Some disappointing news came from Northwestern basketball on Monday, as the program revealed that freshman Rapolas Ivanauskas will miss the entire 2016-17 season due to shoulder surgery.
Ivanauskas was the prized recruit of a really solid class that includes Gatorade Washington player of the year Isaiah Brown and big man Barret Benson. 247sports had Ivanauskas ranked 147th overall in the class and fourth in the state of Illinois (with Benson fifth).
Ivanauskas is a lanky player with surprising athletic ability; a sort of do-it-all bigger forward who is crafty in the paint. His jumpshot needs some work, as his release is a bit unorthodox and sort of resembles a heave, but he's able to score with both hands in the paint and is effective off the dribble for someone of his size. Think of him as a slightly bigger, more skilled but less physically gifted Vic Law — like Law, he can finish above the rim, a quality few Northwestern players possess.
Ivanauskas was unlikely to start, as Bryant McIntosh, Law, Sanjay Lumpkin and Dererk Pardon are all but locks to start, while Brown and Scottie Lindsey will battle for the two-spot (Aaron Falzon will probably play more minutes than Lumpkin, but Collins loves Lumpkin as the "glue guy," and he is a senior captain). And Northwestern still has decent depth on the front line, as Benson should be able to make an impact and Gavin Skelly proved himself capable coming off the pine last year.
Where Northwestern will miss Ivanauskas is the most is on the glass. With his quick leaping ability and 6-foot-9 frame, he'd be an effective rebounder coming off the bench. Pardon and Law are good rebounders, but once they head to the bench, Ivanauskas' absence means it'll likely be Skelly and Benson who are expected to handle the rebounding duty.
Both of those players should be capable of doing just that, but Northwestern will sacrifice offensive production. Ivanauskas would have given Collins a rebounding option off the bench who is also able to add some scoring punch. Skelly will be the most direct beneficiary from this injury in terms of minutes, though Falzon and Lumpkin will also need to play more.
This loss is a nuisance, not a deal-breaker. Northwestern is deeper at forward than it is on the perimeter and thus abler to stomach the loss of a possible contributor. Ivanauskas will redshirt, and he'll benefit from the additional physical maturation he'll undergo with another year of eligibility. He should return a bigger, more Big Ten-ready player next year, the season when Northwestern will perhaps have its best chance to reach the NCAA tournament. Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn are the only seniors on this team, making the 2017-2018 season a particularly exciting one for Northwestern fans.