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Which MBB bench player has made the best case for a starting gig?

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Coming off four straight losses, a rotational change could be just the spark that Northwestern needs before the ‘Cats’ struggles get out of control.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

With the ‘Cats winless in 2022 and sitting at a disappointing overall record of 8-6 (1-4 in conference play), Northwestern is clearly not where it hoped to be halfway through the year. This begs the question, what adjustments does Chris Collins need to make to get the ‘Cats back on track?

One area for evaluation and potential changes is NU’s starting lineup. Here are two rotational adjustments that could bring some life into this struggling Northwestern team:

Elyjah Williams for Robbie Beran

The Fairleigh Dickinson transfer and Evanston native came into the year having not come off the bench since 2019. Now in 2022, Elyjah Williams has made a case for a starting job with the energy he has brought off the bench and the recent struggles of Robbie Beran.

Through Northwestern’s first five games of conference play, Beran is averaging nearly four fouls a game in just over 25 minutes of action and is tied with Pete Nance for the most fouls on the ‘Cats this year despite playing 63 less minutes this season. Northwestern has committed a Big Ten most 22.6 fouls per game which has a lot to do with Beran’s lack of lateral quickness against the supremely athletic forwards that the Big Ten has to offer.

Williams thrives in this part of the game, averaging only 2.2 fouls per 100 possessions in conference play, due in large part to his quickness and ability to contest without fouling. In addition to this, his strength allows him to stay with taller bigs defensively while also posing a vert legitimate threat for a forward as a solid perimeter defender.

Obviously, Beran brings an element as an outside shooter that Williams does not, which helps the spacing of the offense tremendously. However, the disparity between the two is not as large as some commentators have made it out to be this season, seeing that Williams had more three point makes on less attempts than Beran did last season (granted the competition level in the Northeast Conference is nowhere near what it is in the Big Ten).

In terms of playmaking, Williams’ ability to make plays driving the basketball would add another element to the Collins’ offense, as he is a skilled ball handler and distributor for a player of his size. This is exhibited in the fact the he trails only Nance in assists among Northwestern’s big men, despite playing significantly less minutes a game than both Beran and Ryan Young, while still only committing one turnover in conference play this season.

The two are vastly different players and Williams 6-foot-7 stature is most definitely a cause for concern, but considering all he would bring to the table on both ends, it could definitely benefit the ‘Cats to insert him into the starting lineup, especially against some of the smaller teams in the Big Ten.

Julian Roper ll for Ty Berry

I know what you’re thinking, Ty Berry just had 23 against Ohio State and now you want to bench him for a freshman. Your cause for concern is valid, but, this decision has much more to do with what Berry can bring off the bench than what Roper will provide as a starter.

The sophomore has put up less than seven field goals a game in Big Ten play, including his two points in a 36 minute showing Wednesday night. Assuming Chris Collins keeps up his Doc Rivers-esque tendency of playing majority bench lineups (as opposed adjusting the rotation in a way that always keeps three or four starters on the floor), Berry could benefit immensely from being the first or second option of the offense when coming off the bench.

As of now, his usage rate — the percentage of the team’s offensive plays in which he is utilized — is sitting at only 16.2 percent, the fourth highest figure among the regular starters despite the fact that he is shooting 44.8 percent from behind the arc on nearly five attempts a game. These numbers make sense considering he’s often on the floor with Audige, Buie and Nance, who combine for over 37 shots a game, but Berry’s shooting efficiency, when compared to his teammates, makes it clear that the ‘Cats would benefit from getting the Kansas native a few more looks, something that switching him out of the starting lineup could, strangely, accomplish.

Why is Roper the answer as a fill in? Well, for one, Roper is generally a tremendous defender (despite his troubles with Eric Ayala on Wednesday night), as he leads the team in steals on the year despite his limited minutes and also has the best defensive rating on the team in conference play this year.

Roper’s offensive weaknesses are clear, but with the array of playmakers and scorers around him, he won’t be expected to do all that much on that end. And considering that he has the lowest usage rate among rotation players, you can expect that he won’t be offended by the small workload. He is not nearly the scoring threat of Berry, but shooting 33 percent from three on the season makes him a respectable outside shooter, and thus the spacing on the floor should still be fine.

Overall, this switch could benefit both players if they embrace their new roles and improve the ‘Cats as a whole on both ends of the floor. This would definitely be more of a rotational change, as I imagine Berry still playing around the 25 minute a game mark that he is currently at, while still instilling confidence in the freshman Roper.