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Northwestern Centers Splitting Time as Learning Curve Continues

by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

In Sunday’s 70-50 loss to Iowa, Northwestern center Mike Turner saw 29 minutes of game action in what turned out to be one of his best performances of the year.

“I guess the stat sheet would say so,” Turner said. “I think I played pretty well down in South Padre, as well. But coach thinks I played pretty solid, so that’s always nice.”

The stat sheet wasn’t that impressive — he had just 5 points and 3 rebounds, though did add 3 blocks — but coach Bill Carmody said the contributions showed up beyond the numbers.

“I thought he was active,” Carmody said. “There was an activity level. He was on the ground for balls; he blocked some shots.”

Carmody has been harping on the need for his centers to be more aggressive and more physical, so could that have been part of the different?

“That sounds good, I guess,” Turner said.

Whatever the secret was to Turner’s ability to be disruptive down low, NU could certainly use more of that this season. Coming into the year, Carmody said that he was hopeful for better play from his big men — Turner and Alex Olah — but since both are freshmen, the play has been inconsistent.

“There’s definitely a learning curve,” Turner said. “The Big Ten is really physical and it’s a war every game. Hopefully we can pick it up a little more and it can start translating into wins. I think the coaches expected a little bit more production out of us than we’re giving right now and I think it shows up in the win-loss column.”

For centers, the learning curve is typically worse than it is for guards. While guards are usually close to physically ready to play right away, centers must get used to how big their opponents are.

While Turner and Olah have had some rough games, the same is true for young big men on other teams. Take Iowa freshman center Adam Woodbury for example. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and chose the Hawkeyes over North Carolina, but shot just 1-for-7 for 2 points against NU on Sunday.

“Centers, sometimes it’s a little harder when they’re young to come along so quickly,” Carmody said. “Mike redshirted last year and I thought that was really good for him, and I think he’s getting to understand what he can do. I just want him to be active all the time and show some aggression out there.”

However, NU doesn’t have much choice but to play its freshmen. The Wildcats are already dealing with depth problems at forward, now that Drew Crawford is out for the season and Nikola Cerina is still struggling with an ankle injury.

“This year I was ready to be on the court and play, but the injury happened,” Cerina said. “It’s frustrating that I cannot get out on the court and help the guys out.”

The Wildcats will welcome his help as soon as he can contribute, but for now, Carmody must figure out how to divide up minutes between Turner and Olah. He will base that on how things play out each game, rather than dividing up minutes beforehand.

“I never really did that. Ever,” Carmody said. “I watch practice, I see what’s going on along with my staff, and we just go and see what’s happening during the game. It’s not really just gut, it’s see who’s playing well, what the matchups are, and different games different things happen.

“But both of those guys are playing enough minutes now that if one plays better than the other, then he’s going to play more.”

On Sunday, that guy was Turner. On Thursday at Illinois, who knows who it will be.