Aaron Falzon and Rapolas Ivanauskas played major roles in the 2016-2017 season for Northwestern men’s basketball. For them, their role was unique because they had an impact without even seeing the floor. Falzon and Ivanauskas were part of the Northwestern bench, which made appearances on SportsCenter and became known across college basketball as one of the best benches in the country.
Falzon and Ivanauskas both missed the 2016-2017 season due to injuries.
Northwestern announced the injury of Ivanauskas in October. He had shoulder surgery and would miss the season due to the six-month recovery period required after surgery.
While Falzon saw the floor early on this season, he saw it in very limited minutes. He totaled only 20 minutes of play in three games and didn’t hit a shot. It was evident that when he was on the floor in his limited minutes, he simply wasn’t himself.
In early December, Northwestern announced Falzon would miss the remainder of the 2016-2017 season after undergoing knee surgery. Although it was a tough loss for Northwestern and affected the depth on the wings, he will apply for a medical redshirt to return for three more years of eligibility.
While Falzon has a year of play under his belt, he will have to readjust to college ball after being away for most of 2016-17. Ivanauskas hasn’t played in a college game yet and he will get his first taste this season. Both players have spent time away from basketball, but both are expected to have major roles this season.
Sanjay Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn are graduating from Northwestern and their minutes will need to be filled by current players or the incoming class. While it is unclear who will fill Lumpkin’s starting role right now, Aaron Falzon did start as a freshman for an injured Vic Law and is likely a candidate to take the role.
Aaron Falzon’s three-point shooting will be important next season, especially with the absence of Nathan Taphorn — the third best three-point shooter in the Big Ten this season. In his freshman season, Falzon hit 63 three-pointers while shooting 35 percent from beyond the arc. Also, he shot 38 percent from the paint and 71 percent at the free-throw line. Overall, he averaged 8.4 points per game. In the 2016-2017 season, Taphorn averaged 4.5 points per game and Lumpkin averaged 6 points per game. It looks like Falzon will need to average around 5 points per game at the minimum in order to fill the void. Because his freshman year was strong, he should be able to become a reliable scorer on the wing when he returns.
Ivanauskas, on the other hand, has never logged minutes in a college arena. He was recruited out of high school as a versatile power forward/stretch forward. Ivanauskas can stretch the floor, hit from deep, and he can score and rebound around the rim. In the upcoming year, he may become a reliable player that Bryant McIntosh can go to for the pick- and-roll in the paint. As the 6-foot-9 forward gets acquainted with the college tempo, he will continue to grow as a player.
Overall, these are two great players that Northwestern will have back next season. It’s important to not only add to their starting depth, but to also have reliable players to come off the bench. Both of these players can fill either of those rolls.