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Stop denying it: Alex Olah is one of the Big Ten's best centers

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And he's only getting better.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

What do you have to do to get people to chant your name? Tre Demps has to be wondering that after Northwestern's win over Michigan on Tuesday, in which he hit three incredible three-pointers to help the Wildcats pull out a win in possibly the craziest game you'll see in your lifetime.

Demps was the hero — there's no doubting that. But as the players left the court following Tuesday's win, the students chanted a different name.

"AL-EX O-LAH" (clap clap clap clap clap) "AL-EX O-LAH."

But that's no slight to Demps. Because lost in all the hoopla surrounding the game, Northwestern's 7-foot Romanian center put together the best performance of anyone on the court. His stat line was one of pure domination: 44 minutes, 25 points, 12 rebounds, 69% eFG% and a 133 ORtg. On the other end of the court, he held Michigan center Ricky Doyle to 1 point

And so we get analysis that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago, when Olah, despite being a 7-footer, had zero other offers coming out of high school. Analysis like this, from UM Hoops.

Defensively, I thought Michigan did some good things at times but the Wolverines had no answer for Alex Olah, who finished with 25 points (12-18 fg), 12 rebounds. I thought Chris Collins made a mistake sitting Olah for so long in the first half and that allowed Michigan to seize control of the game. It didn't matter what Michigan did, when Olah touched the ball the Wildcats normally scored.

Or like this, from our own Rodger Sherman:

... Tre Demps and Alex Olah are very good and very important ...

Or this, from our Josh Burton:

Collins couldn't stop talking highly of his junior center after the game, citing how "we're a different team when Alex is on the floor." Olah also was pleased, saying how he thinks his offseason work "is finally paying off." Also, on his matchup with Michigan center Ricky Doyle, which he clearly won, Olah said: "I knew I had a mismatch and knew I could go out there and score."

Public perception of Olah is complicated. We've gotten to the point where most people will admit that Olah is NU's best center since Evan Eschmeyer — LOL at the Olah vs. Luka debate — but people will still see plays like this and question Olah's athleticism.

Maybe the performance against Michigan will change some more minds. It should. Because at this point in his career, Olah is one of the best centers in the Big Ten — probably third best right now, behind Wooden Award favorite Frank Kaminsky and Purdue star AJ Hammons. The stats (via KenPom) don't lie.

Player %Min %Poss ORtg OR% DR% Blk%
Frank Kaminsky 77.9 28 126.6 6.4 26.2 5.4
AJ Hammons 58.7 26 103.7 11.5 19.5 13
Alex Olah 71.1 24.1 108.4 8.7 19.4 7.3
Amir Williams 44.7 16.6 117.4 10.4 19 10.9
Adam Woodbury 51.4 20.8 96.8 10.9 17.8 2.2
Nnanna Egwu 71.9 14.3 107.8 9.4 14 7.1

The offensive improvement has been obvious to even the "eye test," but statistically, Olah has been on an upward trajectory throughout his career. If that trajectory continues — and there's certainly room for it to — he's bound to have a dominant senior season on offense.

Year %Min %Poss %Shots ORtg TS% OR% DR% Assist Rate
2015 71.1 24.1 23.1 108.4 56.2 8.7 19.4 12.7
2014 73.2 18.4 17.9 101.2 56.4 5.9 14.2 6.9
2013 53.5 21.8 20.8 88.8 44.9 5.7 15.9 22

Defensively, Olah has been just as good. He rates in the 94th percentile nationally as a post defender, according to Synergy Sports, and opponents are scoring a mere .479 points per possession against him in the post. Now that NU has shown a willingness — and almost a commitment — to playing zone, Olah is even better as a defender, since the zone allows him to stay down low to alter shots.

Olah still has things to work on. Most of all, he needs to improve his post moves against bigger defenders — he put on a clinic against Doyle and Max Bielfeldt, but that's not saying much.

That said, with next year fast approaching, Olah is going to be in the conversation as the best center in the Big Ten. Given where he started, that's pretty remarkable, but it's more than past time to give him his due.