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Northwestern Basketball Player Capsules: Nate Taphorn

The college basketball season is a dark place. From April to November, teams across the country revert into a hoops hibernation, shielded from media spotlight and mostly unavailable to the public eye in the same way as, say, football players are during spring practice. Things ramp up again over the summer, and a recent NCAA rule pushing the start of official practice back two weeks ensures teams will begin formal preseason preparations even earlier this season.

Those extra two weeks are a welcome development, but the college basketball season remains a distant entity, microscopically positioned in the most forward-looking reaches of our winter sports imaginations. We’re here to help you bridge the gap with some refresher-type player capsules. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be rolling out quick little offseason snapshots of each player, how they performed last season and what you can probably expect as the Wildcats prepare for new coach Chris Collins’ first season. So if you’re ever missing basketball, if you find yourself pining for what’s to come on the hardwood this winter, you have brief individual player breakdowns to hold you over.

There is a lot of time to fill during a college hoops offseason, and convenient exercises like these can expedite the process.

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Nate Taphorn (Freshman)

Where he fits

The other member of Northwestern’s 2013 recruiting class (Jaren Sina) decided to split once coach Bill Carmody was let go following a brutal 2012-13 season. Taphorn connected with new coach Chris Collins almost immediately, the two say eye-to-eye on Taphorn’s and Northwestern’s hoops future and the 6’7’’ guard opted to honor his verbal commitment. Keeping Taphorn was a big win for Collins, and a promising proposition for the Wildcats’ perimeter shooting chops.

This season, Taphorn’s ability to affect the game with his long-range shooting will be limited, because the Wildcats already have a deep stable of guards ready to contribute. Taphorn adds another capable piece, and maybe the Wildcats will need some three-point shooting off the bench to end a particularly nasty stretch of offensive stagnation, but it just seems like there are too many other options – too many players who can do a lot of the same things, Kale Abrahamson being the most direct physical comparison – for Taphorn to need to assume big minutes right away. If he does play his way into the starting rotation this season, that might say just as much about Northwestern’s mediocre backcourt talent as it does Taphorn’s own skill set. 

What to expect

Reliable three-point shooting is never a bad characteristic – individual or collective – for your team to carry into its coaching transition season. It evens the playing field against more athletic teams, stretches the floor and gives you a more varied and unpredictable offensive attack. Taphorn does all of those things. He also, thanks to a 6’7’’, 180-pound frame, can be a matchup nightmare for opposing guards forced to contest his shots around the perimeter. Taphorn is content to shoot over whoever faces him up, and more importantly he can score off the dribble, too, which means Taphorn is totally capable of driving, creating space and getting off a shot against a tight defender.

That description makes Taphorn sound like an obvious candidate to not only start but morph into one of the Wildcats’ leading scorers from the outset. The problem is, playing time constraints might not allow him to accrue enough attempts or even really settle into the offense. I expect Taphorn to come off the bench, offer above-average three-point shooting accuracy and steadily improve over the course of a long season. 2013 isn’t about leaving his individual imprint on the college game, per se, as much as it is getting his feet wet and transitioning, on an off the court, into a new hoops environment. Taphorn will spend most of this season learning the ropes. Next year is when you can rightfully expect more concrete evidence of his floor-stretching capabilities.