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Northwestern’s Bench is Short But Mighty

Although Chris Collins only has four players on his bench right now that are under scholarship, they’re all contributing.

NCAA Basketball: Legends Classic-Texas vs Northwestern Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

This season Northwestern had low expectations heading in. There were a myriad of questions to be answered and not a lot of reason to believe that the Wildcats would be able to fix the issues they had last year.

Last year, one of the questions was Northwestern’s bench. When Tre Demps was in a shooting slump, Chris Collins was asked multiple times to replace him. In this post-game press conference after an overtime loss against Maryland, Chris Collins turned the question around and asked the media for suggestions because he knew he had no other options. Scottie Lindsey was inconsistent, Vic Law was out for the season, Jordan Ash was an inexperienced freshman, Gavin Skelly was good in spurts and Nate Taphorn was a threat defensively.

11 months later, Chris Collins walked in to a post-game press conference following a dominating Northwestern performance against IUPUI. In his opening statement, he said this.

“I was really proud of our bench. You look at the three main guys that came off our bench: Isiah [Brown], [Nathan] Tap[horn], and Gavin [Skelly],” said Collins. “And they combined for 46 points, 8 assists, 7 blocks and 15 rebounds and that’s just awesome production off our bench.”

Chris Collins was right. The production off the bench was impressive, and it wasn’t the first time this season.

Let’s take a look at some numbers.

Gavin Skelly

Gavin Skelly Field Goals

Year Field Goals Field Goals Attempted Percentage Points Average
Year Field Goals Field Goals Attempted Percentage Points Average
2015-2016 33 54 0.611 99 3.3
2016-2017 35 60 0.583 103 8.6
Gavin Skelly http://nusports.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=4810&path=mbball, Gianna Marshall

Last year, Gavin Skelly played in 24 games all season. This year, he has played in 12 so far, and he’s already taken more shots and he’s averaging more points than he did all of last year. Last year, he only averaged 3.3 points per game. This year, he’s averaging 8.6.

Now let’s take a look at his three-point shooting and free throws.

Gavin Skelly 3-Point Shooting and Free Throws

Year 3 Field Goals 3 Field Goals Attempted Percentage Free Throws Free Throws Attempted Percentage
Year 3 Field Goals 3 Field Goals Attempted Percentage Free Throws Free Throws Attempted Percentage
2015-2016 4 9 0.444 29 45 0.644
2016-2017 5 16 0.313 28 36 0.778
Gavin Skelly http://nusports.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=4809&path=mbball/, Gianna Marshall

Yes, the three-point shooting numbers are worse than they were last year, but he’s already taken more shots through twelve games compared to last year. Skelly is showing defenses that he needs to be guarded no matter where he is on the floor because he’s not afraid to shoot from deep if he has the ball in his hands.

In terms of free throws, Gavin Skelly is getting to the line more. With one game remaining in non-conference play, he’s nine shots shy of getting to the line as many times as he did all of last season. Skelly is becoming more aggressive in the paint and he’s getting fouled as a result.

Finally, lets look at rebounds and blocks.

Gavin Skelly Rebounds and Blocks

Year Offensive Rebounds Defensive Rebounds Average Per Game Blocks
Year Offensive Rebounds Defensive Rebounds Average Per Game Blocks
2015-2016 35 57 3.1 14
2016-2017 20 40 5 25
Gavin Skelly Rebounds and Steals http://nusports.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=4809&path=mbball, Gianna Marshall

Through 12 games, Skelly is averaging almost 2 more rebounds compared to all of last season. He also has blocked 11 more shots. Some of this may be credited to the absence of Pardon, but Skelly has really stepped up and dominated the post. He’s using his size to his advantage to get the job done in the post.

“One of my roles is as a four-man, be more of a threat,” said Skelly. “I feel like in past, our four-man hasn’t been much of a threat. With me being a threat, defenses have to adjust.”

Now, the other player for Northwestern that has worked hard off of the bench is Nathan Taphorn. Let’s look at some of his numbers.

Nate Taphorn

Nate Taphorn Field Goals

Year Field Goals Field Goals Attempted Percentage Points Average
Year Field Goals Field Goals Attempted Percentage Points Average
2015-2016 39 87 0.448 117 4.8
2016-2017 24 42 0.571 73 6.1
Nate Taphorn http://nusports.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=4810&path=mbball, Gianna Marshall

Now, Taphorn has not taken as many shots as he has in past years yet, but he’s well on his way to doing so. He’s averaging over a point more per game compared to last year. He’s also more efficient, shooting just about 14% better on the floor.

Taphorn is known to be wild from deep and now he’s coming off of the bench earlier because of Falzon being out for the season. He’s improved even through 12 games this season.

Nate Taphorn 3-Point Field Goals and Rebounds

Year 3- Field goals 3 Field Goals Attempted Percentage Free Throws Free Throws attempted Percentage
Year 3- Field goals 3 Field Goals Attempted Percentage Free Throws Free Throws attempted Percentage
2015-2016 27 67 0.403 12 19 0.632
2016-2017 17 34 0.5 8 11 0.727

Taphorn has made it to the free throw line for 11 attempts this season, compared to 19 all of last year. He’s confident in the paint. He’s driving and fouling and he’s getting better at it. More than that, though, he’s doing more than just shooting in the paint.

Nate Taphorn Rebounds and Blocks

Year Offensive Rebounds Defensive Rebounds Total Rebounds Average Blocks
Year Offensive Rebounds Defensive Rebounds Total Rebounds Average Blocks
2015-2016 12 42 54 2.3 8
2016-2017 7 21 28 2.3 2
Nate Taphorn Rebounds and Blocks http://nusports.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=4810&path=mbball, Gianna Marshall

While these numbers don’t jump out the way that Skelly’s do, Taphorn’s numbers are through all of last season last year. Because of the emergence of Skelly, he’s not necessarily had to do as much against the glass. However, he has had some important put back dunks when Northwestern needed them the most.

Nathan Taphorn and Gavin Skelly really have made an impact in what they have done so far. Their production has really helped the starting five. It shows that even though Northwestern doesn’t have a lot of depth right now, what they do have is making an impact.

Bryant McIntosh, the leader of the Wildcats, is impressed as well.

“It’s tremendous. I’m really proud of those guys. To be able to come off the bench is not an easy thing to do. So it’s figuring out your role and staring in it,” said McIntosh. “For them to be able to step up and fill the void is big for them and huge for us tonight as well.”