By: Darren Zaslau
Fresh off its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, the Northwestern University men’s basketball team has already started its preparation for another deep postseason run. Returning four of its five starters and many other key contributors, Head Coach Chris Collins and the Wildcats have high expectations entering the 2017-2018 campaign.
As official practices have already started within the past week, here are three key questions the Wildcats must answer before the season rapidly approaches in November.
Who will replace departed senior forward Sanjay Lumpkin?
Pulling down 196 rebounds, the third-most on last year’s team, the Wildcats will need to replace Lumpkin’s integral presence in the paint. A co-captain a year ago, the 6-foot-6 forward started all 36 of the team’s games, averaging six points and 5.4 rebounds.
This year, Chris Collins has numerous options to replace Lumpkin. He may give the starting nod to senior forward Gavin Skelly. He appeared in all 36 games off the bench last year for Northwestern and averaged 5.9 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
Sophomore center Barret Benson could also find himself in the starting five. Benson adds size with his 6-foot-10 frame and made eight starts and played in 32 games last year. He pulled down 51 total rebounds and shot 59 percent from the field.
Should Collins decide to add speed to the starting five, sophomore guard Isiah Brown could see extended playing time as well. Brown also played in 35 games with two starts, adding playmaking ability on the dribble. The Seattle native scored 6.3 points per game and averaged 14.8 minutes per contest.
What can we expect from Aaron Falzon?
Making 29 starts in the 2015-2016 season before undergoing season-ending knee surgery after three games played last year, Falzon is looking to make a significant impact for the Wildcats on the hardwood this season. Averaging 8.4 points per game two years ago, Falzon could be the replacement in the starting lineup for Lumpkin.
Falzon provides a significant presence in the paint and on the perimeter. In his first collegiate season, he knocked down 63 three-pointers, the second-most ever by a Northwestern first-year. Entering his redshirt-sophomore season, the Wildcats are counting on Falzon to make an impact.
Who are the newcomers to watch?
With one true new arrival in first-year guard Anthony Gaines, and two players who redshirted their first collegiate season in Rapolas Ivanauskas and Tino Malnati, Northwestern basketball’s future is bright.
Gaines, a three-star recruit from the New Hampton School in North Hampton, N.H., was ranked the 149th-best player in his class, according to 247 Sports. The 6-foot-4 guard chose Northwestern over Butler, Dayton and Cincinnati, among others.
Ivanauskas had season-ending shoulder surgery before the beginning of the campaign a year ago and couldn’t suit up for the Wildcats. The 6-foot-9 forward will be depended on to rebound effectively.