The college basketball season is a dark place. From April to November, teams across the country revert into a hoops hibernation, shielded from media spotlight and mostly unavailable to the public eye in the same way as, say, football players are during spring practice. Things ramp up again over the summer, and a recent NCAA rule pushing the start of official practice back two weeks ensures teams will begin formal preseason preparations even earlier this season.
Those extra two weeks are a welcome development, but the college basketball season remains a distant entity, microscopically positioned in the most forward-looking reaches of our winter sports imaginations. We’re here to help you bridge the gap with some refresher-type player capsules. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be rolling out quick little offseason snapshots of each player, how they performed last season and what you can probably expect as the Wildcats prepare for new coach Chris Collins’ first season. So if you’re ever missing basketball, if you find yourself pining for what’s to come on the hardwood this winter, you have brief individual player breakdowns to hold you over.
There is a lot of time to fill during a college hoops offseason, and convenient exercises like these can expedite the process.
In his one season at Northwestern, Liberman didn't figure into the Wildcats' personnel plans. His biggest claim to college hoops renown dates back to his initial announcement to NU before the season, just as small pockets of the hoops-viewing populace began to marvel at the peculiarity of seeing a raw, spindly, Yarmulke-wearing center nicknamed the “Jewish Dwight Howard” join one of the nation’s most competitive and nationally scrutinized high major conferences. His highlight tape for Valley Torah is nothing to brush aside – Liberman can play – even if the level of competition he faced at his 86-person high school doesn’t come close to what most Big Ten players face prior to joining their respective programs.
Last season, Liberman redshirted, worked on his game in practice and walked around campus with about a 12 different Yarmulke color combinations. Hoops talent aside, Liberman’s religious headwear fashion sense is impeccable.
Where he fits
In a frontcourt rotation with just two proven big-minutes contributors (Alex Olah and Mike Turner), the Wildcats could use any forward help they can get. Liberman didn’t get on the court last season, which was probably for the best: he was far too raw, and far too slight to bang with brutish Big Ten forwards.
I don’t know if Liberman’s ready to play anything more than single-digit minutes this season – he needs to add plenty of polish to his offensive game, and was consistently outmuscled and backed down in the post during practice drills. A full offseason in the graces of a college weight-training program, a new coach and a specific need for frontcourt minutes are all very encouraging things if you, like most curious outsiders, hope to see Liberman enter the fray this season. To find out the real answer, we’ll just have to wait until the fall, when practices give us a better idea of where Liberman stands amongst his frontcourt peers.
What to expect
It feels sort of dumb to cop to generic uncertainty disclaimers, but I don’t know how else to talk about Liberman’s upcoming season, because unless you’ve spent hours watching or getting up shots or talking with the Los Angeles native, I don’t know that you’d have a solid read on his prospects coming into this season, either. The Wildcats do need frontcourt help, especially if Olah doesn’t take the big sophomore leap many are rightfully hoping he makes this season. That means there’s opportunity for an unproven player like Chier Ajou or Liberman to step up and prove he can be a reliable contributor to a frontcourt with serious depth concerns.
If he’s progressed since last season, added more muscle and whittled away some of the disjointed awkwardness in his offensive game, Liberman could play his way into an important reserve spot. A frontcourt rotation of Turner, Olah and Nikola Cerina isn’t exactly the safest or most reliable group to throw at the Adreian Paynes and Mitch McGarys of the world. Liberman won’t revolutionize the Wildcats’ frontcourt makeup with Howard-esque shot blocking and dunks. He can provide energy off the bench, another frontcourt option for Chris Collins to plug in and an attention-grabbing backstory that – should Liberman become an important piece of the Wildcats’ rotation – will naturally create long-past-expiration-date (Liberman’s story is nothing new) offcourt buzz.
All of this goes back to whether or not Liberman has progressed this offseason, and how much. Every little bit of frontcourt production will help offset NU’s depth shortage and Liberman is another body to throw in the mix.