At this point in the season, it’s time to put the disappointments in the past and look toward the future. Freshman Anthony Gaines has proven that the future of Northwestern basketball is very bright.
Although Saturday’s loss to Michigan State may have been the most gut-wrenching of all, Gaines had an outstanding first half. Here’s a film-assisted look at the young guard’s skill set.
Gaines didn’t hesitate at all to go up strong against two of Michigan State’s best defenders, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston. He posts up big against Winston, creating a clear target and fairly simple pass for Vic Law and doesn’t even consider tossing it back out of the paint, showing his confidence and ability to finish at the rim under pressure.
This was a play you just didn’t see from Gaines in the beginning of the season. Now he looks like a solid paint player, far from the tentative and slightly lost display we saw to start the season. He started and got 37 minutes against the No. 2 team in the nation, and he was a big reason why Northwestern got out to that huge first half lead. These types of plays are why he was out there.
After putting up a tough shot with the shot clock winding down, Gaines doesn’t hesitate to crash the boards and grab his own rebound to keep the ball in Northwestern’s hands going into halftime.
Northwestern has been missing this with the absence of Sanjay Lumpkin. In the first half against Michigan State, Gaines showed the hustle plays and awareness that Northwestern will need in the upcoming years.
Gaines doesn’t wait for the play to set up. He shows his court awareness and speed as he calls for the ball on a back door cut in transition and finds the rim with an explosive layup before most of the Spartan defense has even noticed.
His good instincts have kept him on the floor even when his shot has been off (Gaines has a 39.2 eFG% on the year), and Collins obviously trusts him to know the plays and read the flow of the game.
Gaines may be a guard, but he’s got size. He took full advantage of his 6-foot-4, 205 pound frame at the end of the first half with a no-dribble, downright explosive slam dunk.
And I mean slam dunk. Gaines took off from the free throw line and threw it down with power, igniting All-State Arena and maintaining Northwestern’s momentum heading into half-time.
Although he can make plays on his own, Gaines plays unselfishly and creates opportunities for his teammates through his court vision and instincts as shown in this assist to Gavin Skelly’s three-pointer.
Gaines’ assist rate is a healthy 9.5, which is better than Gavin Skelly and Dererk Pardon this season.
Gaines’s size is substantial for a guard, but in the paint, he is certainly undersized. That didn’t stop him from besting his defenders with a combination of massive effort and air in this putback attempt which landed him two free throws.
Gaines doesn’t let up and maintains this explosiveness no matter the situation, including this rebound off of Jaren Jackson’s missed free throw.
Even when Northwestern faltered in the final minutes, Gaines showed confidence beyond his years. At a point when nothing was falling, he took things into his own hands and attempted to make something happen, showing his fearlessness and composure.
That was, as they say, a “good take.” Gaines definitely needs to improve on his shot in future years, but his confidence is a good sign going forward. With his athletic ability, he has also looked confident guarding a range of people within Collins’ defensive schemes.
Gaines shows incredible promise for the rest of his career. With Bryant McIntosh, Gavin Skelly and Scottie Lindsey graduating this year, Northwestern will need a new leader. If you’ve watched Northwestern’s last three games, Gaines has proven that he can be that guy if things pan out. He made big contributions against Rutgers and Michigan State, and hopefully this is a sign of things to come. For a rookie just getting started with his career, his strength, drive and overall versatility should bode well for his next three years as a Wildcat.