Alex Olah is a 7-foot, 270-pound center who just turned 21 in a conference where size is always a premium. So why has he failed to average double digits in points in either of his first two college seasons?
Maybe poor free throw shooting (just 68 percent last season and worse in the 2012-13 campaign). Maybe the famed B1G defense of other in-conference teams. Maybe that he just doesn't take that many shots (only 6.7 per game last season in 29.5 minutes). It doesn't really matter what reason you choose, but it's clear there is room for scoring improvement.
Now, Olah is a junior and is a leader on this team. He was just the fourth leading scorer on last year's team, behind Crawford, JerShon Cobb and Tre Demps, but he led the Wildcats in effective field goal percentage, and as Chris Collins adjusts for the new season, Olah will probably be a little higher on that list come March.
It just doesn't make sense for Northwestern to have a big center with Olah's ability and athleticism and not utilize him as a top scoring option. For most teams Collins has been involved with, the center has been one of the top options.
Look at Mason Plumlee, who Collins coached at Duke. Plumlee didn't do much his freshman and sophomore seasons in Durham, taking between three and five shots per game and not scoring much. Then, in his junior and seniors years, he exploded, putting up 11.1 and 17.1 points per game respectively while shooting way over 50 percent from the field.
Olah and Plumlee have a lot of similarities, and them having Collins as a coach isn't the only one. Both are big guys that are quick off the pick and roll while going to to hoop and have been known to block a shot or two.
But where they differ is that Olah has something that Plumlee has never been able to develop, even in the NBA: a jump shot.
Olah actually shot 30.3 percent from three-point range last season, hitting 10 of his 33 attempts. Now, that's not many shots, but for a 7-footer, it's a clear example of someone with range that stretches the floor. When opposing centers have to worry about Olah spotting up, it makes his drives to the basket off pick and rolls that much easier.
On the other hand, Plumlee has never been a good shooter from basically anywhere outside of the paint.
He only shot 10 threes in his four college season, hitting two, and was just a 58 percent free throw shooter to boot. Free throws improved slightly in his rookie NBA season, but his outside shooting was maybe worse. According to Basketball-Reference, on shots between 3-10 feet for the Nets in 2013-14, Plumlee shot just 18.9 percent. 18.9 percent!
The numbers got worse the farther he went from the hoop, but you get the point. Plumlee had a really solid rookie year, so imagine how amazing he could have been if he had been able to hit just a five-foot shot. Likewise, with Olah's shooting ability and size, there's no reason why he can't be one of the better centers in the Big Ten this year.
Comparing NBA and college stats may be a bit of a stretch, but the premise is still there. The skill Olah possesses that Plumlee doesn't is the exact skill that can separate a pretty good player from a dominant one.
If Northwestern utilizes Olah in that regard — and by utilize I mean give him over 10 field goal attempts per game — then the Wildcats can be a tough matchup for a lot of Big Ten teams. It all starts with the center.
If he displays an accurate jumper, the lane will be vacated by the defense. Then, interior scoring for Olah and the rest of the team opens up and all of a sudden, you have an offense that is hard to stop. And that's not a statement anyone would attribute to Northwestern last year.