As Inside NU continues with its reviews of how each Northwestern women’s basketball player performed during the 2022-23 season, we move onto Jillian Brown, the sophomore guard from Grand Rapids, Michigan:
After a 2021-22 season in which Brown started 25 games on a team that already had Veronica Burton and Lauryn Satterwhite in the backcourt, it seemed like she’d take her sophomore year by storm with more touches available. However, that wasn’t the case for Brown, who started Northwestern’s first eight games of the season before coming off the bench and taking on a role in which her minutes fluctuated pretty drastically.
Because of that, many of the sophomore’s offensive numbers went down, and like the entire team, she especially struggled to shoot the ball well. Brown was a solid defender, though, and took some strides in that area despite the team’s struggles as a whole. With Sydney Wood, Laya Hartman and Kaylah Rainey likely set to depart Evanston, Brown is a prime candidate to take on a large portion of the wing and two-guard minutes next season.
Here’s a screenshot of Brown’s stats from the past year, as well as percentiles of where her marks ranked in Division I, courtesy of CBB Analytics:
It’s pretty clear Brown struggled from the field extensively, as most of the team did (more on that later). Her effective field goal percentage stood at just 32.4%, which was lower than anyone on the ‘Cats who averaged more than 10 minutes per contest except Jasmine McWilliams. It also marked a drop-off of nearly 10% from Brown’s eFG% last year, which is fairly concerning.
At the same time, Brown was probably the best rebounding guard on the entire team. While Sydney Wood snagged the most rebounds among guards on the roster, she also averaged 13 more minutes per game than Brown did. Standing at 5-foot-10, Brown leveraged her size to thrive on the boards and as a defender, like she did as a first-year. Even though she averaged a little over 21 minutes per game (compared to 29 last season), Brown still essentially maintained her steals per game and blocks per game averages from 2021-22.
Here’s a few of Brown’s charts, also via CBB Analytics:
As stated above, this is pretty rough. And it’s not like it was just Brown who struggled; a key reason why Northwestern went 9-21 was because it went long stretches without being able to finish inside and score from beyond the three-point line. Unfortunately for the Michigan native, she just didn’t shoot a high volume of shots from her hot spots.
Why? For one thing, a midrange jumper is one of the most inefficient shots on the floor by nature. Given that fact and how much NU struggled to generate perimeter offense this year, it’s not likely that Joe McKeown was scheming up those looks for Brown, especially when her heat map from last year looked like this:
Two words here that have been repeated way too much: Veronica Burton. It helps when you have a point guard that can clog up the paint and open up more corner looks. Unfortunately for Brown, while she was strong from the right corner in 2022-23, she didn’t get as many looks because Northwestern couldn’t force defenses to collapse inside as much.
With the ‘Cats typically staring down double-digit deficits late in games, Brown had to settle for quicker shots — which led to more long twos and low-percentage threes. In fact, Brown went just 2-of-24 on three-pointers in the fourth quarter of games this year. That’s likely a product of having to play from behind. It’s not to say that Brown didn’t struggle as a shooter, but her offensive circumstances changed dramatically from Year One. It’ll be interesting to see how this map looks next year, as there’s a good chance that she will be the team’s primary perimeter threat.
Brown kept up her strong rebounding and defense, for the most part. Her steal and block percentages were above-average, and her strength gave McKeown the confidence to occasionally run some smaller lineups in the middle of games with Brown as the de-facto power forward. That tended to open up looks for Caileigh Walsh inside — especially in NU’s win over Minnesota at home — and the ‘Cats were still able to hold their own defensively, as Brown picked up a steal and a block in just 10 minutes of action during that victory.
And when Brown was hot, she showcased her potential to buoy Northwestern’s offense. Look no further than her 17-point game against Michigan in December and her 11-point total on 5-of-10 shooting in a February loss to Rutgers, when her midrange prowess steadied a Wildcat offense that shot 40 and 34% in those games, respectively. Even when she moved to the bench, Brown found ways to occasionally light it up from the field or as a defender.
While Brown had big games, she just wasn’t consistent shooting the ball, as outlined above. The sophomore didn’t have a pair of consecutive games in which she shot over 40% from the field. No stretch sums that up better than her four-game showing in early December against Valparaiso, Duke, Michigan and DePaul when she scored 17 points (on a 6-of-13 clip from the field), 0 (0-of-8), 17 again (6-of-16) and four (2-of-10). Whether that can be chalked up to her fluid spot in the rotation or just more defensive attention, that’s not very encouraging — especially considering Brown is only going to become more of a focus of opponents’ defensive game planning down the line.
Outside of that, Brown wasn’t a great playmaker — she only averaged 2.5 assists per 100 possessions, which was the lowest mark of anyone on the team who played enough to statistically qualify. That wasn’t a huge deal given she played most of her minutes at the wings, but she could take on some more ball-handling duties next year. In NU’s first game against Oregon, McKeown began by splitting ball-handling duties between Rainey and Brown, which could hint that the sophomore could be in for some backup point guard minutes behind Caroline Lau early in the season. In that case, Brown would need to improve as a distributor for Northwestern’s offense to run smoother than it did this season.
The Bottom Line
Brown undoubtedly took a step back as a scorer in 2022-23, but that’s a product of many things outside of her control. Like many of the other ‘Cats, her minutes fluctuated heavily and she often found herself having to put up inefficient shots to try and put dents into massive deficits. That being said, Brown continued to highlight her defensive prowess as a taller guard, which also translated to her improvement as a rebounder. For a team that is need of younger perimeter stoppers outside of Hailey Weaver, that’s a great sign. If Brown can effectively apply her ability to leverage her height to her offensive game as she gets more opportunities to create for herself, Northwestern can take a huge step in the right direction.