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Northwestern men’s basketball player previews 2020-2021: Newcomers and reserves

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Two three-star freshmen headline some of these lesser known Wildcats.

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It’s that time of year again. Even with football season in full swing, men’s basketball season is right around the corner. To kick off our 2020-2021 coverage of the men’s team, we’ve previewed each player on Northwestern’s roster. To round out our roster preview, here is a look at the squad on the end of the bench, along with some fresh faces who might surprise everybody in year one.

Ty Berry

Who he is

Freshman; guard; 6-foot-3; 170 pounds; Wichita, KS; top-150/three-star recruit

Strengths

Watching some of Berry’s high school and AAU tape, it’s clear that his M.O. is his three-point stroke. He has a clean form in his upper body, snapping his wrist and keeping his elbow tucked in picture-perfect fashion. The footwork can get a bit wonky if he’s on the move, which does limit the weaponization of his shooting prowess, but it’s not irredeemably bad in any sense.

Berry’s film also showed he is an adept passer — a sorely missed factor in the Northwestern offense a year ago. While not a master manipulator who creates the creases with his eyes and movements, he doesn’t miss open teammates. Give him a sliver, especially off of the pick and roll, and he’s going to find it.

Passing is important for Berry going forward due to his 6-foot-3 stature. If he were to play shooting guard in an off-ball role, he’s undersized at 6-foot-3 and becomes a defensive liability. But acting as the lead distributor at point guard, he’ll stand taller than most of his nightly matchups, and his size becomes a strength. Used correctly, he should be able to put pressure on the rim and easily fire pull-up jumpers over diminutive point guards on opposing teams.

All in all, Berry should be an immediate positive to the team’s offense barring an inexplicable drop in his deep range shooting percentages.

Weaknesses

Berry’s primary weakness is his shaky left hand. He’s eager to rip to his right off a catch no matter the defender’s position, and when he does attack the rim from the left, a switch to his right hand mid-air is common.

This goes in tandem with his less-than-stellar explosiveness and handle. He creates space with skill and savvy, not upper level stop-and-start moves, and he doesn’t soar over the trees when going up for layups, opting in favor of high-glass touch shots.

His defense is also a work in progress. Again, his size provides him a baseline level of competence that 6-foot-and-under guards simply don’t have, but his off-ball attention wanes from time to time. He also has a tendency to continually turn his head back and forth between his man and the ball, leading to an occasional embarrassing gaffe.

Expectations

Chris Collins will likely opt in favor of starting Boo Buie due to his one year of seniority over Berry, but everything the coach has said thus far indicates that Berry will be in the rotation. How often remains to be seen, but should his shooting reach 40 percent and up at a high volume, his insertion into the starting lineup later this season is a definite possibility.

Matt Nicholson

Who he is

Freshman; center; 7-foot-0; 215 pounds; Clarkston, MI; top-300/three-star recruit

Strengths

Size is an oversimplification, but Nicholson simply having just enough bulk to bang with beefier giants makes him valuable even if all of his other skills disappoint. At the very least, he’s a big body that you can throw out there without fear of being eviscerated in the post. His post game was effective on tape, however it’s hard to come to any definitive conclusion when most of his defenders in the paint stood five inches shorter than him. He can be a threat with his back to the basket but a pretty minor one in the grand scheme of things.

In addition, while not taking many jumpers, his stroke looks fine. There’s a big difference between being able to hit standstill shots outside the paint and hitting them during a high-flying college basketball game, but Nicholson’s stoke is attractive to the eye and offers promise toward a three-and-post-D archetype in his future should he develop in a positive fashion.

Weaknesses

Foot speed is a minus for Nicholson, as is true for most non-elite bigs. His slips and rolls out of ball screens are often a beat late, and while not vertically challenged, no one would confuse him with Derek Pardon contesting shots at the rim.

He could also stand to add more lower body strength, as he was bumped off his spot too easily from time to time.

Overall, he strikes me as the heir to Ryan Young in the program and throwback center rather than a new-age big such as Pete Nance or Robbie Beran. He’s not as polished in the post as Young, and his defensive feel off-the-ball needs work, so some ugly moments should be expected this season should he reach the floor.

Expectations

Unlike Berry, Nicholson is more likely to get buried in the rotation as a first-year, as Northwestern has several returning contributors in the front court. Perhaps Nicholson is redshirted this year, as he definitely has future value as a reliable option at center, but his time to shine is probably not in the 2020-21 season.

Dom Martinelli

A local kid from Glenbrook South, Martinelli committed to Northwestern as a preferred walk-on. Martinelli finished his high school career as Glenbrook’s all-time leading scorer, passing former Wildcats Jeff Ryan, Mike Reeves and Dan Ivankovich. The final freshman in the group will likely see limited minutes this season.

Roy Dixon III

The 5-foot-11 sophomore guard only saw the court once in the 2019-20 season, but since the backcourt is where NU’s rotation is the least fixed, greater playing time could be in his future. Despite being small in stature, the Atlanta native is a dynamic athlete, as he won the Georgia state championship in long jump with a 23’8.5” jump, breaking his high school’s record by over a foot, according to NUSports.com.

Dylan Sandhu

A redshirt sophomore who once earned the distinction of “Best 3 Point Shooter in Michigan” from Miprephoops.com, Sandhu is yet to see the court in Evanston.

Eric Zalewski

Zalewski has a truly incredible story, working his way up from team manager to suiting up on game days, a tale that was chronicled by our Brett Haensel back in March. The senior point guard appeared in two games last season.