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Northwestern men’s basketball 2020-21 player reviews: Pete Nance

The junior showed steady improvement from a season ago.

Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament - First Round Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

With the men’s NCAA Tournament underway and Northwestern’s season officially over, it’s time to break down the 9-15 rollercoaster season from the Wildcats and the performances of each individual player. Next up is junior forward Pete Nance.

Entering into his second year as a starter, this was a prove-it season for Pete Nance. In 2019-20, the junior big man showed flashes of what he could become as a prospect and why he is one of the most highly-touted players to ever come to Evanston. While inconsistent, there was reason for optimism seeing the opportunity for him to have an expanded role.

While Nance did take a step forward in 2021, it may not have been the upperclassman leap for which some fans hoped. In a season that at one point was full of promise, Nance was part of the beacon, and as NU sputtered during it 13-game losing streak, he had his own ups and downs. Regardless, his improvement as a key cog lends promise for his senior season.


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Nance has always been an offensively minded player, and he doubled down on it with improved efficiency. His offensive rating spiked almost 15 points, and he bettered his effective field goal percentage by 8.5 percentage points. The jump was consistent at all three levels. Nance further progressed to become a stretch-five center with the ability to consistently hit from beyond the arc at a health clip of 34.4%, which opened up shots from mid-range and the paint. From inside the three-point line, he increased his field goal percentage by nearly 20%.

The Ohio native’s defensive rebounding percentage saw a 3.4-percentage point uptick while seeing his offensive rebounding percentage decline, a result of Nance’s consistent outside presence on offense that saw him less in the paint compared to a traditional center.

Shot Distribution

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Critics of Nance have come after his lack of shots taken around the rim. He may be primarily an outside scorer, but as a center he needed to work on his capabilities from within the paint. And that he did.

Nance’s largest jump in shot distribution came in the number of shots taken inside. The clip at which he was shooting close-range shots rose up by 10% while maintaining the efficiency he had from 2020. It’s a promising sign and can be built upon if he bulks up more in the offseason.

As largely an outside threat, Nance’s distribution of jump shots taken stayed consistent with 2020. His 40% three-point shot selection became much more justified with his growing efficiency and direction of the college game.

The Good

Throughout the stretch of time where Northwestern looked to be a regular season Cinderella, Nance was a reason why. In NU’s loss to No. 10 Iowa, his 21-point outburst, in which he hit thrice from deep, showed his dominant potential.

Against the Hawkeyes, Nance showed a combination of different ways in which he could score. His post moves were out-classing that of Luka Garza’s in the first half. When Iowa would guard against a Nance drive or post-up, he would station himself from three and hit them.

His ability to give NU a five-out lineup became a valuable asset as well. Even though he stands at 6-foot-10, Nance is a natural forward. Using his quickness and shooting ability, Northwestern played faster offense that allowed guards to penetrate.

The Bad

If Nance is to improve into a complete player, he must continue to become more of a paint presence. Nance’s thinner-build may not suggest this as a natural role, but to be the starting center, he must build in stature. He certainly added to his frame, which helped his ability to be physical, but he lacked consistency, especially on defense. His ability to reliably contest opposing shots and improve his lowly block numbers will transform him into the perfect modern-day center.

Offseason focus

To get to the point Nance wants to get at to have a chance at the league, he needs to continue bulking up. We’ve seen what some added size can do for him, and it’s not to say he should resemble the figure of Garza or Kofi Cockburn, but adding a few more pounds of muscle will make Nance into a strong defensive anchor. He has the attributes, it’s a matter of being able to hold his own against larger opponents.

Nance should work on his rebounding skills as well. He wasn’t a bad rebounder per se, but his poor offensive rebound statistics are a driving force behind Northwestern’s struggles in the department. If he is able to develop into a double-double threat every night, Northwestern can then further implement the five-out lineup that brought success early in the season. With the duo of both Nance and Ryan Young on the floor, it becomes much more crowded and difficult to create offensively.

The Bottom Line

Nance has the tools for success. He has shown it many times before in his Northwestern tenure. It’s a matter of getting consistent results and improving his skills outside of jump shooting that will propel him to become a go-to option and one of the Big Ten’s premier scorers.