Heading into the 2015 season, Northwestern features one of its deepest teams in years. While head coach Chris Collins has said his preference would be to play only eight or nine players, he acknowledges that he might have to coach this Northwestern team a lot like Iowa's Fran McCaffery has coached in recent years, using a deep bench. At least at the onset, few players -- other than the Wildcats' established starters -- have appeared to separate themselves. Thus, we are going in-depth on each of Northwestern's scholarship players, providing insight into each players' potential role.
We continue with senior center Alex Olah:
Stats to know (2014-15 season)
|Points||Minutes||Assists||Rebounds||Blocks||Off. Rating||FG%||3pt FG%||eFG%||Usage|
Shot chart (via ShotAnalytics.com)
Obviously, as a 7-footer with scoring ability, Olah owns the paint pretty well on offense but what defenses don't often account for is his ability to stretch the floor. He's an average (to slightly below-average) mid-range shooter but just his ability to make those types of shots from time to time helps with floor spacing. Also, he's not a good three-point shooter -- to be expected -- but he can knock down a triple every now and then.
Olah is a matchup nightmare for many opposing defenses, especially those of lesser non-conference foes. His size and strength down low make him an efficient scorer on the post as well as a decent rebounder, although not as a good of one as you'd think he'd be for his height. But, regardless of his inconsistency, he's a key senior for this team and quite possibly the most important player. He has also battled through bouts of inconsistency which have been some of the biggest reasons as to why Northwestern has gone through crippling losing streaks, such as last year's in Big Ten play. But, even when he's not on his game, he forces defenses to pay a lot of attention to him and not as much to his teammates.
It's very hard for a defense to stop the Romania native from scoring when he's able to get the ball in good post position. Every good Big Ten team has a solid interior game, and Northwestern's starts with Olah on both offense and defense. While his offense is focused on, Olah is also a good defender, evidenced by his nearly two blocks per game from last season and his two-straight seasons of a sub-100 defensive rating. There are also indications he's willing to take more of a leadership role in his senior season, which will be a welcome sight for Chris Collins who wanted his center to step up into that role all of last season. Now, he has the experience to do so and do so effectively.
Sometimes, Olah -- even with his size -- can act like a guard in that he hangs around the perimeter to get jumpers up from bother beyond the arc as well as just inside of it. He has worked on his long range game noticeably and it's an occasional weapon for him but when he can't get going down low, Olah tends to stay at the top of the key, where he can't be used as well. Also, Olah scored less than 10 points on 13 occasions during the 2014-15 seasons. Northwestern went 6-7 in those games (1-6 in conference games). It's no coincidence the Wildcats had trouble beating good, Big Ten opponents when Olah didn't score much. If he can improve his scoring consistency, then Northwestern will have a much better chance during conference play.
As was mentioned above, Olah -- along with Tre Demps -- is a vital senior starter for this mostly young Northwestern team and by far the best frontcourt player. He's also this team's bellwether; if he doesn't play well, it mostly means Northwestern is struggling. However, when he's on his top form -- which means he's down low, getting high-percentage looks at the rim -- it frees up the perimeter for his better-shooting teammates which bodes well for Chris Collins' team.
What to expect
The expectations for Olah have seemingly been increased each of his seasons in Evanston, and they will again for his final college season. It wasn't completely unreasonable to think he could post close to 15 points and 10 rebounds per game during his junior season, and although he fell fall short of those numbers (11.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per contest), there's reason to think this is the season he finally averages a double-double. Olah has gotten stronger this offseason and will be one of the only senior statesmen on a team filled with freshman and sophomores so, if he can put all of his attributes together with his three years of Big Ten play, 15 and 10 should feel like a possibility and not a dream for the 7-footer.