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.
Up now is captain Sanjay Lumpkin:
Stats to know
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Shot chart (via ShotAnalytics.com)
Sanjay Lumpkin was an above-average shooter from midrange last year and led the team in field goal percentage. His three-point shot improved from 26 percent to 37 percent, finishing as an "above average" shooter from beyond the acc. Around the rim, Lumpkin is an average finisher.
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Lumpkin is entering his third season on the team and enters the season as a team captain. Lumpkin does not light up the box score, but he provides leadership and high energy on defense. He's considered an above-average defender by head coach Chris Collins with a high work rate, but his offensive game is limited, as evidenced by his 4.3 points per game last season. He improved his three-point percentage last season, but his role on the team will always hinge on his defensive acumen and his "hustle."
A versatile defender who can switch on to guards and matchup with big men despite his height, Lumpkin fit well into Collins' man-to-man scheme two years ago. Last season, he wasn't able to use the versatility as often as a wing in the 2-3 zone, but was still serviceable. He is a good rebounder who works hard on the glass. As Northwestern's biggest option as a quasi-power forward last year, Lumpkin was a key part of Northwestern's most-used lineups throughout the season. Offensively, Lumpkin does not take too many shots and is only used on 11.4 percent of possessions even though he plays over 20 minutes per game. The shots he does take are usually open threes or shots close to the basket. Lumpkin drastically improved his shooting percentage last year and he averaged 37.1 percent shooting from three and led the team in overall shooting percentage.
Lumpkin's prime weakness throughout his career thus far has been his offensive production. While he certainly improved on his rookie season and was far more efficient shooting the ball as a sophomore, he still lacks the ability to contribute anything substantial on offense. His minutes decreased from 29 to 22 last year as Collins was able to rotate Vic Law and Nathan Taphorn through his spot at power forward, both of whom have more offensive upside. His usage rate is far lower than you would expect for a starting player, and he has a turnover rate of 21.2, which is the highest rate on the team out of players that played over 50 percent of minutes.
At the beginning of the season, Lumpkin's role on the court will likely be similar to last year. He will play on the wing, chip in on offense and stabilize the defense. When open threes and shots are available, he'll take them, but he won't create much offense on his own. But as the season progresses, his production and minutes may continue to dwindle as younger players step up.
What to expect
Lumpkin should continue to be a valuable role player for Northwestern this season as the Wildcats' other options at forward are still young and unproven. His reliable defense and improving offensive skills should keep him in the mix this year.
"I want my defense to lead to my offense. If I take a charge and play well on defense, I want to keep that energy on offense," Lumpkin said during Northwestern's media day Tuesday. "I think we're a very deep team that is skilled offensively and we are a great defensive team...As a captain, I want to lead others and do what the seniors did for me," he added.
At his press conference, Collins praised his team's depth, but the increase in available players may lead to a decrease in minutes for Lumpkin. The team relies on his defense, but with options such as highly-ranked recruit Aaron Falzon, sophomores Law and Gavin Skelly and Taphorn, a fellow junior, readily available, he may find his role diminished. However, Lumpkin did improve on offense last season, and it's not difficult to see him taking another small step forward this year. It could take a while for Falzon to adapt to the college game, and Collins has always put a great deal of faith in Lumpkin throughout his career. While he may limit Northwestern's offensive capabilities, he should at least start the season in his usual role. As a team captain and leader, Lumpkin will also provide invaluable help for the team's younger players. Expect him to remain around 20 minutes per game to start the year, but it could go south from there depending on the performance of Northwestern's younger wings.