After an unfortunately-timed bout of mononucleosis during his first year as a Wildcat, Pete Nance came into his sophomore season looking to achieve a sense of consistency and continuity. At times when he was on the floor as a freshman, he looked confused or lost, and for him to become the player he was touted as having the potential to be, that had to go away.
With the departure of Dererk Pardon, Vic Law and some transfers as well as losing Anthony Gaines to injury, Chris Collins needed Nance to make a jump and become a reliable rotation player. In some ways, he took that step, starting twenty games and averaging the third-most minutes on the team.
As the following categories will help to spell out, the Ohio native showed some improvement, but it often felt like there was still plenty lacking from the highest-rated recruit in program history.
Those who were expecting Nance to come in on day one and be a difference maker quickly learned that wasn’t going to be the case. Instead, it seems like there is a different, slower, but still present path for him to play an important role in his final two seasons in Evanston.
Comparing these numbers to those from 2019 should inspire some optimism. His two-point percentage rose about four percentage points and he shot almost three percent better from behind the arc. Nance’s offensive rating rose nine points, and he used his size more effectively on defense, ranking in the top 215 nationally in both defensive rebounding and block percentages.
I’m not here to compare Nance to Frank Kaminsky, but the former Wisconsin big man saw very little action in his first two seasons before exploding onto the scene and growing into a star. Again, not saying one is the other, but with progress, as Nance showed, there’s hope for him to become something special before he graduates. KenPom compared his 2018-19 season to that of 2018 Nate Reuvers (who had a great 2019-20 season for Wisconsin) and Nance’s most recent season to that of Kansas State star Dean Wade in 2017, who a year later helped lead his team to the Elite Eight.
A knock on Nance coming into the program was that he would need to bulk up his frame, and he did that between his freshman and sophomore years by adding 20 pounds. With that extra size, there was hope he could use his 6-foot-10 tower to wreak havoc on defenses, especially since he can shoot better than most his height.
With Ryan Young occupying the post most of the time, Nance rarely saw much action around the rim, as the numbers — just 19% of his shots came from the interior — indicate. Nance’s percentage of attempts at the basket were second-lowest on the team, behind only sharpshooter Miller Kopp.
His jump shots were equally split between twos and threes, though his shooting percentages are nothing to get especially excited about. Each category represents a modest rise of about three percentage points from last year, showing that with continued steady progress — even without any kind of big jump — Nance can be a focal point in a year or two.
Nance led Northwestern with 15 points and showed his offensive versatility in the final game of the year.
There were games where Nance looked like the player many thought he would be. Over the course of the season, there were plenty of stretches during which Northwestern had trouble scoring and difficulty creating its own shot. Fortunately, with a 6-10 frame, Nance can create his own shot against nearly any defender.
He scored in double figures twelve times, and he led the team in both defensive rebounds and blocks, averaging one per contest in the latter category. The forward was brought in because of his combination of size and skillset, and he has been effective when he has leveraged both.
Consistency. That’s the story. Nance scored in double figures 12 times and averaged 8.5 points this season. Scoring nearly nine points per game is not a terrible number, but in 14 games he failed to total more than six. When the offense dried up at times, Nance showed the potential to be a go-to scorer, but that did not happen often enough for those looking for reliability. And it often seemed like those performances were in vain, though that is more of a team issue.
It’s rare to have a player who is nearly seven feet who is mainly a jump shooter. While it is a more unique ability of his, there’s got to be an emphasis from the staff on making Nance get to the basket more. His shooting numbers are not bad, but they aren’t good enough to hold up on their own right now. Only a fifth of his shots came from around the rim, and to truly be an effective player with his size, that number should increase.
That starts with comfortability handling the ball, and though Northwestern has its point guard of the future in Boo Buie as well as other good-looking guards joining the program (namely Ty Berry and Chase Audige), Nance can add a major element to his game with some semblance of a rim presence.
The Bottom Line
The clock is ticking on Pete Nance. It’s not like he’s going anywhere, and any rumblings that he would be the first player in NU history to leave school early to go pro are certainly put to sleep at the moment. For now, he needs to continue making strides towards becoming consistent and versatile to be able to contribute meaningfully to a winning Wildcat team before he graduates.