Through four games of up-and-down play, we haven’t received much clarity regarding 2019-20 Northwestern men’s basketball.
But despite the inconsistent performances we’ve seen from much of the team in this initial stretch of the season, one aspect is becoming clearer and clearer game by game — sophomore Pete Nance is going to be a whole lot different than freshman Pete Nance. And it’s going to be fun to watch.
This year’s iteration of Nance is making his presence felt in a variety of ways, and it begins in terms of scoring. The Wildcats have yet to show us much to love on the offensive side of things, but the sophomore’s versatility has been well on display through four games. In desperate need of a scorer to replace the production given by Vic Law and Dererk Pardon last year, it’s looking more and more like Nance will have to be the go-to guy as the season progresses.
It’s amazing what an offseason can do.
After posting a mere 2.9 points per game as a freshman, the sophomore Nance has transformed into this team’s greatest offensive weapon. He leads the team at 15.3 PPG, and his overall usage rate has gone way up: he’s been involved at the end of nearly 25 percent of team possessions this year, according to KenPom.
Last season, he reached double digit scoring numbers just once. Through four games this year, he already has three of those performances.
Sure, he hasn’t faced the toughest defenders compared to what Northwestern will get as conference play nears, but Nance looks like an entirely new player. The 6’10” power forward has the most made threes on the season for the ‘Cats so far at six, and he only hit ten across the 2018-19 season. Cap that off with the fact that he’s at a 48.9 effective field goal percentage along with 88 percent from the free throw line (41.7 percent last year), and Nance’s offensive evolution is clear. He’s playing with more aggression, and he’s playing with more confidence.
When asked about his offensive mindset following a Friday night win over Norfolk State that saw him drop a second career-best 17 points, Nance said that he’s not looking to do anything too new or specific during any given game. He’s simply taking whatever the defense gives him.
“Honestly, there is no rhyme or rhythm to it,” he said. “I just kinda look to get whatever I can based on what the defense gives me.”
Whatever he is doing, it’s working so far.
Northwestern’s start to the season has been quite rocky, and it’s evident that a lack of pure scorers/players able to create their own shot has been this team’s biggest issue, as many predicted. The Wildcats desperately need a reliable scorer — a guy who commands the ball in his hands when the team needs a bucket — and Nance can and should become that player on a full-time basis moving forward.
Through four games, he’s shown his willingness to attack the rim, an ability to stretch the floor and a renewed confidence stroking the ball from mid-range and behind the arc. With AJ Turner struggling and Anthony Gaines’ impact largely still limited to the defensive end, the door is open for Nance to take the reins of Chris Collins’ offense.
Seeing the formerly highly-touted recruited hit the ground running to start this season should wipe away fan concerns that 2018-19 — a season in which he missed over a month due to illness — was a true indication of the forward’s game.
After that disappointing freshman campaign, the sophomore rendition of Pete Nance is slowly emerging into the player that we all expected to see when he became the highest-rated recruit in program history.