Our Northwestern basketball player previews are in full swing! Today, we’ll look at junior guard Melannie Daley, who is in position to play a key two-way role for a new-look guard group.
Who she is
Junior; guard; 5-foot-11; from Hastings-on-Hudson, New York
9 games, 10.2 minutes per game, 4.6 points per game, 0.9 rebounds per game, 0.4 assists per game, 0.8 steals per game, 48.6% FG%, 71.4% FT%
After an impressive first season in 2021-22, when she made nine starts, Daley only played in nine games in 2022-23. Even though her minutes were beginning to steadily increase as the ‘Cats approached mid-December, she didn’t play in another game after dropping eight points on 4-of-7 shooting against DePaul on Dec. 10.
Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said she assumed Daley was dealing with an injury when she missed Northwestern’s January game against the Hawkeyes, so I’ll take her word. If that’s the case, it must have been a really tough pill for Daley to swallow, especially after she played a critical role on the 2021-22 team as a bench scorer and an early-January spot starter in place of an injured Lauryn Satterwhite.
Although most of Daley’s counting stats were down from 2021-22, she was showing clear signs of progression entering the Big Ten slate. After playing a combined seven minutes in the first two games against Oregon and Penn, Daley averaged 12.1 minutes in her final seven games. In the process, she recorded a steal in five straight games, and shot over 50% from the field.
Her best two offensive games came in succession, as she shot 9-of-14 for a combined 19 points against Michigan and DePaul. She definitely appeared to be on track for a larger role. Given that Jasmine McWilliams took Jillian Brown’s starting spot on the wing right after Daley’s final game, there’s a chance that Daley’s midrange game and perimeter defense could have put her in contention for a place in the starting five had she played.
Daley was a terrific midrange shooter in Year One, and she continued to excel there in 2022-23. Daley went 7-of-18 last year for a 38.9% clip, which was over 6% above the Division I average. Plus, she was automatic around the rim, converting eight of her 10 shot attempts in the restricted area.
What makes those marks even better is that Daley centers her game around getting to those spots. Almost half of her shots in 2022-23 came from midrange, and 27% came at the rim. In an offense that often revolved around getting Caileigh Walsh clean looks on the perimeter, Daley didn’t need to bomb away. That helped her to use the entire floor playing off the ball, and develop a rhythm taking catch-and-shoot 16-footers.
On the other side of the ball, Daley’s a solid perimeter defender. Despite a small sample size, her steal percentage fell in between Kaylah Rainey’s and Sydney Wood’s. That’s pretty good company. While Northwestern struggled early last year, its advantage of having quick guards on both the starting and bench units who could rack up turnovers gave a huge boost. And this was before Hailey Weaver really started to emerge as an absurdly skilled defensive player.
It doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but Daley had her fair share of struggles as a facilitator. During NU’s blowout loss to DePaul, she telegraphed a pass and then floated a post entry en route to fastbreak scores the other way. Daley also turned it over four times against Niagara in nine minutes. Again, it’s tough to make a definitive claim with a small sample size, but that appears to be an area where Daley still has room to grow. With Rainey and Wood now gone, there’s a non-zero chance that she gets some minutes as the floor general for the second unit when Caroline Lau is off the court, which makes that facet of her game all the more important.
The departure of Northwestern’s starting guards last year also means that the ‘Cats will need some shooting from their backcourt. Daley has only made one three-pointer in her career, so it’s unlikely that she’ll fill that role. However, Joe McKeown and Co. are in desperate need of floor-spacers in addition to Walsh and Lau — especially off the bench — so Daley could give the backcourt a valuable layer if she can add to her repertoire a little bit. A midrange-centric game is typically inefficient by nature, which means that Daley will either need to get to the rim even more (which she’s done well already) or take strides on the perimeter to take her offensive game to the next level.
Lau and Weaver should form Northwestern’s starting backcourt for the next two years, which probably means Daley will come off the bench unless McKeown slots her in for McWilliams, who ended last season starting at the three. But, that doesn’t mean the junior guard won’t play a huge role. Without Jillian Brown, who transferred to Virginia this spring, Daley is going to be Northwestern’s only returning guard on the second unit. She and Maggie Pina, a grad transfer from Boston University, should be primary sources of scoring outside the paint when Lau is off the floor.
At 5-foot-11, Daley is also fairly versatile as a defender. Now that Wood is gone, Northwestern could use some more switchable defenders on the perimeter, and No. 21 can bring that to the table. If Daley can take the steps as a two-way player that she appeared to be approaching last season, then she will be one of the better sixth women in the Big Ten with a really good case to enter Northwestern’s starting lineup come January.