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Northwestern women’s basketball 2021-22 player reviews: Mel Daley

Her defensive talent on full display, the first-year grew into her own in her first season with the Wildcats.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 23 Women’s - Northwestern at Maryland Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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. After assessing role players and reserves, we now delve into players who were cogs for the ‘Cats, including first-year Mel Daley.

Stats

The following stats are courtesy of herhoopstats.com.

While Daley did not start the season in the opening five for the Wildcats, she quietly established herself as a valuable team member on both sides of the floor in the inaugural portion of the season. At DePaul on Nov. 21st, Daley earned (at the time) her highest share of minutes, playing in 24 and rewarding McKeown by tallying 13 points to go along with three steals.

After playing 20 minutes or more against South Dakota and Clemson, Daley earned her first career start against Wisconsin on Dec. 5, a game that marked her first of nine straight starting nods. Without a doubt, the highlight of Daley’s season came on Jan. 6th in Carver-Hawkeye Arena against Caitlin Clark and the Iowa: the 5-foot-11 first-year collected 22 points and six rebounds to power Northwestern to a monumental road win.

Subsequent to an NU loss to Penn State, McKeown adjusted his lineup, favoring grad student guard Lauryn Satterwhite with Daley coming off the bench. The New York native continued to infuse the Wildcats with defensive ferocity when she entered the game, accruing 24 steals in 28 contests and consistently locking down offensive attacks.

As the season wound down and the Wildcats entered crunch time, Daley’s minute share dipped; the first-year didn’t see more than 15 minutes in each of the last six matchups. At the same time, Daley played 22 total minutes in the Big Ten Tournament, posting a combined four points and two steals in Indianapolis.

Shot Distribution

Here are Daley’s advanced metrics, also through Her Hoops Stats.

As mentioned earlier, Daley’s steal rate immediately jumps out. While playing alongside Veronica Burton – perfectly named the Backcourt Burglar for her steal prowess – can lead to being overshadowed, Daley stood out on her own with quick hands disrupting plays and sets.

Another area in which Daley flourished was not being assessed for fouls. The guard was called for a penalty on just 3% of plays, translating to 29 overall fouls on the season — the fewest of any ‘Cat to see more than 200 minutes of action.

While Daley has already begun to master defensive pacing and avoiding fouls in the collegiate ranks, her offensive metrics were not graded as favorably. Daley struggled to earn trips to the free throw line, an element of her game that exacerbated relatively low scoring numbers. Moreover, Daley shot just eight three pointers on the season, converting one. Her 12.5 three-point percentage was the worst of any Wildcat to shoot more than four triples.

The Good

Although she did not start until early December, Daley was thrown into the fire in tough atmospheres and against prolific competition. It seemed that McKeown had little hesitation in leaving Daley in for the final few minutes of a contest, a vote of confidence that should elevate Daley’s game next season.

Teaching defensive ability is much tougher and more intuitive than scoring skill, and Daley has already become a wunderkind at the former. Simply put, there is almost always a valuable slot on a team for a willing and tenacious defender, especially on a squad that will be without the reigning three-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2022.

The Bad

Daley’s offensive output had dry spells and lacked efficiency, largely concentrating on mid-range shots from the elbow or layups. In a similar vein, Daley did not express much faith from range and struggled when attempting threes.

Moreover, Daley turned the ball over 33 times in 472 minutes of playing time, a rate that is to be expected of a first-year but should be addressed entering the 2022-23 season. The first-year was also not a superb rebounder or distributor, meaning her offensive qualms extended beyond her own scoring.

Offseason Focus

Without a doubt, Daley should strive to add to her offensive package this spring, summer and fall. She already has tremendous upside due to her defensive ranginess and attentiveness, but the first-year must make offensive strides as she figures to compete for a starting role this winter.

While a shot from distance would make Daley even more lethal, she should presumably begin with more basic playmaking traits, such as a craftier handle, passing and rebounding. Though it is less of something that can be trained in practice, the first-year should also pursue opportunities to draw contact and earn free trips to the charity stripe in her sophomore campaign.

The Bottom Line

Even though soon-to-be fifth-year guard Sydney Wood announced her return to Evanston, Daley will be in prime position to either etch a job as a starter or serve as a vital bench member for McKeown next season. Having already displayed tremendous defensive aptitude, the first-year guard should look to improve her offensive game in the offseason to become a more well-rounded player – one capable of being a star in short order.