The 2016-2017 season is a crucial one for the Northwestern Wildcats and head coach Chris Collins. Collins enters his fourth year, and the general consensus is that his program has to show significant signs of progress in order to reach the ultimate goal of making the NCAA tournament by the target year of 2018, when his first recruiting class will all be seniors. Collins has high expectations of a talented bunch of players, and they’ll need to show his expectations are not unfounded. With that, we run through every player on the roster this season. Next up is Gavin Skelly, who provides strength and athleticism and an ever-improving skill set off the bench.
Who he is:
Junior | Power Forward | 6-foot-8 | 225 pounds | Westlake, Oh.
The numbers (2015-2016 season):
Via Shot Analytics
Gavin Skelly is quite good at finishing around the rim. He hasn’t taken enough shots outside the paint to make a significant statistical inference, although he showed some flashes of three-point shooting last year. His all-around game is continuing to progress.
Gavin Skelly is a weird basketball player, but you can’t deny his usefulness to the Wildcats last season. His game focuses on his energy, strength and defense. While he’s shown signs of being a competent offensive player, Skelly’s not a finished product. At times, he looked like a stretch four who could also play decent defense, but during some games he was liable to get two quick fouls and sits on the bench for long stretches. After coming into last season as an energy guy off the bench, Skelly should continue to receive playing time from the bench in 2016-17.
Skelly’s main strength will always be his active motor and high-energy defense, but he showed a variety of other skills last season when pressed. He took nine threes last year and made four, as he appears to have developed a half-decent three-point shot. If Skelly can develop the accuracy to stretch the floor for Northwestern, that would be a huge addition to the team. Skelly’s finishing around the rim remains very good for a player who isn’t as physically imposing as other Big Ten power forwards. He also had the second-best defensive rebounding percentage on the team last year, which speaks to his energetic style of play.
The zone between the three-point arc and the rim is a black hole for Skelly. While it’s true that midrange shots are statistically inefficient, you at least have to make defenders respect the midrange jumper as a stretch four. Skelly conceded 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes, which kept him off the floor for key chunks of several Big Ten games. While Skelly is often forced to foul due to poor defensive positioning from his teammates or a mismatch, he needs to work on staying within the rules in order to stay on the court. The team could benefit from an improved usage rate and overall offensive production from Skelly as it attempts to make up for the loss of Alex Olah.
Northwestern will welcome the return of Vic Law in 2016-17, but his return means that one of Lumpkin, Skelly or Aaron Falzon will receive fewer minutes. If Falzon can make the leap from inconsistent freshman to dependable sophomore, that will leave Lumpkin and Skelly a timeshare on the bench. However, that remains the ideal situation for Skelly. He’s effective in short bursts and when Chris Collins needs to give players rest, but he can get exposed when he’s out there for too long. If Skelly can continue to develop his offensive game, he can become a dangerous weapon for Collins to use in the second unit.
However, there’s an alternate scenario in which Skelly plays some minutes at the five. This lineup was barely tested last year, but with Alex Olah in Belgium, Northwestern will only have Skelly and freshman Barret Benson as depth behind Dererk Pardon. If Skelly gets shut out of minutes at forward by Law, Lumpkin, Falzon and others, he may find a few opportunities as a smaller center to spell Pardon. Whatever the case, Skelly will have a chance to succeed, but he will need to improve his game in order to take it.