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Stat Session: Alex Olah's Sophomore Jump

With the commitment of point guard Johnnie Vassar on Friday, Northwestern added yet another exciting young guard to its arsenal for next season. No, the Wildcats won't be world-beaters next year, but a backcourt with JerShon Cobb, Tre Demps, Bryant McIntosh, Dave Sobolewski and now Vassar has the potential to be as formidable as NU has had in awhile. And while Vic Law and Sanjay Lumpkin might not be Drew Crawford and John Shurna (at least this early in their careers), there's a lot to be excited about with that forward duo.

But yet again, there's one question keeping even the most optimistic Wildcats fans skeptical — can NU find a reliable big man? That was a problem in even Bill Carmody's best years, and again, it's the thing many fans we've talked to think will hold this team's future back.

For most people, addressing the Wildcats' post problem starts in recruiting. And while getting a star high school big man will help, it's not the only solution. In fact, it's selling NU's current big man short. While he still has a ways to go on defense and sometimes moves too slowly, Alex Olah isn't getting nearly enough credit for the impressive jump he's made to start his sophomore year.

Olah has been a much more aggressive and productive player in the post this year. We broke it down in early December and showed just how much his post game — particularly to the right, his favorite side — has improved. Last year, there were times when he was a liability offensively. This year, he's not just a better player, he's actually under-utilized. To the charts! (Courtesy of KenPom, as always. You should all subscribe to KenPom.com.)

ORtg %Min %Poss eFG% OR% DR% Block%
2013-14

110.5

61.10%

18.60%

55.40%

6.20%

16.70%

6.70%

2012-13

88.8

53.50%

21.80%

42.30%

5.70%

15.90%

4.50%

By nearly every objective offensive measure, Olah has improved this year. His eFG% (read: post moves) has improved the most, and while he still needs to be a better rebounder, those numbers have at least improved. NU's biggest problem might be that Olah isn't used enough. He's playing more minutes than he was last season, but is used on a smaller percentage of possessions. As basketball knowledge and general common sense tell us, a player with such an improvement in ORtg and eFG% should be getting the ball more, not less. Some of that is a factor of the offense — the Princeton was built around getting the ball to the center when possible — but NU needs to do a better job of getting Olah the ball. Not only will it get Olah more scoring opportunities, but it will also open up shots for players on the perimeter.

But this isn't just against weak competition. Aside from the game against NC State, when he was admittedly awful — hey, sophomore centers can have off games — Olah has been one of the Wildcats' most efficient offensive players against KenPom top 100 teams.

Game ORtg
Stanford

116

Missouri

127

UCLA

123

Olah's traditional statistics — points and other raw numbers — weren't overwhelming in those games, but that suggests in part that he needs to get more minutes and be used more when he's on the court. Because when he was on the court, he was effective.

In fact, Olah's numbers this year are fairly comparable to those of fellow sophomore centers Adam Woodbury of Iowa an A.J. Hammons of Purdue. Both players were much higher-rated recruits than Olah, but Olah has held his own.

ORtg eFG% TS% OR% DR% Block%
Olah 110.5 55.4% 60.4% 6.2% 16.7% 6.7%
Woodbury 108.5 47.2% 50.8% 11.3% 14.6% 2.1%
Hammons 102.5 63.6% 64.4% 10.7% 23.6% 18.8%

There are still areas Olah needs to improve on — rebounding and defense, in particular. However, his sophomore jump to this point has been rather impressive. Big men typically take longer to develop than guards, so while Olah's development may have been frustrating to watch at times, it's starting to pay off. If he can continue to develop his game, the Wildcats might have a big man of the future that they can count on.