Here. We. Go. Basketball season is just about three weeks away from tipping off at Welsh-Ryan Arena, which means it’s time for us here at Inside NU to dive headfirst into player previews. Working our way up the rotation, today we’ll take a look at Mercy Ademusayo, who might be Northwestern’s best paint defender.
Who she is
Junior; forward; 6-foot-4; from Ode Irele, Nigeria
16 games, 4.5 minutes per game, 1.7 points per game, 1.1 rebounds per game, 0.1 assists per game, 0.9 blocks per game, 44% FG%, 33.3% FT%
In her freshman 2021-22 season, Ademusayo didn’t see the court that often because of Northwestern’s loaded frontcourt, which featured Courtney Shaw, Caileigh Walsh and Paige Mott. That didn’t change in 2022-23, as NU brought back every single forward. It’s why Ademusayo only averaged around five minutes a contest even though she consistently made a defensive impact off the bench.
Her best game came early on, in a November blowout loss to then-No. 9 Notre Dame. Walsh, Shaw and Jasmine McWilliams were all ejected in the first half, which gave Ademusayo a chance to play a season-high 13 minutes. She certainly made her presence felt, scoring six points while racking up six rebounds, two assists and three blocks. While Ademusayo never played more than eight minutes in a game the rest of the season, most of her performances followed that blueprint. Joe McKeown would typically deploy her in short spurts to generate a defensive spark.
Look no further than her fourth-quarter sequence against Minnesota in February. NU had opened up a 14-point lead on the Golden Gophers a minute into the final period, and was looking to put the game away right there. Minnesota’s Isabelle Gradwell drove for a layup to try and keep her team within reach, only for this to happen:
Thanks to her ferocious block, rim running and boxout, Ademusayo created a four-point swing by herself. She only played eight minutes in Northwestern’s 76-62 win, but brought forth a crucial momentum boost. Sequences like these encapsulated Ademusayo’s season, which makes it interesting to see how she’ll fare if her playing time takes a jump in 2023-24.
Sample size requirements are such a buzzkill.
Extrapolating this, Ademusayo would have averaged 5.1 blocks a contest if she averaged Walsh’s 24.7 minutes per game. Her per-40 minutes mark stood at 8.5 blocks. She had the third-highest block total on the team with 15 even though she played just 72 total minutes. Mott, who finished last year with 14 rejections, played 709.
Of course, it’s never that simple; Ademusayo would be the starter if it was. But there’s no denying that she is a talented paint defender. At 6-foot-4, she takes full advantage of her length to cut off drivers’ paths to the rim.
On the other end, Ademusayo took strides as a post player. Her footwork tended to look much cleaner than it did in her first year, which allowed her to take the majority of her shots inside the restricted area. Within that range, the junior shot 8-of-12, which demonstrates how her power and size can make her a force to be reckoned with if she can make her way inside.
If Ademusayo can extend her shooting range even to the midrange area, then she can take her game to another level. She shot just 3-of-11 in the paint outside of the restricted area in 2022-23, and made a third of her free throws. Considering the offensive versatility that Walsh brings to the table as a three-level scorer, that’s not something McKeown’s offense can survive on for extended periods of play against Big Ten opponents with perimeter players that can score in bunches.
Granted, Ademusayo’s role as a sparkplug didn’t require her to do that. In games like the Minnesota victory, she functioned as the thunder to Walsh’s lightning. McKeown threw opponents a curveball by having Ademusayo do the grunt work down low while lineups featuring four perimeter players spaced the floor and let the ‘Cats play inside-out. Should Ademusayo expand her offensive arsenal with some more touches, though, Northwestern could be in for a treat.
Walsh and Mott will remain at the top of the depth chart, which makes forecasting Ademusayo’s junior season challenging. There’s a shot that she takes on the same role as in 2022-23, with marginally more playing time. There’s an equal chance that she takes on Shaw’s minutes as the first big to come off the bench. Either way, she will play a critical role, and any leap she takes could benefit the Wildcats in a huge way.
Look for Ademusayo to continue improving as an offensive player with another year under her belt. Whether that means she becomes a better passer, a better shooter or is simply more efficient inside, it’s a goal within reach. Northwestern often found itself slipping away in the middle quarters, so Ademusayo’s scoring off the bench could help the second unit remedy that.
On the defensive side, even maintaining her production from last year could pay off handsomely with some more minutes. The cherry on top would be if Ademusayo becomes more mobile and starts to really defend pick-and-rolls well. If that happens, NU’s team defense will add an extremely valuable layer.