With Northwestern basketball under two weeks away, it's time to start addressing the most important issues facing this team and the questions it must answer as it hopes to progress toward the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament. We'll call this segment the "Eight Questions of Fate," as the answers to these questions will likely determine how close Northwestern gets to that goal. As we near opening night, we as a group discuss who will play and how much. Below are our group projections, with averages calculated if you scroll right. We then add our analysis below the table.
|Zach Pereles||Sam Brief||Chris Grismer||Ian McCafferty||Zach Wingrove||Josh Burton||Caleb Friedman||Josh Rosenblat||Tristan Jung||AVERAGE|
|PG Bryant McIntosh||36||35||36||38||36||35||35||36||37||36.0|
|G Jordan Ash||4||2||4||2||3||6||3||5||3||3.6|
|G Isiah Brown||18||20||16||20||20||15||20||13||18||17.8|
|G/F Scottie Lindsey||28||22||24||20||22||20||23||23||20||22.4|
|F Sanjay Lumpkin||16||18||24||15||20||18||17||18||16||18.0|
|F Vic Law||28||26||24||30||29||27||27||28||32||27.9|
|F Nate Taphorn||6||5||4||3||3||4||5||7||5||4.7|
|F Aaron Falzon||20||26||24||26||23||25||20||22||23||23.2|
|F/C Gavin Skelly||13||11||16||10||15||18||12||13||17||13.9|
|C Dererk Pardon||25||30||24||28||26||25||26||25||25||26.0|
|C Barret Benson||6||5||4||8||3||7||12||10||4||6.6|
When I look at the way I divide minutes, a few things stand out: I have Scottie Lindsey playing at least a handful more minutes than most of the other writers, and Aaron Falzon playing a handful fewer minutes than the others as well. From what we saw in the scrimmage, Lindsey will start and get a lot of opportunities to get his shots up. He’s one of the few players who has the athleticism requisite to play at the Big Ten level, and I think he takes a jump this year as a more assertive player. He’ll look for his offense more, and I think he sees the court a lot because the only other legitimate option in that backcourt is freshman Isiah Brown, who looked great in the exhibition but will absolutely have growing pains going forward. Then there’s Falzon, who got just 13 minutes against Illinois Springfield. The only players who played less were Jordan Ash and Charlie Hall. He’s still a one-dimensional player, and as Vic Law continues to get more and more comfortable coming back from injury, he’ll get more minutes. Add in team captain Sanjay Lumpkin and a more mature Lindsey and the true sophomore sniper will see his minutes dip.
A few notes from my distribution: I have Dererk Pardon playing 30 minutes, which seems excessive for a sophomore but there’s a clear lack of depth behind him and I liked what I saw him from last year, so I see him carrying the load. At 6-foot-8, Pardon has and will continue to struggle at times against bigger Big Ten centers, but his athleticism will keep him on the floor for the great majority of each game. I also have Falzon playing more minutes than Lindsey. Lindsey’s defensive lapses and inconsistent shooting will come to a head this year, in my eyes, bumping the sharpshooting Falzon’s minutes up. Finally, Isiah Brown was really effective in their exhibition — 18 points in 23 minutes, 7-for-11 from the floor, 2-for-3 from behind the arc. I expect him to play some big minutes this season.
Looking at my minutes predictions, compared to the others, the player who stands out is Barret Benson, who I seeing play 12 minutes per game, which is nearly double what the average prediction was. Dererk Pardon is the clear starter, but he struggled to stay on the floor last season because of foul trouble. The only other option inside is Gavin Skelly, but he doesn’t give you a whole lot other than toughness and energy, and he’s undersized, too. Benson may not break into the regular rotation at the beginning of the season, but his minutes should increase as he gets more comfortable. Plus, Benson has an offensive skill set that Pardon and Skelly don’t have. Also, I’m on the high end for Isiah Brown, mostly because the team needs his scoring. Scottie Lindsey will start, but Brown’s ability to get to the basket will be key for Northwestern’s offense off the bench. Without Tre Demps, the team will need someone to take some pressure off of Bryant McIntosh, and I see Brown as the beneficiary.
The player that the other projections and I disagree most on is Isiah Brown. I have the true freshman pegged for 13 minutes of run per night. And I even thought that was a bit generous. To see the rest of the projections in the upper teens and hitting 20 is baffling to me, honestly. It’s rare to see a true freshman reach 20 minutes a game in the Big Ten. It’s even rarer when you know he’s going to come off the bench and that he plays the same position as the team’s best player. Sure, Brown might be an effective player, but not for 20 minutes a game. But I do see fellow freshman Barret Benson playing more than most. We’ve seen that Collins has been reluctant to use Gavin Skelly as the lone big man on the floor for extended minutes and Dererk Pardon fouls way too much to reach 30 minutes a game. So Benson will have to be the key to take those 10 or so minutes per game where he’s out there. It’ll be a big role for the freshman, but one I’ve heard he should be able to handle, at least in the non-conference.
In order for Northwestern to succeed, it’s going to be a team effort, which is why I have eight players playing at least 16 minutes a game. The Wildcats’ backcourt is thin, which means freshman Isiah Brown will have to provide key minutes off the bench to spell Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey. Northwestern has a plethora of talented wings on the roster, so Chris Collins shouldn’t be afraid to mix and match with Vic Law, Sanjay Lumpkin, and Aaron Falzon. In the middle, there’s immense pressure on sophomore Dererk Pardon to anchor the defense; junior Gavin Skelly will have to play some center, giving Northwestern a speedier unit on the floor. Jordan Ash, Barret Benson, and Nate Taphorn will scrap for minutes, but ultimately the Wildcats will live or die based on the play of their top eight.
I have Bryant McIntosh at 35 minutes a game, but I’m worried that if Northwestern’s other point guard options (Jordan Ash and Isiah Brown) still aren’t ready to be counted on, so 35 minutes might be on the low end. Like everyone else, I think the return of Vic Law reduces Nathan Taphorn’s role greatly and that the trio of Dererk Pardon, Gavin Skelly and Barret Benson will collectively do an admirable job at center. I only pegged Scottie Lindsey for 20 or so minutes per, and I think a measured increase in his playing time — with a more defined role — could help with his struggles to be consistent. As for backup point guard, Brown should be able to overtake Ash pretty early in the season. Brown looked very good against Illinois Springfield, and while it’s irresponsible to overreact from that game, he brings more to the table offensively than Ash. Northwestern will likely have trouble finding bench scoring, and Brown could fill that void.
With the graduation of both Tre Demps and Alex Olah, Northwestern loses a lot of minutes played from last year’s team. Olah averaged 24 minutes a game while Demps averaged an absurd 37 minutes a game. I think Pardon steps in and picks up the Olah minutes, but it’s going to take a platoon of guards to match Demps’ numbers. Right now I think it’ll be Scottie Lindsey and Isiah Brown (I’m very high on Brown this year) that split time at shooting guard. Bryant McIntosh played 35.7 minutes a game last year and that was with Demps, so that number will only rise this season. He might only get one rest a game. Aside from that, Vic Law and Aaron Falzon are going to see the floor a lot, while Sanjay Lumpkin and Gavin Skelly contribute in spurts. It’s not the deepest team this year, and that will show in the minutes breakdown.
Once again, I reiterate that I don’t like doing predictions. One injury for this team and you can pretty much throw this article into the trash. Even a minor injury to McIntosh, Law, Pardon or Falzon could drastically change the rotation.
McIntosh will play all day every day because Jordan Ash has not looked ready to take significant minutes. Isiah Brown will be in the game as long as he’s creating and making shots. Same goes for Scottie Lindsey. I expect one of them to solidify his hold on a role at some point. Vic Law might be the best player on the team, according to Collins at the end of last year, so he will approach McIntosh’s absurd workload. Lumpkin will get his time on the floor, mostly at the expense of Falzon, but as the season goes on and Falzon’s defense improves, we may finally see Lumpkin transition away from a huge role. Lastly, the center rotation is up in the air, but it’s reasonable to expect Pardon and Skelly will receive a significant chunk of minutes. I think Pardon will get the majority, but don’t count out Gavin, a.k.a. “The Energizer” Skelly. Benson, as a freshman center, should be a non-factor (from what we saw in the scrimmage), as should Taphorn and Ash.