The loss of now-WNBA star Veronica Burton has proven more damaging than many pundits initially imagined. Sitting with a teetering 6-7 record, Northwestern has reason to reflect on the early part of the season as it begins conference play.
Let’s take a dive into the stats that have defined the ‘Cats through 12 games and will influence them throughout the rest of the year.
0.98: Opponents’ points per scoring attempt
Based on points per game, Northwestern’s defense sits squarely in the bottom half of the Big Ten. Allowing about a point every time their opponent takes the ball down the floor is no feat for the ‘Cats to be proud of, and it’s a trend that’ll need to stop if the team hopes to improve its miserable track record against quality opponents.
For reference, NU scores 0.92 points per trip down the court — 6% less than the opposition. While it seems like a negligible difference in an isolated possession, over the course of four quarters, it spells disaster for the Evanston bunch.
11.5%: Block rate on opposing attempts
A more impressive stat is the Wildcats’ block rate: the percent of two-point attempts blocked by the ‘Cats’ defense. Opponents only manage to deny 7% of Northwestern’s interior shots.
If there’s anyone to thank for the 11.5% figure, it’s Caileigh Walsh, who has rejected 17 opposing attempts through 12 games. Paige Mott and Mercy Ademusayo both have notched nine blocks on the year. NU’s elite shot-stuffing trio is a bright spot on an otherwise lackluster defense. Walsh, Mott and Ademusayo will have to continue to carry the load until head coach Joe McKeown schemes up a more holistic strategy.
93: Number of turnovers between NU’s three primary ball-handlers
A not-so-bright part of Walsh’s statline is her turnovers. With 34 through the end of 2022, the forward has failed to take care of the ball on offense. She’s not the only one to blame, as Kaylah Rainey and Sydney Wood have tallied 31 and 28 giveaways, respectively.
Even worse than the ‘Cats’ defense is their offense, which ranks 13th out of 14 in the conference. Northwestern has a tough time scoring largely because of its errant passes and careless dribbles. Committing 18.3 turnovers per game isn’t something to be write home about, and the resolution starts with the team’s ball-handlers becoming more conscientious about their offensive habits.
49.2%: Effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of Caileigh Walsh
Walsh has been a defiant star in a galaxy full of mostly gloom this season. Only two players on NU’s roster boast an eFG% — a player’s clip from the field, factoring in the added value of a three-pointer—over 50%. Those players are Mott and Courtney Shaw, forwards who have yet to shoot from behind the arc this year and generally take high percentage attempts in the paint.
Walsh, on the other hand, leads the team in deep shots (50) and still manages to flex an impressive eFG%. When she’s on, so is the team. Moving forward, it’ll be important that McKeown continues to feed the sophomore.
121: Total deficit in four losses against ranked teams
It’s become the norm for the Wildcats to be embarrassed by ranked teams this season. Losses to No. 20 Oregon, No. 9 Notre Dame, No. 17 Michigan and, most recently, No. 3 Ohio State have come in the form of double-digit blowouts.
Before the end of the month, the ‘Cats will take on No. 4 Indiana, No. 12 Iowa and face a rematch against the Buckeyes. Having yet to come close to a takedown of a major opponent, there’s little reason for optimism in the Northwestern locker room.