Heading into the 2015 season, Northwestern features one of its deepest teams in years. While head coach Chris Collins has said his preference would be to play only eight or nine players, he acknowledges that he might have to coach this Northwestern team a lot like Iowa's Fran McCaffery has coached in recent years, using a deep bench. At least at the onset, few players -- other than the Wildcats' established starters -- have appeared to separate themselves. Thus, we are going in-depth on each of Northwestern's scholarship players, providing insight into each players' potential role.
First, we start with sophomore big man Gavin Skelly:
Stats to know
Shot chart (via ShotAnalytics.com)
Skelly does not have much of a jumper, and that shows here in his shot chart. He does his damage close to the basket and will look to continue that this year, cleaning up misses and finishing pick-and-rolls.
Alex Olah feature
Skelly, a 6-8 sophomore from Westlake, Ohio, was not used often last year, but he was there to provide energy off the bench when coach Chris Collins called on him. Despite being slightly undersized as a big man, his two rebounds per game in only seven minutes extrapolates to almost nine per game, given starter-level minutes. He looked a little overwhelmed at times in conference play last season, but that is to be expected as a freshman. He shot well, but that was partly a product of taking shots mainly from right around the basket. He has a chance to be an impact player on defense.
As noted above, Skelly is a high-energy player who looks to come in and make something happen. He was a little outgunned last year when, because of the team's lack of size, he had to come in and guard opposing big men, but he held his own more often than not. With Skelly's strong body, he does not get moved easily and that shows in his above-average rebounding. As the screener in pick-and-rolls too, he is hard to stop with a head of steam and increasing his ability to convert from the free-throw line would pay major dividends as opponents could not just foul him when he has the ball around the basket. Defensively, in pick-and-rolls, he does a good job staying in front of the ball-handler when switching.
Skelly does have much to work on, especially if he wants to be an important contributor in this pivotal year for Collins. For one thing, developing a post game would serve him well because right now he is basically a non-threat with the ball in a stationary position. He played quarterback in high school and he seems to have good awareness, but working on his passing around the post would be beneficial. He plays good, feisty defense and is able to stay in front of most bigs, although he does usually give up a couple inches in height to whomever he is guarding. But he is a little slow laterally, which could hurt him against quicker bigs. Defensively, he needs to remain committed to every play, but that is usually the last part of a player's game to develop when playing at a higher level.
Look for Skelly's role to remain similar to last year's, unless he takes a big step forward offensively. He will be there for when Collins needs some energy off the bench, if the starting unit looks lethargic or if a big man gets in foul trouble. Defensively, he should be a net positive and so developing an offensive game to go with that would go a long way to earning Collins' trust, and more minutes.
What to expect
Skelly's playing time should improve this year, although the addition of transfer big man Joey van Zegeren could impact his minutes on the court. He'll get into the game when the other bigs get into foul trouble. Collins could also use him to increase Northwestern's aggression; you get five fouls in a game, and Skelly knows best to use all of them. If he can develop a post game offensively, he would certainly see his minutes improve.