It hasn't taken long for Northwestern center Alex Olah to get going. In fact, he may already be in mid-season form.
In Friday's season opener for the Wildcats, the big senior racked up 21 points and 14 rebounds against UMass Lowell en route to a 79-57 victory over the River Hawks. His performance earned him Big Ten Player of the Week, announced this past Monday, an award which he shared with Minnesota's Joey King.
But while Olah is producing, as many expected him to, freshman Aaron Falzon is not far behind. In his first game at the collegiate level, Falzon dropped 20 points, setting a Northwestern record for a freshman debut. This also came on shooting 4-6 from beyond the three-point arc.
The continued development of this Northwestern frontcourt will be extra key as the season wears on. As you may remember, just last week the Wildcats lost highly rated sophomore wing Vic Law for the season due to a torn labum. Law was projected to be apart of the Northwestern starting lineup from day one, providing a solid offensive threat at the three position. One of the stronger elements of his game was his three-point shooting, as he shot just over 35% from downtown in 2014-2015. Last Friday, Falzon demonstrated that he can be equally the threat of Law from deep, if not more. This is great news for Chris Collins and Wildcat fans everywhere.
Another bright spot in the frontcourt came from junior forward Nathan Taphorn, who scored 8 points and grabbed 3 rebounds in 14 minutes of play. A product of Pekin, Illinois, Taphorn has been consistently improving since his freshman campaign, upping his averages from 2.5 to 4.1 points per game, and 1.1 to 3.0 rebounds per game. Taphorn will be an important sixth man for the Wildcats, specifically at the four position. Northwestern's current starting lineup of Bryant McIntosh, Tre Demps, Sanjay Lumpkin, Falzon and Olah leans on the smaller side, with 6-8 Falzon playing as a stretch wing. Taphorn fits well here, and is interchangeable with either Lumpkin or Falzon. He will likely stay in that 13-16 minute range this year, playing valuable time out on the floor. The most interesting thing with Taphorn will be to see if he can keep up his three-point barrage. Last season he shot 50.0% from beyond the arc (albeit on 12-24 shooting). Look for him to get more designed looks from deep.
In the bigger picture, Olah and Falzon are just the latest example of an upperclassman showing a lowerclassman the ropes. Under Chris Collins, we've seen guys like Drew Crawford step up and mentor younger players like Demps. Just last year, then-senior Dave Sobolewski played an important role in the development of McIntosh as he passed the torch of the starting point guard role. This type of leadership from within is slowly becoming a part of the Northwestern basketball culture, and is the source of great optimism for this team's future. Given the incoming talent over the next years is only going to grow, it is important that this cycle keeps on going.