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Northwestern Men’s Basketball Player Previews: F Pete Nance

Can the highest-ranked recruit in Northwestern’s history make the leap in his sophomore season?

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Who he is:

Sophomore; forward; 6-foot-10; 210 pounds; Akron, OH; former four-star recruit; Son of three-time NBA all-star Larry Nance Sr. and younger brother of current Cleveland Cavalier Larry Nance Jr.

2018-19 stats:

2.9 points per game; 0.8 assists; .347 FG%, .263 3FG%, .417 FT%; 13.9 minutes

2018-2019 review:

Hopefully, the depressing narrative isn’t true. In 2018, Northwestern’s football and men’s basketball teams brought in their (at the time) highest-rated recruits in program history, Hunter Johnson and Pete Nance. As things stand right now, both have been huge disappointments. You’ve heard us talk about Johnson’s woes more than enough already, but with basketball season on the horizon, it’s time to talk about the latter.

As those statistics above indicate, Nance was not very good as a freshman. He looked physically overwhelmed, lacked any type of off-the-dribble production in both scoring and playmaking and suffered a mid-season illness to boot.

I searched for some hidden statistic that might indicate any type of positive impact. There isn’t much to find. Nance only reached double-digit scoring once in 23 games, against the lowly Binghamton Bearcats. His Player Efficiency Rating was an awful 6.9 (average PER is about 15). His effective field goal percentage of 41.3% was three was almost three points lower than ZaZa Pachulia’s last season.

The net rating might me the most heinous of all the stats, which painted him as a minus-17.3 per 100 possessions, and even worse, a minus-41.5 points per 100 possessions when in conference games. Yuck.

Projecting for 2019-2020 (Strengths/Weaknesses/Outlook):

But let’s face it, no Northwestern fan is excited about Pete Nance because of his advanced shooting numbers.

It’s because his father used to be able to do this:

And his brother can do this:

Even his older sister Casey used to play basketball at Dayton, and broke out this sweet hook shot back in her college days.

Point being, Wildcat fans expect great things out of Pete Nance because of both his impressive basketball lineage and his high recruiting ranking. Maybe that’s unfair. It’s hard for any person to live up to expectations set by their parents, let alone someone who has to do it at the most difficult level of college basketball for a historically weak program that will be very disappointed if he doesn’t live up to the hype.

It’s probably not right to be mad if Pete Nance never reaches the level of the legit NBA contributors in his family. On the other hand, maybe fans have a right to be upset if arguably the most impressive recruit the ‘Cats have ever landed doesn’t pan out.

If I were to project Nance’s production based solely on how he played last season, then this would be a very morbid article. However, part of the benefit from having a professional-level older brother is that we can look at how Larry Nance Jr. developed in college and see some avenues for Pete to improve in the same way his brother did.

While still an improvement over Pete’s first year, Larry struggled to get going in his freshman year too. He averaged only 4.1 points per game for Wyoming (albeit on a much healthier effective FG% of 47.6) and didn’t start at all for a team that missed the tournament. Just one year later, Larry Nance Jr. made that coveted leap, starting in all 33 games for the Cowboys and averaging over 10 points per game. By the time he was a Senior, he was the undisputed best player in the Mountain West and led Wyoming to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2002.

Not only does this year two improvement from his older brother serve as a good omen for Pete Nance going into this season, but the way Larry improved isn’t that complicated either. The elder Nance still can do virtually nothing off the dribble. No matter, he improved at Wyoming not in that aspect but by bulking up to the point where he looks like a brick wall, getting more confident at passing in tight windows, cutting with the savvy of a military tactician and using his superior athleticism at the rim.

Pete already has that last part down, and according to both Chris Collins, who has told Inside NU that Nance added “15-20 pounds of muscle” over the offseason, and assistant Emanuel Dildy, the first piece has been a significant focus, along with just increasing his confidence and aggression in general.

The big man doesn’t have to become the offensive engine for this team, the guy who initiates action and attacks defenders in perimeter isolations. He needs to take on the role of a modern NBA big man, just like his brother did, and through that he can become an explosive, intimidating force that elevates the play of everyone around him.

Even then, I’m probably being too harsh on Pete Nance’s potential as a shooter/scorer type. I’m pretty confident I never saw Larry Jr. or Sr. knock down catch and shoot threes off of quick movement like this.

Overall, I’m really high on Pete Nance breaking out as the best player for Northwestern this year. Last year was a struggle, though a significant part of it can be attributed to the bout with mononucleosis that took away a good chunk of his season. I think even he would admit that.

But honestly, these Nances just seem like late bloomers. Even the family’s patriarch averaged a meh 3.1 points per game and shot under 50% from the foul line in his freshmen year at Clemson. What did he do after that? Only bump his scoring average to 11.1 points per game as a sophomore and get named to the 1981 All-ACC first team as a senior.

Landing Pete Nance for the class of 2018 was one of the most exciting moments in the history of Northwestern basketball. I’m willing to bet that one way or another, he starts to live up to that billing in 2019-20.