The 2018-2019 season will be a big one for Northwestern basketball. Renovation of Welsh-Ryan Arena will be completed, the Wildcats will be reaping the recruiting rewards of their historic 2016-2017 season, and Chris Collins’ team will be coming off the program’s first ever Sweet Sixteen appear...
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Wait, just kidding, that’s exactly what we’re about to do. It’s still entirely possible that Northwestern will add a graduate transfer or 2017 recruit for next season, but we pretty much know what the roster is going to look like. We’ve already projected some options for the starting lineup and rotation for that team. Now, let’s take a look deeper into the crystal ball. Here is how Northwestern’s starting lineup projects in 2018-2019 and 2019-2020.
2018-2019 starting lineup
Point guard: Cormac Ryan (freshman)
Sure, it’s optimistic, but Northwestern is a really good situation for a talented point guard to come play in 2018. The Wildcats need to replace four-year starter Bryant McIntosh, who will go down as one of the best players in program history. Both Jordan Ash and Isiah Brown will be upperclassmen at the time, but neither has shown enough to predict that the starting job will be theirs when B-Mac is gone. Enter Ryan. The 6-foot-5 Milton Academy product is a consensus four-star recruit and has been lighting up the AAU circuit with the New York Renaissance. And yes, Ryan is listed by recruiting websites as a shooting guard, but that seems to be simply because of his height. Ryan lists himself as a point guard in highlight videos and has the ball handling and vision to play that position at the next level.
Now, this is assuming Collins can land Ryan, who he’s made a top priority this offseason. Michigan, Notre Dame, Stanford, Villanova, and Yale are all in the mix, as Ryan has made it clear he wants to attend an elite academic school. Stanford is up there too, but Northwestern appears to possibly have an inside track on the highly touted point guard.
Of course, with another year of learning behind McIntosh, Brown could develop the consistency that Collins is looking for from his starting point guard. He’ll have an experience edge over any 2018 recruit (note: Ayo Dosunmu would almost certainly start at PG as a freshman if he chooses NU) and may be the guy to replace McIntosh, but for now I see him as an excellent career sixth man.
Shooting guard: Vic Law (redshirt senior)
Law took a major step forward in his sophomore season after missing an entire year and Northwestern fans should be thrilled about getting two more seasons of development from the potential NBA prospect. A lot of Law’s value comes from his ability to guard smaller, shifty players; we saw him do a fantastic job on guards Bronson Koenig and Derrick Walton last season. Law has small forward size, but with his shooting ability and the interchangeability of positions two through four in Collins’ scheme, he’s a good fit at shooting guard. Law could slide down to the three spot if Anthony Gaines, a more traditional two, earns a starting role. It’s highly unlikely that Collins would opt to start two freshmen, but if Northwestern gets a 2018 guard like Dwyane Cohill, Robby Carmody or Drew Peterson, they could also contend for immediate playing time.
Small forward: A.J Turner (junior)
The Boston College transfer started at small forward for the Eagles, and he has a good chance to do the same at Northwestern. Sitting out next season will give Turner the opportunity to learn the offense and adjust to Collins’ coaching style. Turner fits in nicely as an extremely athletic wing and another weapon from beyond the arc.
We don’t know much about freshman Rapolas Ivanauskas yet. The 6-foot-9 forward has the size to play both forward positions but his skill-set is still relatively unknown. Maybe Ivanauskas impresses as a redshirt freshman, earning this starting position after Scottie Lindsey departs. We’ll obviously have a much better idea of what Northwestern’s starting lineup will look like in 2018-2019 once the 2017-2018 season starts, but that’s what makes this fun.
If Northwestern lands a talented 2018 forward along the lines of Talen Horton-Tucker or Pete Nance, which is a real possibility, they would compete for immediate playing time but would be a longshot to start over veterans Turner, Ivanauskas, and Aaron Falzon.
Power forward: Aaron Falzon (redshirt junior)
Speaking of Falzon, it seems likely that the New Hampshire native will reclaim his starting role in 2017-18 and have a good chance to keep it for the rest of his career. Falzon started 29 games at power forward in his true freshman season before missing last year with a knee injury. The sharpshooter is a stretch four, which will be a dramatic change from the gritty interior play Sanjay Lumpkin brought to the position last season. We broke down Falzon’s game earlier this spring if you need a refresher. Ivanauskas could make a push for Falzon’s job with a strong first year.
Center: Dererk Pardon (senior)
This is the easiest position to predict. Pardon started every game he appeared in last season and barring an unforeseen turn of events, he will be Northwestern’s starting center these next two seasons.
With the raw but promising Barret Benson a junior in 2018-2019, the center position will be one of Northwestern’s strengths. It will be interesting to see if Collins will ever utilize a lineup that features both big men; Purdue’s lineup featuring both Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas comes to mind. However, Pardon doesn’t have nearly the shooting range of Swanigan, so that seems unlikely. Benson could absolutely push into Pardon’s minutes if he keeps developing, though.
Bench: Isiah Brown, Anthony Gaines, Rapolas Ivanauskas, Barret Benson, Jordan Ash, Charlie and Tino, unknown recruits
2019-2020 starting lineup
Point guard: Cormac Ryan (sophomore)
Shooting guard: Anthony Gaines (junior)
Gaines could be challenged for the starting job by 2018 guards. Northwestern is also in on 2019 guard Zach Harvey with an early offer. Falzon will also be in the mix at the shooting guard position, as might Isiah Brown. This position feels like one that will be impacted by the 2018 recruiting class.
Small forward: A.J. Turner (senior)
Again, this prediction is under the assumption the former four-star recruit, who never put it all together at Boston College, benefits from the change of scenery. Now a senior, Turner could be an excellent player in his third year with the program.
Power forward: Aaron Falzon (senior)
Ivanauskas has an inch on Falzon, but will his all-around game beat out Turner’s athleticism or Falzon’s shooting? We just don’t know yet. A 2018 power forward could see early playing time at Northwestern and push for a starting spot as a sophomore. Don’t rule out a transfer with a few years of eligibility remaining. The Wildcats could use the frontcourt depth.
Center: Barret Benson (senior)
Benson performed well his freshman year, although there were growing pains after being thrown into the starting lineup early in the season when Pardon went down. He only averaged eight minutes per game, but come senior year, a stronger, more polished Benson will be able to shoulder the load at center.
There could be some competition for this position if Northwestern lands a talented 2018 or 2019 center, but for all we know, Benson is the guy here and there is nothing wrong with that.
Bench: Isiah Brown, Rapolas Ivanauskas, Charlie and Tino, lots of guys who aren’t on the team yet
Of course, there is a ton of speculation here; my guess at Northwestern’s future starting lineup is as good as yours. I also only included one 2018 recruit, Cormac Ryan, but there will obviously be several others as Collins reloads with a big post-Tournament class. What do you think about some of these position battles? Let us know in the comments.