Before Northwestern tipped off their 2015-16 season they heard some devastating news. Sophomore forward Vic Law will have season ending surgery on his shoulder. That news was crutical since head coach Chris Collins raved about his progress during the summer and looked to use Law as an key piece of this roster.
During their pre-conference schedule Northwestern will get a chance to figure out how to adapt to Law missing. Prior to the start of the season Collins was using Law to come off the bench, play defense using his length, spread the floor and attack the basket. Now Collins and his staff will need to find that player or players who will fill that role.
The way the roster is constructed Collins does not need to worry too much. Players like Sanjay Lumpkin, Scottie Lindsey and freshman Aaron Falzon will all see a bump in their playing time and their roles.
Looking at the game-to-game box score Lumpkin does not sand out. His skill set is the one that coaches recognize; playing though defense, fighting for lose balls, running the floor in transition and playing within the offense. Missing Law’s defense could hurt Northwestern but Lumpkin could help Northwestern stay with some of the big name teams in the Big Ten.
Lindsey was one of the player who stood out the most to me last season. Moving from the starting lineup to the bench on a consistent basis, Lindsey just played his game and let Collins worry about his playing time. Lindsey thrived on defense with his physicality on the wing. In the two-three zone Lindsey anchored the wing and didn’t let players in the paint to bust the zone. On offense Lindsey was one of the few who could create his own shot and spot up. Getting to the rim and making there’s was vital to a Northwestern team who struggled on the offensive end. Lindsey will mos likely be the player who takes on most of Law’s minutes and responsibilities.
Aaron Falzon was this year’s star recruit. The scouting report on this four-star athlete was he was a jolt of offense. Any and all of Falzon’s highlights from high school were of his diverse offense skills. In his first few games in a Wildcat uniform Falzon has shown why he was so important to Collins. Playing with the starters and the bench Falzon has shot the ball well and has provided the space on the floor to allow others to thrive. If Collins needs offense during a stretch there is no doubt Falzon will be in. This will also be a great opportunity for the freshman to learn how to lead and be a contributor.
While replacing Law might sound a little easier said than done, the way Northwestern has played in the start of the season should help out a little bit.
Northwestern’s players have been running a system which looks like a hybrid of an NBA system and a college system. The NBA plays at such a fast pace focused on ball movement. “Pace and space” is the hot term used in the NBA and that is exactly what Collins has his players doing this year. Some of the best teams in the NBA like the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets have a center who needs space to operate in the paint and surround him with shooters. Both of Collins’ lineups are designed in the same way.
On the starting lineup Alex Olah is on the court with Tre Demps, Bryant McIntosh and Nathan Taphorn – all very good shooters. Off the bench transfer student Joey van Zegeren is usually matched up with Lindsey, Law and a combination of McIntosh, Demps or Falzon.
Along with mimicking the structure of NBA lineups, Collins has integrated some offensive sets. Northwestern has shooters running around the floor, setting screens for each other and creating open looks. This gets defenses moving around and can cause a breakdown in communication and coverage. This type of movement is not common in the college game so defenses will be seeing it for the first time and could have some trouble adjusting.
Northwestern has the chance to blow through their non-conference schedule, but they also have a chance to have a very successful season in the Big Ten. Last year their Big Ten was not impressive but they way they played was. They were in almost every single game and they gave teams like Michigan State and Maryland tough games where they needed to play at their best just to barely win. With that experience, flowing system and some new talent Northwestern should be in the conversation as one of the stronger teams in the Big Ten.
While this Northwestern team may be one of the best Wildcat teams in a long time they still have some steps to take before becoming a tournament team. A lot of the core players are young and need to grow as basketball players. That is not to say they can not of have some post season success. I think a nice run in the Big Ten conference tournament and an appearance in the NIT is doable for this squad, even without Vic Law.