At around 5:45 p.m. Friday, I boarded a school bus with a few friends to watch Northwestern basketball make its public debut this season in its intrasquad scrimmage. There were two buses, and I was on the second. I'd guess there were about 15 total people on it.
Now, it wasn't a real game, but still. You got the feeling that, as expected, it's just going to be tough for students to get out to Allstate consistently. Bypassing the highway, it took the bus just under an hour to get down to Rosemont. After the scrimmage, it took us about 40 minutes to get back to our destination outside Northwestern's practice facility on campus. In total, it was nearly a four-and-a-half hour commitment — 5:45 to 10:15.
There was free pizza on the ride up, but I doubt that's going to pry many students away from studying and procrastinating on weeknights, and maybe even weekends. The diehards will still show up, but maybe not every night. It was a trek. A new demographic of fans from the Western suburbs will likely come out, but students are what make college basketball atmospheres rowdy. Some of that will undoubtedly be lost this season.
I hope I'm wrong, but as a student who attends a lot of games, that's just my take.
With that said, it was fun to see the team back on the court in their jerseys, even in a scrimmage setting. The players took it seriously and the assistant coaches led the two teams; Chris Collins sat a row back in a sideline press row and mostly encouraged his players without giving a whole lot of direction. There were two 16-minute periods.
Here are some initial takeaways from the scrimmage, which should be read with a disclaimer that the equally split-up teams and the unofficial nature of something like this makes it hard to make definitive claims about players.
1. Anthony Gaines was impressive
Gaines, the lone true freshman on Northwestern's roster, looked ready to make an impact. Based on some early-season reporting, it's been clear he needs to improve his shooting, but he nailed his only attempt from beyond the arc Friday, which was nice to see.
Where he'll be able to positively affect the game is his defense and slashing ability on offense. Assigned to cover preseason All-Big Ten player Scottie Lindsey, Gaines battled. Lindsey did have a scrimmage-high 22 points 7-of-12 shooting, but the fact that Gaines was guarding him for long stretches is telling of what the coaches think of the freshman.
Offensively, he was aggressive all night driving to the hoop. He flashed a quick first step and dazzled the crowd with a sweet behind-the-back dribble into a three-point play in the second half. He got to the line frequently, hitting six of seven attempts and drawing plenty of fouls from the experienced Lindsey. He also added six total rebounds — three on each end of the floor. Gaines' skill set is different from Northwestern's other guards and wings, which should help him find the floor early. His defense and rebounding make him a fit alongside Lindsey and McIntosh.
He was out of control on occasion, but turned the ball over just twice.
Again, it was just a scrimmage. But Gaines led his team with 21 points and looked really good doing it.
2. Dererk Pardon's development continues
Has Pardon increased his shooting range offensively? Maybe, but not considerably.
Will it matter? Probably not.
He took a few jumpers Friday, two of which were threes, and didn't come super close on any of them. But, the man who hit the biggest shot in Northwestern history looked like a new and improved player on the offensive end.
Pardon has always shown the ability to make post moves and finish around the rim, but he hasn't really been the focal point of the offense at any point in his career. He still isn't a top option on the team, but his in half-court sets should go up this season. Battling with Barret Benson all night, Pardon scored scored 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting, while grabbing nine boards and adding two assists and two blocks.
He looked comfortable getting the ball with his back to the basket, turning and attacking the rim, and, unsurprisingly, was active when on the floor. Given his long arms and general athleticism, Pardon has always impacted the game defensively. He looks like a player who's ready to do that on the other end of the floor this season.
3. Aaron Falzon didn't do much
After missing basically all of last season, Falzon looked rusty in the scrimmage. He went 0-of-5 from the field, and got beat several times defensively. He had six fouls in 31 minutes. Given that he hasn't played a real game in such a long time, it's expected that it'll take Falzon some time to acclimate to the speed of the game upon returning. He didn't get the ball a ton on offense, which made it hard for him to get into any sort of rhythm. Falzon did grab seven rebounds, though.
Maybe it was just an off night, but, as a projected starter by many people, his performance won't inspire a ton of optimism.
4. Rapolas Ivanauskas needs some time
Like Falzon, Ivanauskas hasn't played in a real game in a while. Since high school, actually.
Coming off of shoulder surgery, it looks like Ivanauskas won't play a huge role early in the season. He did hit a three while in the game, but he played just 15 minutes, the least by a scholarship player by a decent margin. The coaching staff is smart to take things slow with Ivanauskas, who brings a physical presence to the front line. Because of the depth that a more experienced Benson provides, that shouldn't be a problem.
5. We got a tease from A.J. Turner
Turner, the Boston College transfer, is not eligible to play this season. It's really too bad, because he looked good in the scrimmage. He scored 12 points and went 3-for-6 from downtown; that kind of stroke from a 6-foot-7 wing creates matchup problems all over the court.
We won't see him don the purple and white until 2018-2019, but it was a promising debut for Turner. With him and the awesome 2018 recruiting class, Northwestern will bring in five talented new pieces next year, which should help offset the losses of McIntosh, Lindsey, and Skelly. File this away for a year from now.
6. Other notes
- Bryant McIntosh didn't tear it up, but he looked solid. He went 3-for-6 from three, and shot 4-of-11 overall. His shooting percentage, especially from deep, will be a storyline throughout the season.
- Vic Law went out of the game a few times with injuries. He kept taking off and re-tying his right shoe, and said afterward he was dealing with a toe issue. Hopefully it's nothing serious. Law looked to be in a decent amount of pain when he left the game the first time, but came back and moved pretty well afterward.
- Charlie Hall switched teams after Jordan Ash went down with what looked like some kind of minor leg injury. That's versatility, folks.
- Gavin Skelly had a quiet 11 points, 7 boards, 3 assists and 3 steals. His motor never stops running.
- Isiah Brown didn't dress. He was walking around fine, so it's probably something minor.
Here’s the full box score and a short highlight clip.