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Northwestern Needs Its Wings To Fly

Northwestern needs the four-spot to be consistent in order to improve in Big Ten play.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Northwestern Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

ROSEMONT, ILLINOIS— Different night, different opponent, and different lineup for Chris Collins and his team.

All season long, Collins has been switching between Gavin Skelly and Aaron Falzon at the four. Skelly has started 11, while Falzon has started 9. Sanjay Lumpkin commanded the four spot last year, starting alongside Vic Law. Gavin Skelly took minutes at both the three and four spot last year, coming off the bench as a burst of energy. Falzon started in the lineup his freshman year, but missed last season due to injury.

What is interesting to note is that of the 11 games Skelly has started, Northwestern has won five and lost six. When Aaron Falzon starts, Northwestern has won 7 games and lost two.

Against Ohio State, Falzon was slated to start, but missed the game due to injury.

When Falzon was a freshman, he played in 32 games and started 9. He played more in the traditional three spot. Although Collins doesn’t believe in traditional spots for players, so Falzon played all over the floor. He averaged 3.4 rebounds per game and 8.4 points a game, while averaging just under 25 minutes a game.

Skelly and Falzon play the same position, but their statistics this season look a lot different. Skelly has talked about watching Falzon from the bench to start, because this season, they are often guarding the same man. Although Falzon has missed four games coming back from 2 injuries, they vary quite a lot in how they play the game.

Falzon is averaging about 17 minutes a game, shooting 40%, 40% from three, collecting 1.9 rebounds per game, and averaging 7 points per game. He has three blocks, four steals, 25 fouls and 10 assists to 14 turnovers.

Skelly is averaging about 22 minutes a game, shooting 50%, 50% from three, collecting 4.2 rebounds per game, and averaging 6.9 points per game. He has 15 blocks, 17 steals, 53 fouls, and 22 assists to 34 turnovers.

Obviously Falzon’s freshman season was different. Alex Olah and Joey Van Zegren played at center. When they both went down with injuries, Dererk Pardon burned his redshirt and began to play. Because Olah and Van Zegren were out, more players consistently rebounded the ball and helped in the paint.

Skelly and Falzon are two different players and have different styles. What is crucial about the four-spot on the team, and also what opposing teams are getting at, is the defense. Skelly has 53 fouls on the season, and many of those fouls he has committed because he wasn’t playing smart. It is tough to defend in the paint and near the baseline, but Skelly often draws too much contact or forces too much.

Skelly has become better at shooting from deep. He’s taken more shots this season and he’s efficient. He’s made 19 out of the 38 shots he’s taken. When given the ball in his hands and the space to make it, he’s confident in his shot when he takes it.

Falzon has struggled a little more to become a consistent shooter this season. This could be, in part, due to the fact that teams try to take him off the three-point line.

What seems to be the biggest struggle here is that both players often cannot find a rhythm because of foul trouble. Skelly can play smart when he wants to, but when he picks up his fouls quickly and has to sit on the bench, he struggles getting back in the game.

It seems as though, in some games, Skelly has benefited coming off of the bench to provide energy to the team. Northwestern is 2-5 in conference play. Skelly didn’t start in either of the wins.

Ultimately, these two players need to continue to play their individual way, while also providing consistency on the floor to help the team with chemistry. Northwestern needs Skelly and Falzon playing their best on both ends of the floor to have any chance at making a postseason tournament.