-leading 50.2 percent of her shots from three, but she hit only 26.8 percent of those shots overall — the lowest three-point percentage among starters who routinely pulled up from beyond the arc.
Brown’s effective field-goal percentage — a metric that adjusts for the extra weight of three-point shots — wasn’t particularly strong either at just 40.7 percent. Her percentage of points from free-throw, two and three are all relatively similar to her fellow shooters in the starting lineup, though, a good sign indicator of her potential as a scorer should she work on her accuracy during the offseason.
On the defensive end, Brown knows how to make a difference. She matured significantly throughout the season and managed to find her stride in the Blizzard — the first-year boasted the third-highest defensive rebound rate, steal rate and block rate on the team behind only Veronica Burton and Courtney Shaw for all three. With Burton out of the picture next season, Brown should continue to be a major difference maker in those categories.
She mirrors Burton’s distribution ability as well, falling behind only the Backcourt Burglar in the assist category. Though her shooting does need work, Brown was one of the most consistent contributors to the scoreline toward the end of the season for the ‘Cats. With only a 14 percent usage rate last season, she could see increased involvement in future contests, which would contribute to a higher volume of offensive chances.
If Brown is going to continue to take around half of her shots from beyond the arc, she’s going to have to hit more than just a quarter of them. Her off-ball movement on offense does often find her receiving the ball in optimal position for an open shot, but her accuracy was just not completely there last season. There were also times where Brown would take a shot when the option was there to pass it off to someone with a more open look.
Additionally, there was a significant amount of time in the middle of the season when she just couldn’t get out of her scoring slump. She did pick it up and pulled together an impressive final stretch of the season, but inconsistency during that period of time could cast doubts on her ability to take on part of the burden Burton will leave behind.
Sydney Wood’s return next year will hopefully help Brown on the defensive end, where both of them shine. However, if Wood’s small sample of games from the beginning of 2021-22 — before she was sidelined due to injury — are indicative of her offensive production next season, Brown will need to improve her shooting both inside the arc and beyond it. In the end, Burton’s departure means the loss of Northwestern’s leading scorer over the past two seasons, and, with work in the offseason, Brown can put herself in the position to take over that role.
The Bottom Line
Brown has one of the brightest futures on this Northwestern team. Her progress toward the end of the season quelled any doubts her short mid-season slump may have planted — an especially encouraging stretch considering the impending departure of one of the program’s all-time greats. There isn’t much in the way of Brown becoming a keystone for McKeown in the future given her pluralistic skillset and ability on both ends of the court. All there is to do now is wait until November rolls around to watch her next chapter commence.