Over the next two weeks, beginning Monday, March 23, we'll be holding an extended Inside NU roundtable to rehash and analyze Northwestern men's basketball's 2014/15 season. We'll pose one question every day -- some general, some more specific; some looking back, some looking ahead -- and a group of our writers will respond. Additionally, over the coming days, we'll have separate articles breaking down some of the topics in more depth.
We begin today with a fairly simple question:
Who was Northwestern's most valuable player in 2014/15?
Henry Bushnell: For me, there are three players to consider. Tre Demps' late season surge and improved efficiency might have made him Northwestern's best overall player, so he and his late game heroics certainly have a case. After all, one (possibly insane) Big Ten coach gave Demps a All-Big Ten First Team vote. Another option is Bryant McIntosh. He was probably NU's third best player, but his case for most valuable player is made loud and clear by the stagnant offense that the Wildcats played when he wasn't on the floor. He ran the team admirably well, especially for a freshman, and kept Northwestern in a lot of games that they weren't expected to contend in. But the MVP nod has to go to Alex Olah. I'm sure others will give detailed explanations for their selections of Olah below, so I won't steal everybody's thunder, but of the three players, Olah was the most irreplaceable. And I think what separates him from the other two is his defense. His lack of quickness was exploited at times early in the year, but after the move to the zone, he was one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten. His block percentage was top five in the conference--by comparison, it was better than Nnanna Egwu's--and he also significantly improved on both the offensive and defensive boards. Without Olah, Northwestern would probably be the worst team in the Big Ten. So he's my MVP.
Daniel Rapaport: It has to be Olah, right? Northwestern was at its best when Olah was assertive and involved, and struggled mightily when he was passive or in foul trouble. It's tempting to give the nod to McIntosh, but he ran face first into the freshman wall midway through the Big Ten season, which is actually when Northwestern began to hit their stride. It's not unreasonable to suggest that Tre Demps was Northwestern's best player (and was for sure the most clutch), but that's not synonymous with the most valuable player, as Olah's impact on the team was so profoundly visible particularly because of Northwestern's dearth of depth on the frontline. The zone defense was built around him, and when he went to the bench, all hell tended to break loose on that end; he was Northwestern's sole rim protector in a defense that is so firmly dependent upon one. No offense to Gavin Skelly or Jeremiah Kreisberg, but the frontline reinforcements coming to Evanston next year (Joey van Zegeren, Aaron Falzon, and Derek Pardon) should actually take a load off Olah, of whom much will be expected in his senior season. But if he can continue his upward trajectory of improvement, there's no reason Olah won't be one of the Big Ten's best big men next season.
Ben Goren: Alex Olah, and it's not really that close. Olah took another big step forward, upping his points and rebounds from 9.1 and 5.2 last year to 11.7 and 6.9 in 14/15. In a year where true centers were a rarity in the Big Ten, Olah took advantage. Sure he wasn't going to dominate Mo Walker or AJ Hammons, but against undersized 5s like Ricky Doyle of Michigan or Hanner Mosquera-Perea of IU, Olah feasted (he averaged 19 points and 9 boards against those two this year). Sure Bryant McIntosh had a great freshman campaign and Tre Demps did Tre Demps things in crunch time, but Alex Olah was the most important player. After all, pull him away, and Northwestern would have been stuck with Jeremiah Kreisberg or Gavin Skelly at center. Scary thought. Olah didn't have a safety net and had super high expectations. I'd say he met them.
David Gernon: Alex Olah is the obvious choice. While Tre Demps kept the team in a lot of games when the offense stagnated and he had to take over (read: the Michigan game), this team really took off and had their late surges when coach Chris Collins opted to switch to a 2-3 zone defensively built around Olah. Only a junior, Olah already has the school record for most blocks in a career and his impact on the defensive end is hard to overstate. When he goes to the bench, it's easy to see his contribution because the zone tends to fall apart. On offense too, a lot of it revolves around him and his improvement in the pick and roll game played a large part in Northwestern's success late in the season. It will be fun to watch him next season after another offseason of development and improvement. He should be one of the Big Ten's top big men.
Zach Pereles: First, let me distinguish between "most valuable" and "best." I do not believe Alex Olah was the best player on this team, but he was clearly the most valuable. What's the difference? Bryant McIntosh and Tre Demps are better players, but this year they had more reliable reserves in Dave Sobolewski, Vic Law, Scottie Lindsey and JerShon Cobb. Hence, when either McIntosh or Demps came out, the Wildcats could at least survive (but not usually thrive). Without Olah, the lineup featured either Jeremiah Kreisberg or Gavin Skelly, and the difference was very noticeable on both ends of the floor. For all his faults, Olah was by far this team's best rebounder and the only post option offensively. Perhaps this answer will change by the end of next season with the additions of Joey van Zegeren, Dererk Pardon and Aaron Falzon and the development of Gavin Skelly, but this year, the big Romanian was a one-man frontcourt. Olah takes home team MVP honors.