Heading into the 2015-16 college basketball season, there was a lot of excitement surrounding Northwestern basketball. There were quite a few reasons for this, but one of the bigger ones was a lanky incoming 4-star, ESPN Top 100 freshman from Newton, Massachusetts: Aaron Falzon. Falzon was one of highest rated recruits of Head Coach Chris Collins' tenure at Northwestern and was touted as an absolute sharpshooter. Collins was doing his fair share to feed the hype as well, declaring Falzon "one of the more dangerous (players) from the 3-point range in our league even as a freshman."
Then the season started, and for one brief moment it seemed as if Falzon had even been underrated. In the opening game against UMass-Lowell, Falzon scored 20 points, shooting 4-of-6 from downtown. However more importantly, he hit four shots from inside the arc, a feat he would not reach again all season. In fact in the next 31 games, Falzon would only hit 20 more two-pointers.
The freshman was raw and increasingly one-dimensional. His game was three or bust and for much of Big Ten play it was more bust than anything else. Despite a few great showings, Falzon's freshman campaign was hit or miss, literally.
The following numbers are taken from kenpom.com
Falzon only playing around 60 percent of Northwestern's minutes seems about right considering he wouldn't see the floor for long stretches when he wasn't shooting well. It also means, though, that he saw the third most minutes on the team this season. Being relatively high in effective field goal percentage (which gives more value to three-pointers) is probably the least surprising of all of Falzon's stats. He also posted a low turnover rate, but that is more of a result of him not havig the ball in his hands a ton other than to shoot. Overall Falzon's stats encapsulate his season pretty well.
However, there are two things here that are important. First, Falzon was 25th in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage at 7.2. So despite usually being camped out beyond the arc, Falzon made a concerted effort to crash the boards. He had at least one offensive board in 23 games this year. However, Falzon also took a lot of three-pointers. He took 178 three-pointers to be exact, 78 percent of his shots. He was very much a one-dimensional player, and when he was forced to put it on the deck, he looked uncomfortable.
Shot Chart via Shot Analytics.
Falzon pretty much only shot three-pointers this season, but he has some interesting splits from deep. On the season, Falzon shot a respectable 35 percent on three-pointers. However, he was much better from the corners than from the wings. On corner threes, Falzon shot an impressive 45 percent on 51 attempts. From the wings, his favorite spot, he only shot 31 percent on 86 attempts. Additionally even when he did get the ball in close he wasn't very efficient. Falzon only shot 49 percent in the paint.
Falzon is young and still learning and right now that's probably his best quality. He can shoot it well from deep when in rhythm, especially from the corners. But throughout the season he began to add a little bit more to his offensive game, even if those occasions were few and far between and weren't always pretty. There were glimpses: drives into the lane to draw fouls, a step-back jumper or two, dunks on cuts to the basket. The foundation was there, even if it didn't show itself all too often. Falzon got more confident at ball handling as the season progressed and even if he's not there yet, he's progressing. Falzon is raw, but he has the skills to be an all-around offensive threat as a catch-and-shoot player as well as a guy who can score off the dribble when under control.
The physical skills are there, but Falzon wasn't the most solid player mentally this season. There were no ill-advised technicals or verbal outbursts, but the mental struggles were still there. It was pretty easy to tell what kind of game Northwestern was getting from Falzon within the first five minutes of any game. If he hit his first couple shots then you might be in for a show (Minnesota), but if he started cold, chances were he wouldn't get any warmer (Penn St.). He needs to work on still being effective both offensively and defensively when his shot struggles. Too often he jacked up shot after shot when he wasn't feeling it — see 1-for-7 from deep against Ohio State (1/6), 1-for-9 from deep against Penn State (1/16) and 0-for-5 from deep, and 0-for-8 overall against Iowa (1/31). Collins has given him the green light, but that doesn't mean taking every halfway decent look every time.
Getting stronger. The best way for Falzon to even out his game offensively and improve his defense is to spend some time in the weight room during the offseason. Improved strength will open up a whole new arsenal of moves on the offensive end and help immensely while driving to the hoop. At times this season Falzon was outmuscled for rebounds or position in the post and had trouble fighting through contact on screens. Like Northwestern's freshman last year, he needs to hit the weights, and rest assured, he will.
The Bottom Line
Aaron Falzon's freshman year was a season of ups and downs. He was a crucial part of the offense at times during the 2015-16 campaign, but also sometimes disappeared entirely from the game plan. His three-point prowess was both a blessing and a curse, it allowed him to contribute right away, but also made him one-dimensional. While he saw the most minutes of any forward on the team, his unrefined offensive game held him back from being a bigger contributor. Falzon may not have lived up to some of the preseason hype, but he put together a solid first year at Northwestern. Big things should be expected of him in year two.